June 19, 2012
The city is launching new programs to help cut down on the number of used needles discarded in Hamilton’s neighbourhoods.
Councillors on the board of health approved three new initiatives Monday: training outdoor staff to safely deal with used syringes, increasing hours for the city’s safe needle disposal van and hiring a social worker to help shelter employees dealing with addicted clients.
The new programs — all of which will be funded through the existing public health budget — came about after groups such as the Beasley Neighbourhood Association raised concerns about the impact of drug use in their community.
According to a city report, municipal public health inspectors responded to about 100 complaints about discarded needles last year. Some of them were from other city staff who came across the syringes during road work or park maintenance.
As a result, the city is planning to train those outdoor staff to properly deal with any discarded needles they come across instead of relying on public health workers to remove them.
In addition to boosting the number of on-the-ground staff equipped to safely handle used needles, the city is extending the operating hours of its needle disposal van. Drug users will soon have access to the van from 8 p.m. to midnight on busy Saturday nights.
“We need to be out there and be proactive — it’s unfortunate — but at the time the service is needed,” said Councillor Jason Farr, whose downtown ward includes the Beasley Neighbourhood.
The van initiative comes after the closure of one of the only needle exchange sites in the city, when Marchese Healthcare stopped offering that service in April. A needle exchange at the Wesley Centre — which ran 24/7 — ended in July 2010.
That has left only one needle exchange site open on weekends, at Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre. However, this program only runs on the third Saturday morning of each month.
A third program approved Monday is the addition of a social worker. This new employee will focus on helping local shelters deal with needle disposal and other addiction-related issues.
According to city staff, this social worker will not deal directly with clients at shelters, but rather help train shelter employees to “develop strategies and skills to deal with difficult clients with addictions.”
The programs still face ratification from council.