City, ARCHES look to improve collection of dirty needles

By Lara Fominoff @LaraFominoff on Twitter
May 16, 2018 - 11:01am Updated: May 16, 2018 - 1:38pm

LETHBRIDGE -  There are thousands of used, dirty needles in parks, around homes, littered in the streets and in many other high-traffic areas around Lethbridge.

ARCHES along with the City of Lethbridge want people to know that they are trying to do something about it.

At Monday's City Council meeting, Mayor Chris Spearman inquired whether there were enough biohazard collection boxes in parks around the city, after numerous concerns were expressed to him recently.

"Parents have been expressing concerns that young children are in parks, near playgrounds and encountering needle debris."

Administration responded, by telling the mayor that a lot of the needle debris out there is left over after the snow melt. 

"The 12 needle boxes that were put up, were put up in strategic locations, and they are monitored by ARCHES," said Planning and Development Director Jeff Greene. "When the next reporting period comes back in I would expect in June...they will evaluate the locations of the 12 boxes, some of which are on city property, some which are arranged with private property owners. And then if we need to expand based on usage, we'll look at those additional boxes we can deploy."

ARCHES Executive Director Stacey Bourque says when people find needles anywhere in the city, they should call their needle debris hotline at 403-332-0722. It's staffed seven days a week, with the exception of statutory holidays.

"The line is really busy. Obviously first thing in the morning, we'll get eight calls in a four-minute time span. So, they do have to prioritize calls. Parks, schools, that sort of thing they'll go to first."

She says there's often confusion about WHICH number to call, and many times people will leave messages on the general administration number, which is not attended to on weekends, for example.

"We often also get messages where people don't leave a name or return number for us to call in case we go to the location and can't find it. We do need a description of where to locate that syringe."

Bourque says she understand the frustration many people have, and they're trying to balance the public health need of those who use drugs, and the needs of the community at large.

"We are doing our best. If people just call the hotline, someone will come and remove that syringe."

Right now, ARCHES has a team of 45 current and former users who go out and collect syringes at different times of the day throughout the week.

"It provides them with meaningful daily activity, as well as meaningful employment," explains Bourque."It's an important program. They're contracted with us. We also provide training for them. It's about an hour and we go through safe needle disposal, safe needle pickup. Their responsibility to ARCHES, their responsibility to the community. Even how to engage with people in the community."

Those who go out with the needle pickup buckets must go out for a minimum of two hours and they can not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. At the end of their shift, they must also return their buckets.

If those who are slated to go out don't show up for their shift, their contract could be terminated. But so far, Bourque says it's been going very well.

She also believes that there could be more needle drop boxes in the community. And anyone - any member of the public- can request a biohazard container that will be provided free of charge.

They also try to ensure that anyone who takes supplies, including addicts who are given unused needles from the safe consumption site, also are provided with a personal sharps container.

"We have all different sizes of containers. We carry them all."

The containers can be picked up at the new supervised consumption site at 1016 1 Ave S.

The original ARCHES site on 6 Ave. S. no longer distributes supplies of any kind, including needles.

Bourque also tells LNN that starting Tuesday, May 22, the supervised consumption site will be open 24/7 and will also include four new booths to address the huge demand for services, and to try and decrease wait times for users. 

The City of Lethbridge also encourages residents to contact them about negative behaviour going on in public parks at 403-320-3850.

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