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‘Call for needle pickup’ becoming routine

Although needles are found throughout the city of Kelowna, the downtown core has the most needle pickups

Buzz, buzz.

The scanner blares on a regular basis.

“Call for a needle pickup.”

It’s a regular routine for first-responders due to the opioid epidemic, as they are called out to remove used needles day in and day out.

According to a City of Kelowna report, from September to November, most needle pickups occurred downtown.

Needle pickups happened 45 times in the downtown, 12 in the Pandosy area, nine in Rutland and six in the Springfield/Gordon/Dilworth area.

However, the largest number of needles found during a pickup was in the Springfield/Gordon/Dilworth area with 320 needles, which was significantly higher than the number of needles found during other pickups.

Kelowna parks services manager Blair Stewert said city staff sometimes find stashes of needles which can contribute to larger numbers found at one time.

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Needle collection numbers spiked in March, with 1,602 found, but fewer needles have been found this year compared to 2016.

It’s tough to gather comparisons between years, said Stewert. “People move around and the people that are using them move around so it’s never guaranteed that the same people are in the same area all the time.”

The data collected also does not say whether needles are used, still in the package, or bundled together.

“We’re working on that now to see whether we can produce an app… to record the information more accurately,” said Stewert.

Deputy fire chief Larry Hollier said the concentration of needles found by firefighters is downtown, “but we do get needle calls in all four of our stations. So it’s across the city, but it’s not rampant by any means.”

More needles are also found during the summer, he said, and the number of needle calls varies from week to week.

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Companies downtown have taken needle cleanup into their own hands.

At Blenz Coffee on Bernard Avenue, franchise owner Sophie Brown said she considered having a needle disposal in the bathrooms and has implemented policies at the store to try and prevent overdoses and needles left in there.

“We try to enforce a customer-only policy with our bathrooms and we do have keys for them. Staff is required to knock if anyone is in there for an excessive amount of time to prevent drug use in the bathroom, but we do find needles occasionally,” she said.

The policies were put in place because the store was experiencing an issue with dirty needles found in the bathrooms.

“A lot of business owners started putting gates on their doorways and cracking down on security and it kind of petered away,” she said.

Brown would love to see more of a crackdown on the drug use and homelessness issues in Kelowna by the city.

“It’s the proximity to Bernard Avenue. A lot of these people are filtering over and it’s definitely hurting businesses downtown,” she said.

Starbucks locations on Bernard and Harvey Avenues installed needle containers, “more than five years ago to provide a disposal method for needles and other sharp objects that is safe for customers and partners,” said associate communications manager Mary Franssen.

Containers can also be found in the bathrooms of the Okanagan Regional Library downtown.

The Downtown Kelowna Business Association has a sharps program, where needles are picked up in partnership with Interior Health and the City of Kelowna.

Executive director Ninette Ollgaard said it’s not just a downtown issue, it’s an Okanagan and B.C.-wide one.

The number of needles found in the past few year varies because of the preferred method of ingesting substances, she said.

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