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Bear Clan exceeds projected needle pickup; on track to hit 145,000 needles in Winnipeg

James Favel with the Bear Clan Patrol digs through garbage on the ground to remove needles.
James Favel with the Bear Clan Patrol digs through garbage on the ground to remove needles. Global News

The Winnipeg Bear Clan is on track to take 145,000 needles off city streets — about 25,000 more than they thought they would this year.

The local patrol group’s founder calls the numbers “incredible.” The latest needle drop they did, said James Favel, was 31,000 needles, collected only in eight weeks.

“When you consider that last year we recovered 40,000 used syringes all year, to recover 31,000 in eight weeks…” Favel told 680 CJOB.

Favel said the situation is likely to only get worse unless some supports are put in place.

READ MORE: Bear Clan calls on City of Winnipeg to hire organization to clean up used needles

Harm reduction programs hand out needles to people who need them for free in an effort to prevent blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis from being transferred to other people.

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But those free needles aren’t being recollected by the programs that hand them out, said Favel.

“We need to have a more stringent reclamation program run by WRHA (Winnipeg Regional Health Authority) and other service providers,” he said.

“I support harm reduction 100 per cent, but (the WRHA) needs to consider the needs of the community members that they’re serving as well.”

Supports needed

Earlier this year, the Winnipeg Bear Clan was estimating it would pick up 120,000 needles and asked the various levels of government for some support.

“We are spending more time picking up needles than we are just about any other thing than we do right now and that’s not right,” Favel said in July.

“This is not why the organization started – so we can pick up bio-hazardous waste.”

Favel said he was hopeful when the city was looking to hire a group to pick up bio-hazardous waste, like needles.

But that plan was trashed when another part of the proposal – to dispose of homeless tent cities – brought backlash from homeless advocacy groups.

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That left the Bear Clan to continue picking up the used needles.

“It’s not getting done in a timely manner. We have people who want to see this done immediately and if it’s not done in that fashion, they’re frustrated, so they’re calling us,” said Favel.

Winnipeg’s Bear Clan co-founder experiences dirty-needle scare
Winnipeg’s Bear Clan co-founder experiences dirty-needle scare

The city said earlier this year that people should call 311 if they find a needle on public property and a crew will be sent out within one day to deal with it. If the needle is on private property, people can contact Street Connections.

It wasn’t all frustrating news for the Bear Clan this year, however.

“Food distribution has become a real focus for us,” said Favel.

“We’re going to recover 145,000 syringes this year, but I think we’re also going to be putting 140 tons of produce and baked goods into our community free of charge for community members. That is having a positive and pleasant impact on our community members.

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“So it’s not all bad news.”