Pubdate: Thu, 03 Aug 2017
Source: Niagara Falls Review, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Niagara Falls Review
Author: Allan Benner
Page: A7


Volunteer often finds dozens of needles during daily walks through
Centennial Gardens in St. Catharines

Fred Bowering scoured the underbrush at the side of the trails,
carefully searching for syringes and other drug-related items tossed
carelessly aside.

And he never fails to find them - often by the dozens - during his
almost daily walks through Centennial Gardens.

"They throw them into the tall grass," he said Wednesday morning while
walking through the 27 acres of parkland off Oakland Avenue.

"They discard them into the woods, you see there," he said, pointing
to syringes partially hidden by foliage, and another jabbed into a
tree trunk.

Bowering knows he shouldn't pick them up. He was pricked by one of the
needles about a month ago and promptly had a blood test done.

The experience, however, hasn't stopped him from continuing to clean
up the needles he finds.

If he doesn't, he fears someone might step on one.

"I can't really just leaves these behind," he said.

He now uses a tool that looks like a mechanical claw, given to him by
a friend to safely pick up the needles he finds and place them in a
plastic bottle for disposal.

"It doesn't belong in a beautiful park. And it's not just this

Although the problem is most severe at Centennial Gardens, he said
used syringes can also be found in Montebello Park, outside the public
library, and at city beaches. "They're found everywhere," he said.
Bowering said he calls city hall to report the needles so often he
fears he's pestering city staff. But they never complain, and city
crews usually respond promptly to remove the items carefully.

"I don't mean to be a pain for anybody, but it's for little kids, or
people playing disc golf," he said, referring to the sport that is
similar to golf but uses a Frisbee instead of a golf ball.

Even people walking their dogs through the park are at risk of
stepping on needles, he added.

His cousin Sue Bowering described the park as "gorgeous," offering
large fields of green grass that would be ideal places to play for
children. But Sue won't bring her two-year-old granddaughter anywhere
near Centennial Gardens.

"Imagine if you're taking your child down here," she said, pointing at
one of the discarded needles they found. "Something needs to be done."
Sue believes she has one solution.

She set up an online petition at last weekend, asking the
city to establish a safe injection site.

She hopes giving drug users an alternative place to shoot up might
mean fewer discarded needles at the park and help address a "huge
epidemic around the city."

By Wednesday morning, within days of starting it, the petition had
already garnered 180 signatures.

Fred Bowering has no disdain for the drug users.

As a recovered addict himself, the 48-year-old understands the
struggles the users face. "I feel for them," he said. But an injection
site would help the drug users, too.

"It's not a place where they can go and just get high. It's a place
where they can get help," he said. "They get help for their emotional
and psychological issues."

It's an idea Merritton Coun. David Haywood said he would eagerly

"I know there have been a couple incidents where other smaller parks
in my ward that had needles, including one park where a four-year-old
girl got pricked with one," Haywood said.

"I know it's controversial about having safe injection sites, but
we've been trying. The city, volunteers, everybody has been trying to
tackle this issue for the past two years. Obviously, we're not making
any headway."

The city, as well as numerous volunteers, have taken steps to address
the problem.

For instance, St. Catharines manager of business planning and
strategic services Amy Tomaino said the city installed a box for the
safe disposal of needles. That disposal box, originally located at the
top of a staircase along Gale Crescent, was recently moved further
into the park in the hope that more people will use it.

Tomaino said city staff also clean up of any needles they find while
working on regular park maintenance, "as well as respond to any calls
from the community reporting needles."

"Our endeavour is to keep all the parks safe for the community, so any
required maintenance to keep them safe would be done," she said.

Haywood said the park "is cleaner than it had been" as a result of the
efforts. However, he remains concerned that there is "still this
amount of needles found on a consistent basis."

"There has got to be a different way to try to resolve the issue than
we've been doing," he said.

"I thought we were doing a great job, but it's one of those things
where it feels as though you take a couple of steps forward and then
something happens."

Positive Living Niagara executive director Glen Walker said his
organization is one of a network of several Niagara agencies that have
been looking into problems related to drug abuse.

Establishing a safe injection site is one option that has been

But before such a facility is established, he said a feasibility study
would need to be done.

"For us, a safe consumption site would perhaps target a small group of
people that we're currently serving, but not nearly the total number
of individuals. It has its limitations," he said.

"It's really important to understand populations and the needs within
communities. If we move forward, we need to have a really good study
about what is the need."

Niagara's associate medical officer of health Dr. Andrea Feller also
questioned the effectiveness of establishing a "supervised injection

She said health department staff refers to them as supervised
injection sites, because "there's nothing safe ever about injecting

But establishing one "doesn't mean that we are going to prevent much
of anything, to be totally honest."

Such a facility does not address the causes of drug abuse, such as
life circumstances, social determinants "and all sorts of other things
that are involved with choices about how to cope, and risk."

However, she said if the community is considering a supervised
injection site, the first step would be to develop a feasibility study
to gauge its impact.

Feller said the federal government's Controlled Drugs and Substances
Act received Royal Assent in May, including amendments to simplify the
process of establishing a supervised injection site.

The new legislation, however, includes benchmarks that a community
would have to meet before it is granted permission to establish such a
facility, such as demonstrating the feasibility, need, and

"There's that option - it's not off the table - to look at supervised
consumption sites, but it would be a big question as to whether any of
our communities would meet the criteria," Feller said.

In the meantime, Positive Living Niagara offers an array of other
programs designed to reduce the harm caused by drug addictions, such
as counselling and nursing services, and overdose prevention programs.

Through its StreetWorks program, Walker said more than one million
hypodermic needles and supplies are provided to drug users per year.

About 80 per cent of those items are returned to the agency in
exchange for new needles. "That's a huge return rate." Tomaino said
the city is also poised to invest $920,000 on park revitalization this
year, including rebuilding the stairs leading up to Gale Crescent
where many of the discarded needles have been found.

The city and federal government have each pitched in $385,000 to the
project, while the Niagara Region is investing $150,000.

Tomaino said city council has also asked staff to look into the
feasibility of adding lighting to the park, in the hope that the
lighting might also help reduce the problem.

"All of the project components we feel will help enhance the current
park usability," she said. "We're trying to make this a park where
everyone can play, enhancing the experience and certainly continue to
keep it a safe place for all."
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