Residents and community groups are hard at work continuing their mission to keep disposed needles off of Penticton’s streets.
Members of the Sharps Committee presented an update to city council during the committee of the whole on Aug. 6, where they stated it formed last year with a “no blame approach to see what we could do together as a community.” The committee has representatives from various community groups including Total Restoration, the Downtown Penticton Association, the RCMP, Pathways Addictions Resource Centre and more.
“The Sharps Committee is not a standing committee that meets regularly, we got together as an ad hoc group that came together for the same reasons as others, we were just concerned with what we were seeing,” said Ian Gerbrandt with OneSky Community Resources, who is also part of the committee. “We wanted to see what we could do together. When we got together (in 2018), we wanted safe trails and parks and streets for our families and community members. We also believed in harm reduction – I feel there are parallels to the current overdose epidemic we’re experiencing and some of the tragic stats and stories.”
Gerbrandt highlighted some of the work the committee undertook previously, including deploying multiple sharps containers in public washrooms and near parks and trails and engaging peers to better educate the public and understand the demographic using these needles. He compared their efforts to those that were taken in the late 80s and early 90s to combat the AIDS and HIV epidemic, which relied on greater public awareness, better access to treatment and prevention through easier access to resources.
“One thing that we did for our community that I think is important is what we call end of line bio medical disposal. A lot of stuff unfortunately was ending up in the garbage and landfills. We now have a bio-medical waste site at city public yards that’s available 24/7,” said Gerbrandt. “Employees and partners are using it all the time and the stuff gets picked up every two weeks by a company called Stericycle who specialize in bio-medical waste, and Interior Health is paying for it.”
He added that the City of Penticton has been integral in ensuring the success of the Sharps Committee and that it has set an example for other cities facing similar issues.
“Other communities look to Penticton as kind of a model for collaboration because this was community led but supported by local government and the health authority. We couldn’t have done this without bylaw, parks and rec, the sustainability officer, the health and safety officer and the fire department. So thank you,” said Gerbrandt.
Daryl Meyers with Pathways noted that this year, the committee has continued its efforts by expanding the hours of their peer workers in the summer months, with a focus on clean up of sharps along Creekside Trail, school district properties, and other hot spot areas identified by bylaw.
“We have also done a review of where all of the sharps containers are and have taken one away from where it was not being used (in the R0se Garden) and redistributed it to areas that we found were hot spots,” said Meyers. “We also have added some more containers and have others that will be going up. We monitor these regularly to ensure they’re being used, and if they’re not we’re ready to make changes and move them to hot spots.”
The committee is also developing education resources for the public including a map of where the sharp containers are in the city, which can be found online. Meyers also said the committee is working alongside another community group, Project Penticton, which recently formed in response to a surge of discarded needles in the city.
“They have formed clean teams which are being supplied with all of the kits that they need to be able to go out and pick up the needles. We’re really grateful to the people of Penticton for stepping forward.”
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