After picking up a needle in an alley off Main Street last week, Penticton firefighters called it part of their “new daily” for the department.
Deputy chief Chris Forster said that includes one day that saw multiple calls.
As the City of Penticton, in partnership with a variety of nonprofits, prepares to install about a dozen sharps disposal bins in public spaces, municipal services are receiving calls for needle pickup or stumbling on needles in their own patrols more frequently.
Last week, while on a patrol, city bylaw staff found an encampment under the Front Street bridge over Penticton Creek, and a subsequent cleanup yielded 115 used needles, bylaw supervisor Tina Siebert said in an email last week.
Parks supervisor Todd Whyte said larger-scale cleanups like those are contracted out, with a request for quotations for a new contract coming up.
“Tens of thousands of dollars a year is being spent doing those cleanups,” Whyte said.
Whyte said the parks department does pick up needles in the parks when they do come across them, but could only speak anecdotally to say that parks staff likely find needles nearly daily.
“Because it almost has become standard practice for us to find these things, they just get collected and disposed of and end of story. It’s almost gotten to a point in parks where it’s along the same lines as us doing regular maintenance,” Whyte said. “We find them, we dispose of them and we move on.”
The city will begin installing sharps disposal bins on Friday as an effort to mitigate some of those issues. The matter went to council late last month for approval of the project, which will implement some of the bins on public property, such as a variety of parks and in public washrooms.
Bins will also be set up at private locations, including at the Fairhaven social housing complex, the Compass Court housing and shelter complex at the former Super 8 motel and at OneSky Community Resources, which is taking charge in the sharps program.
In total, the bins are going in 14 indoor locations, as well as 12 outdoor locations, such as Creekside Trail, Industrial Avenue Trail and Okanagan Lake Park.
“All of those ones are starting to be installed on Friday, and the work will probably go well into next week by the time it gets finished,” Siebert said. “We’ve identified all of the locations, and now it’s just a matter of getting them installed.”
It’s an increase in locations from last month, when presenters suggested just 20 locations to receive the bins. In presenting the proposal to council, Ian Gerbrandt with OneSky said a McGill University study found that used needle litter reduces within 200 metres of bins on average.
In the meantime, Siebert said bylaw officers during patrol are finding needles nearly daily, which she said is largely because officers are going into more hidden areas in search of things like needles and unwanted behaviours.
Earlier this year, the fire department was busy for a couple of weeks with needle pickups, which Fire Chief Larry Watkinson attributed needles hidden in snow banks becoming apparent as snow melted.
Forster said the fire department is getting the calls on a daily basis some weeks, while at other times they will go a week without hearing a call for a needle pickup.
“Unfortunately, it coincides a lot of times with when the income assistance checks come out, and all of a sudden (we) get more, lots of people have money. It’s just hit and miss sometimes, then suddenly it will be call after call,” Forster said.
“I think it’s where it all of a sudden seems there’s a new gathering spot. If there’s only one or two needles, people may not notice them. But if they walk by and all of a sudden they see 10 or 12, it catches your eye. And I think that’s why all of a sudden it comes up.”
After the former bingo hall closed down, Forster said there was an influx of needle findings in that area, before slowing down. From there it moved around, and last week it was in an alley off Main Street.
“There’s never really any rhyme or reason to it,” he said. “They do pick a spot, and then we’re called to there. And then I think once we show up so many times, then they disband from that and go somewhere else, because they don’t want to be in someone’s eye.”