Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jul 2016
Source: Now, The (Surrey, CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Amy Reid


Every day, hundreds of discarded needles are picked up from Whalley 
streets, many of them just steps from City Hall. Now, a downtown 
business group is offering up fresh solutions.

On one side of the street, children glide up and down on their 
skateboards at Chuck Bailey skate park. Their laughter fills the air.

On the other side of 107A Avenue, not far away, a homeless man named 
Robert sits on the ground behind a tree, shrieking while feverishly 
clapping his hands. His belongings, including a handful of needles, 
are strewn about on a damp, dirty piece of carpet.

Nearby, more than a dozen used syringes have been left on the seat of 
an orange chair in the back of the field.

Another used needle sticks out of a tree just steps away, stabbed 
into its trunk.

On Monday morning, the "Rig Dig" team set out on its regular daily 
patrol, hunting for as many discarded syringes as they could find. 
Armed with sharps containers, buckets and trash pickers, the team 
found and disposed of about 250 needles in just two hours. That's the norm.

The field near the skatepark is a "hot spot" said Johnathon Williams 
(pictured), a summer student employee at Lookout Emergency Aid 
Society, which runs the "Rig Dig" needle recovery program.

There are several more hot spots, he said during a walk around with 
the team. Williams has learned as much during his daily patrols.

He switches the route up from day to day to ensure they cover the 
most ground in the community.

"There are certain locations where there will be at least 20 to 30 
needles every day," said Williams. "But we also go out to where there 
will be lots of people, so when the higher volumes of traffic do come 
out there's no needles present."

A field underneath the SkyTrain line across 104th Avenue from Surrey 
City Hall is usually rife with needles, he said.

And right he was.

The team found more than 30 there Monday morning, many with blood 
still in the syringe.

"They're everywhere. It's scary. It would be like walking on 
eggshells if we weren't here," said Donna Wheeler (pictured), as she 
filled her sharps container with about 10 needles.

Wheeler is a former addict who now volunteers for Lookout.

"I had someone come up to me once and ask me for (a needle I was 
holding) because they wanted the dope back, but there was blood in 
it. That's how much they want the drugs, how desperate they are. Pretty sad."

While Lookout is in charge of the program that picks up dumped 
needles, it also runs Positive Point Needle Exchange on 135A Street 
and empties community needle drop boxes.

The organization reports that in Surrey last year it distributed 
496,794 needles and collected 592,073 - meaning the group collected 
close to 100,000 more than they handed out.

Despite those efforts, the needle problem seems to be increasing.

A Downtown Surrey BIA (DSBIA) report, titled Addressing Discarded 
Needles in Downtown Surrey, notes over the past two years they have 
become an "ever-growing concern" in the area.

"Whereas used needles were once largely confined to 135A Street ('the 
Strip'), they are increasingly spreading to new, previously 
unaffected areas," states the report.

During a DSBIA Community Clean-up in the Whalley area on June 21, 
dozens of needles were found in one dump site alone (pictured).

It's not uncommon to come across used needles in this amount near 
public parkways, the report notes.

Given the escalating problem, the BIA has come up with 
recommendations on how to tackle the issue.

First, it recommends changing needle distribution policies.

Currently, Fraser Health policy for the 135A needle exchange run by 
Lookout follows a "distribution" model meaning there's no limit to 
the amount of needles a user can receive per visit.

This follows recommendations from CATIE (a Canadian resource centre 
for HIV and hepatitis C, and the World Health Organization), whose 
guidelines advocate harm reduction above all else.

The BIA wants that changed to model other jurisdictions that have 
implemented more restrictive policies.

The report notes in Baltimore, first-time visitors at needle 
exchanges receive two starter needles but subsequent visits follow a 
strict one-for-one policy.

The BIA is also advocating for distribution of "vanishing needles" 
which feature an automatic sheathing function.

When withdrawn, the needle automatically snaps back into a protective 
housing, significantly limiting the risk of injury to others.

The business group would also like to more education for drug users, 
and more disposal boxes around needle hot spots.

Finally, the DSBIA calls for expansion of the "Rig Dig" program and 
in its report states that calls to the service often go unanswered.

Fraser Health doesn't seem to be on the same page, at least when it 
comes to the distribution policies.

"Best practice in Canada is to provide individuals with the number of 
clean needles that they need without requiring clients to return used 
needles," Fraser Health spokeswoman Tasleem Juma told the Now.

"This is because it limits lending between individuals, thereby 
preventing the spread of blood-borne illnesses like Hep C and HIV. It 
also increases opportunities to engage with users and connect them 
with services."

Juma said the health authority is aware of the BIA's concerns and is 
working with the city to find solutions for inappropriately discarded syringes.

"Funding for services provided by Lookout, including their Rig Dig 
program, has increased by $186,603 in the past year for a total of 
$660,293," Juma noted.

DSBIA CEO Elizabeth Model said the issue of discarded needles isn't 
specific to Surrey, and is seen in a variety of other municipalities, 
such as Vancouver.

"This is a regional problem," Model told the Now.

"We have to look at this regionally and be collaborative. We need to 
work together on cleaning up our region with this huge issue. This is 
not a Fraser Health problem, this is a Vancouver Coastal Health problem too."

But the increase seen in Surrey has been massive, she acknowledged.

"There's just a huge amount of them. Even in the Whalley Ball Park, 
the Little League, when they go in, they have to pick up the needles 
in the park before they can actually use the park. So it's 
businesses, the citizens, the children, it's everybody," said Model.

"The impact of the problem is that when businesses go to open and 
needles are around the area, they have to have the means of being 
able to pick them up.... Not only is it a risk for them, but visually 
it's very unappealing for an area trying to beautify," she remarked.

"It's a sad thing when businesses have to clean up their property of 
garbage and needles and other things before they open for business."

Mike Nielsen (pictured) of Sprite Multimedia Systems has to do just that.

His mornings begin by walking around his business parking lot and 
looking for drug paraphernalia.

Nielsen said the worst days are generally after 'Welfare Wednesday.'

"A couple of months ago in a Friday morning, after 'Welfare 
Wednesday,' I collected 10 in one morning."

He's said he's never seen that many in a single night before.

"We've been here 33 years. It was never like this. It was rare," said 
Nielsen. "Sure I found the odd needle but one or two a month at most. 
Now, every day there's usually one, on average.

"I have a little box in there, I have pliers, so I pick it up, seal 
it all up. I can phone Lookout and someone will come up but I'd 
rather just get it done and move on."

Nielsen hopes the needle distribution policies can be changed so as 
to only allow for a one-for-one exchange.

"I don't want someone to die from getting HIV or AIDS. It's so hard 
to know that balancing act of what to do. I'm compassionate, I don't 
want anyone to die. And boy, with this fentanyl, every day, I'm not 
exaggerating, two or three people overdose in this area.

"We're all rallying together," he said of the community. "We have to 
work as a team."

Despite the area's struggles, Nielsen remains positive.

"The future looks bright, it really does," he remarked. "We're making 
traction. Yes, the homeless situation is worse this year and that 
saddens me a lot. But the Downtown Surrey BIA is lobbying federally 
and provincially. The city is doing almost everything it can. We need 
help to get people back into entry-level and low-barrier housing. We 
just have to."

Coincidentally, the Newton BIA is installing 10 safe needle boxes in 
"high volume" areas behind businesses this week after identifying 
discarded needles as a problem.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom