Street Tales: Who is responsible?

A large number of articles and discussions lately have been centred on the proliferation of the disposal of used needles and all related drug paraphernalia. At the kitchen we are in the centre of this controversial subject simply by virtue of the fact that we feed a lot of the users of these products.

We make absolutely no provision or space for these people to inject themselves but they use the washrooms on a regular basis anyway, leaving behind used needles, cookers, bloodied pieces of toilet tissue, rubber arm bands and more. So far two of our people have been poked by used needles, even though they use extreme caution. When the needle is rolled up in tissue it is easy to make an error in handling. These two staff are now subject to quarter annual blood work for a year to determine no HIV, etc.

Needles and related equipment are handed out indiscriminately by the bagful by groups patrolling the streets, all in the name of harm reduction. I do not doubt for a moment that there have been some results that verify that intent. The only issue with the whole program of this wholesale needle distribution is the reduction in harm has been reduced for the user alright, but the harm is now transferred to the public at large because the used equipment is being found in alleys with their nooks and crannies, public washrooms, playgrounds, school grounds and the like.

A call to an agency being paid for distribution and collection is often met with a disdainful thwarting statement that the caller can come and be trained how to handle used stuff. Good idea in some respects, but are you going to educate every six-year-old how to properly and safely handle this garbage.

As parents, we already have a humongous task of teaching our children to live in a society that is full of various pitfalls, and now we are handing them some more. Really?

So, am I actually to “be my brother’s keeper”? This biblical question is thrown at me often because of the stand I have taken. Let me see if I can explain my view adequately.

Yes, I believe that I have a responsibility to help and love my fellow man, but here is where the distinction comes in. If that person chooses to walk away from my sphere of help and or influence, my responsibility normally ends at this point. Considering the fact that they have entered into an addiction so strong that they have lost most of their ability to fight against it, (not all, but most of it), they still chose to enter into that field. In other words they have cast their responsibility onto the public at large.

The main reason we operate a soup kitchen and other limited services, is that we view behavioural responsibility as a choice that these folks have to make. So by providing the basic necessities of life like food, some minor clothing, etc., we hope to be in a position to empathize and hopefully steer them to a better life.

Over the past 17 years, we have seen many who have made these different choices so I believe our responsibilities have been met to a certain degree, but we also feel that we cannot stop what we are doing, because many more have to make those choices. We also do not want to lose any more to this nefarious lifestyle.

By supplying a general living supply safety net we already face the risk of taking their responsibility onto ourselves, so a lot of wisdom is needed not to cross the enabling line. But with uncontrolled needle distribution I believe we are totally crossing that line by not only assuming their responsibility but actually stealing it away from them.

Chris Salomons is kitchen co-ordinator for Potter’s Hands ministry in Red Deer.

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