Councillor calls for solutions to syringe debris and human waste

Harming Red Deer

Frustration is building about the number of used syringes and human feces in public spaces in the city.

Coun. Paul Harris said syringe debris has been escalating over the past year, and complaints from citizens are increasing.

“We can’t continue putting up with needles in the parks, and in the businesses, and the lobbies. They are turning up everywhere,” said Harris who is worried about the city’s reputation.

Earlier this week, city council unanimously directed city administration to investigate and bring a report back to council.

Harris, a downtown business owner, said syringes are found so often in the downtown, that a sharps container is kept on hand. Others in the area also keep containers.

The community agency Turning Point gives out about 44,000 syringes per month as part of its harm reduction program.

The agency has 13 public drop boxes for people to safely dispose of syringes, provides sharps containers to people and also mounts them on trees near homeless camps.

The city has a few public drop boxes. Sharps containers can also be taken to places like pharmacies.

Harris said not all drug users throw their needles on the ground, but having a supervised consumption site would help keep needles off the streets. And the consumption site should be located at a homeless shelter, so people don’t have to leave to use drugs.

“If we truly care about our whole community, we’ve got to address harm reduction for people who are addicted, plus we have to address people who are experiencing the fall out from that program.”

Harris said human feces in and around the downtown can be addressed by providing public washrooms the homeless can access. The winter warming centre should also operate 24-hours a day.

Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of Turning Point, said she has been advocating for public washrooms for years. The city and communities agencies are also working together to house the homeless.

She’s not convinced there’s been a spike in needle debris, but said it has been an issue for a few years.

Red Deer is one of six Alberta cities that will receive provincial funding in the new year to assess the need for medically supervised consumption site.

“I don’t want to go down that path until we have the research, and that’s why I’m pretty excited about being able to do this. We, as an agency, want to respond from an evidence-based perspective. We don’t want to respond just because people are frustrated,” Vanderschaeghe said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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