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Escalating problem with needles left on Penticton school grounds

Click to play video: 'Escalating problem with needles left on Penticton school grounds'
Escalating problem with needles left on Penticton school grounds
Escalating problem with needles left on Penticton school grounds – May 30, 2019

The superintendent of the Okanagan Skaha School District said students and staff at some schools are finding needles on school grounds on a daily basis.

Wendy Hyer said needles being left on school property has been an escalating issue over the last three or four years.

However, as Hyer explained, the societal problems showing up on school property go beyond drug use.

READ MORE: Emergency action underway after 7 drug overdose calls in downtown Kelowna

“We are always coming in the morning and finding needles and paraphernalia on the ground. We have individuals who are injecting themselves on a school property at the start of the school day and of course students not only are exposed to seeing that behaviour but, at times, they don’t feel safe because you have folks who are saying inappropriate things to them,” Hyer said.

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“They are shooting up in front of the school. We’ve had over the past couple of years individuals try to set up a camp where they would sleep in the evening under stairwells or in alcoves so staff have had to try to move them along. Often we contact the RCMP to help us when we see folks who are selling drugs or are clearly in distress or who are refusing to move along and leave the property.”

READ MORE: 5,600 used needles. 6 days. A Penticton pharmacy is buying back discarded needles

Hyer said these issues are mainly showing up at schools in the core of Penticton including Penticton Secondary School, Queens Park Elementary, Princess Margret Secondary, Skaha Lake Middle School and KVR Middle School.

Hyer said the district has shared information with students about how to get help from staff if they see a needle and provided training with staff on how to dispose of the sharps safely.

The superintendent said the problem is a complex one and believes the entire community will need to come together to solve it.

READ MORE: A day in the life of Kelowna RCMP downtown enforcement

“I really think it is going to take all of the community getting together and saying, ‘How are we addressing the homeless issue? How are we supporting folks with addictions? How are we providing support to people with mental health [challenges]?’ and really looking for ways to reengage and support people who have become disengaged in the community,” Hyer said.
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The regional health authority, meanwhile, is currently planning to set up an overdose prevention site in another Okanagan city.

Vernon is slated to have an overdose prevention site, where people can use drugs in a supervised environment and Kelowna already has a similar supervised consumption site.

Watch: (July 2018) 5,600 used needles. 6 days. A Penticton pharmacy is buying back discarded needles
Click to play video: '5,600 used needles. 6 days. A Penticton pharmacy is buying back discarded needles'
5,600 used needles. 6 days. A Penticton pharmacy is buying back discarded needles

Interior Health says the facilities decrease overdose deaths and lead to less public drug use and discarded needles.

The health authority confirmed it is having internal discussions about “overdose prevention services for Penticton,” but said it can’t yet provide details about what that might entail.

“Many people have been personally touched by the overdose crisis and Penticton is one of the hardest hit communities within Interior Health in terms of overdose deaths,” the health authority said in a statement.

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“Interior Health’s goal is to provide a continuum of services to clients including overdose prevention services.”

READ MORE: UPDATE: Penticton endorses plan to ban sitting on downtown sidewalks during summer months

There has been a lot of controversy in Penticton around homelessness in recent weeks, after the city council moved forward with a proposal to ban people from sitting or lying down on some sidewalks at certain times of the year.

The proposed changes have been controversial and inspired a public protest by those who believe the rule unfairly targets homeless people.

— with files from Shelby Thom

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