City Manager goes "Undercover" for closer look at Red Deer's needle problem

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
December 10, 2017 - 7:35pm

Red Deer has a needle problem.

The likelihood of the average citizen coming across a discarded needle in a public setting has become alarmingly more commonplace. So much so that City Manager Craig Curtis wanted to see the problem with his own two eyes.

“We certainly appreciate this is a huge community concern,” he says. “The opioid crisis is not local so much as national and provincial.”

Curtis has been part of an ongoing internal project called 'Not Too Undercover Boss' whereby he takes part in a day on the job within a particular City department. In one of his encounters, Curtis met up with City staff tasked with picking up used needles and cleaning up homeless camps where they are left in abundance.

Curtis was blunt when describing what he saw.

“The amazing thing about it which was really so disgusting was the smell, the uncleanliness and the real mess that particular site was,” he said. “It wasn’t like a camp out, it was really, really disgusting and as such, obviously if members of the public come across these sites, they can really be very upset.”

Curtis says the problem has evolved so quickly that it’s hard to keep a handle on. In order to do so, he says there needs to be a better method of returning needles to where they’re being distributed, or the distributor needs to perhaps clean them up.

“We’re really downstream of the program which is funded by the province,” he says. “There needs to be more education and understanding from the users that it is just not acceptable to find these needles everywhere, and of course apart from the users, there needs to be probably an even greater clean-up crew than we have.”

Recently, Turning Point told city council that if they are approved to open up supervised consumption services in Red Deer, they would also be seeking provincial funding to pay for a staff member who would pick up needles within a 1 km radius from their site each morning.

Curtis notes while simply having a supervised consumption site would help with the number of needles being discarded in public places, council must very carefully consider the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of supervised consumption in Red Deer. He also points to a successful needle exchange program in Vancouver, but adds Turning Point doesn’t believe that is best practice.

He says the current method of cleaning up needles in the parks and trails system is nothing more than a band-aid solution.

“I understand the need for Harm Reduction programs. But at the same time, we have to look to the safety of the community as a whole,” he goes on. ”We’ve obviously contacted the provincial government about and are wanting to talk more to them about this because they are the funding agency for the local agency that does the needle distribution program.”

For more information on The City’s needle disposal guide, visit RedDeer.ca.

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