McCauley and Central McDougall are both neighbourhoods in Edmonton’s inner city, and both are near supervised consumption sites, but the two communities are worlds apart when it comes to reports of needles collected.
The number of needles reported in the city dropped overall after the opening of the supervised consumption sites; but on a neighbourhood level, Central McDougall has seen an increase in the number of needles reported while Boyle Street has seen the opposite effect.
“I’m not happy,” said Warren Champion, director for the Central McDougall Community League.
“I’m specifically aggravated by the fact that, until very recently, we had very few needles north of 108 Avenue going north. Now we’re finding them all over the place.”
Global News analyzed maps and data from the City of Edmonton showing reports of needles collected on public property in each neighbourhood in the city. Numbers from the nine months after the first sites — at Boyle Street Community Services and George Spady Centre — opened in March 2018 were compared to the same time period in 2017.
The data shows Central McDougall saw the number of needles reported jump from 191 between April to December 2017 to 647 during the same period in 2018 – a 239 per cent increase. Boyle Street saw 908 needles reported from April to December 2017 and 53 reported in the same period in 2018 – a 94 per cent decrease.
Champion said the nearly 240 per cent increase is “not good,” adding he was not expecting such an increase within such a short period of time of the sites opening.
“We are not happy about that at all,” he said.
Champion said he consistently finds needles all over his neighbourhood, adding he believes drug users visit the supervised consumption sites — one of which is in Central McDougall, while two are in McCauley — then walk through his community.
“I’m more careful, but I think it’s probably more reasonable to be talking about how women, kids, seniors — how their lives have changed, because a lot of the times, they’re out walking,” Champion added. “They’re never quite sure where to walk anymore because they’re not sure what they’re going to step on.”
He said he has been hearing more reports of vandalism and break-ins, and he believes there is a link with the opening of the consumption sites.
“It is way more than 240 per cent more than it was in the past,” Champion said. “People are getting broken into. We have a building on the corner there; in the last six weeks, they were broken into three or four times to get into the mail.
“[Residents] are not feeling very happy and some of them have chosen to leave because they do not feel safe.”
Champion, who is unhappy the sites were concentrated where they are, said he would like to see supervised consumption sites in other parts of the city.
Reasons for the increase
Don Belanger, program manager for the city’s Capital City Clean-Up program, said the increase in Central McDougall may be due to large dumps of needles at one time and transient populations moving back and forth throughout the city.
“Some of the data we’ve seen will show large numbers of needles deposited in one location,” he said. “It’s basically a needle dump, most times it’s medical debris.
“From our perspective, that particular area in Central McDougall has seen a bit of that. It has also seen a bit more movement of traffic from inner city more towards the north and west.”
Belanger said the city will work to identify where boxes to collect discarded needles can be placed.
Marliss Taylor, director of Streetworks, said it is not clear why Central McDougall has seen such a dramatic uptick.
“That one is a tough one,” she said. “What we don’t know from the data is, was there one large dump of needles in one spot? It gives us one number for several months so I don’t know enough about the actual details on it, I don’t think, to come to any concrete conclusion.
“It is certainly something we’ll keep an eye on going forward and make sure we are paying attention.”
When asked about specific initiatives, Taylor said staff would keep a close eye on statistics and work with the community to help dispose of the needles.
Decrease seen in Boyle Street
It is a very different story for Candas Jane Dorsey, president of the Boyle Street Community League; her community has seen a dramatic decrease of needles reported of 94 per cent from 2017 to 2018.
“I feel much safer just because there’s always an inherent danger in trying to do the clean-up yourself,” she said. “To have that material not be on the street and not be a place where a kid could pick it up or a pet could encounter it, I think that’s a big change.”
Dorsey, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 17 years, said she used to see drug users congregate in the vacant lot beside her house and inject.
“They would pick places that felt safe in the neighbourhood but they weren’t always ready or able to clean up their leftover needles,” she said, adding she would tell the drug users to put their needle waste in a garbage can on her property.
“I have little dogs so I’m very conscious of what’s at dog-level. People have kids as well. You would find needles and other debris on the ground, under hedges, on the sidewalk, in the playground — a number of places.”
Dorsey said residents are supportive of the supervised consumption sites.
“We see this as an improvement, not just in the sense of littering and danger from [sharp objects]… but also [the] reduction of risk for the people who are at-risk,” she said.
The Chinatown and Area Business Association has filed a lawsuit regarding the supervised consumption sites, arguing they were never consulted before three sites were opened. A representative of the association declined to comment on this story until the lawsuit is settled.
Global News initially filed a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request for maps showing where the city was collecting needles. The maps released by the city were Google Map screenshots and the FOI office said it could not release anything more specific or interactive for privacy reasons. Global News, along with other media, repeatedly asked for numbers and more detail. A few weeks later, the city quietly released the neighbourhood-specific maps, saying that data should be shared with the public.
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