For Jesse Stretch, picking up needles has become a part-time duty.
For the past two months, he’s been making regular patrols of areas where needles are found after encountering some in a park one day with his step children.
“For awhile there, it was getting ridiculous.”
Recently, he’s found fewer needles, although he picked up three on Tuesday in Horsemen’s Park.
Stretch, who recently organized a community safety rally in downtown Maple Ridge, estimates he’s picked up 300 needles in the past few months.
Hot spots of needle locations seem to move around the city. Nokai Park on 222nd Street and near Harry Hooge elementary are other locations where he’s found needles.
“It’s all over.”
He uses a pair of pincers and a dust pan and wears steal-toe boots so he doesn’t touch the needles.
In one week, he picked up 180 needles.
“I was just astounded.”
He’s not alone.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read doesn’t like the number of needles that are ending up on the streets.
“The issue for us, there’s a reality that those end up on the ground,” she said.
Maple Ridge doesn’t have a needle exchange service.
The Purpose Society provides clean needles to drug users, but the driver of its health van quit at the beginning of this month.
The society has not yet found a replacement.
Read supports the harm reduction program, but said the city needs support cleaning up needles.
“I think there’s an accountability there that resides with the program that’s responsible for the distribution,” she added.
“We don’t want residents having to clean up needles. We find needles that still have drugs in them, still have blood in them. It’s unsafe for the public.”
The city continues to press its concerns with Fraser Health.
It is also working on creating a mapping system so that locations of needles can be disclosed to the public.
“For now, we need to keep the public safe and we’re acting in the area of clean up,” Read said.
City employees are regularly checking known hot spots, she added.
“It’s something we have to resolve quite urgently, in my opinion.”
While a search continues for a new outreach worker to provide clean needles to drug users, there hasn’t been a big jump demand for clean needles at Alouette Addictions Services.
Alouette gives out about 50,000 clean needles yearly to drug users as part of the province’s harm reduction program.
Annika Polegato said it’s difficult to tell if there is more demand now that the Purpose Society’s health van, which provided clean needles, condoms and other personal care items, is operating at reduced hours.
Distributing clean needles is an attempt at reducing disease transmission. But in order to get one, a user doesn’t have to give a dirty one in exchange.
It’s not a one-for-one system, said Erin Gibson with Fraser Health.
But most people want to do the right thing and bring in their used needles, she added.
Some cities have a needle return rate of 103 or 104 per cent, meaning more dirty needles are coming than being handed out.
Gibson didn’t know what the return rate was for Maple Ridge.
She said Fraser Health will work with agencies in Maple Ridge “to find the most appropriate solutions for Maple Ridge.”
That could include providing drop boxes for needles or drop off points outside buildings where people can easily leave used needles.
B.C. adopted the harm-reduction model of providing clean needles and other supplies to reduce spread of disease in 2002.
According to the city’s website, parks staff, as part of their regular work, do look for and dispose of needles in public park areas.
Parents should always do a quick look around a playground when they first arrive, the city suggests.
• Anyone who finds a needle should not pick it up. Instead, call the city’s switchboard at 604-463-5221. In the evening, call 604-463-9581.