A new part-time worker is set to hit the streets later this summer to help with intensified needle recovery in Chilliwack.
Community sweeps, sharps containers, and peer engagement will be part of the effort to dramatically reduce the number of inappropriately discarded needles.
City hall has fielded lots of angry calls and messages about used needles since Chilliwack began dealing with an obvious increase of homeless and addicted people.
“We can only hope this will help things get better,” said Coun. Ken Popove, chair of Chilliwack Healthier Community. City of Chilliwack staff will be working with Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS) in the coming months to establish new locations for extra sharps containers.
As part of a regional opioid overdose response, harm reduction, more commonly known as needle exchange, offered locally by PCRS, is only one aspect of a very complex HIV/HCV Prevention and Education program, with service delivery from Chilliwack to Boston Bar.
Citizens have expressed outrage about needles piling up, citing the risk to public safety. Community partners, including city, health and social service agencies, got to work months ago, seeking ways to address it.
The new part-time PCRS worker will be under a six-month contract, which includes weekend work, to round out and build on existing services.
Part of the idea is to establish a “Peer Engagement” program which will feature “community sweeps” where peers and staff clean up local hotspots or places where needles are known to be found, said PCRS spokesperson Jutta Wykpis, who is also manager of Chilliwack Health and Housing Contact Centre.
“Peers” in this context means people with lived experience. So they may have current, or previous experience with substance use.
“So the focus is not only on educating peers how and where to safely dispose of needles, but also getting out and conducting sweeps to remove any inappropriately discarded syringes,” Wykpis said.
They’ll be trained and paid to do it safely, and looking at best practices from other communities in the Lower Mainland who have had experience with “peer engagement” was part of the brainstorming process.
“I think it will enhance what is already being done here,” said Popove, about the expansion.
The longstanding needle exchange run by PCRS from a blue bus has been operated by a full-time staffer but there’s no weekend coverage.
“And as we know, drug users don’t take the weekends off,” said Coun. Popove, talking about the visible nature of discarded syringes.
“There are a lot of layers involved with this work, and on the communication side of it we have more work to do to get the word out on what we are doing.”
The program is integrated with other local services which allow participants to request health, employment, detoxification, or treatment service referrals from outreach workers.
The expanded services are the upshot of efforts by Fraser Health, PCRS, and City of Chilliwack to be proactive and take action on several fronts to reduce the number of syringes, and to increase harm-reduction awareness among people who use substances and the wider community.
The services also align with a commitment made by Fraser Health to support the opioid overdose crisis including distributing Take Home Naloxone and connecting the most at-risk populations with care and overdose prevention interventions. Fraser Health reps attended a public safety meeting in early February at Chilliwack city hall and mapped out a proposal for the expanded harm reduction efforts that would include more education, expanded syringe pickup and more sharps containers.