Three months into an effort to remove used needles and drug paraphernalia from Regina alleys, the founders of Queen City Patrol never imagined being this busy.
Wade LeCaine and Patty Will, working with fewer than 10 dependable volunteers right now, have picked up 6,595 needles. This weekend alone, they collected 1,078 in one location in North Central.
“It’s crazy, but we’re out there doing it,” LeCaine said.
LeCaine and Will, who met while doing similar volunteer work with White Pony Lodge, struck out on their own after acknowledging the other organization “could only do so much,” according to Will.
“Since then, we haven’t had much sleep,” she said, noting they go out with their volunteers five to six nights each week.
It’s unclear to them whether there’s more drug use, more unsafe disposal or they’re just paying more attention. But they said they do know the unpleasant and dangerous job they’re doing is extremely important.
LeCaine recently stepped on a used needle. He said he was fortunate that it went sideways into the sole of the special footwear he sports while patrolling and he was uninjured.
“I just had an ugly feeling,” he said of his emotions in the moment, which reminded him of why he is doing the work.
“We do it so kids walking down the alley don’t get poked, because half the time you can’t even see them unless you’re looking for them,” he said, noting the needles and paraphernalia are often hidden under snow or dirt at this time of year.
Jamiy Moran, employment co-ordinator at North Central Family Centre, said her organization is appreciative of Queen City Patrol’s effort, especially with 60-70 children coming to after-school programming daily on foot.
“In their journey, I can’t imagine how many needles they could possibly be exposed to,” she said. “So for the safety of the kids, I think picking up the needles is really important.”
Moran said centre staff is constantly checking the vicinity for needles and explaining to the children not to touch it if they see one.
“I think that says that people are struggling and that we as a society and as Regina maybe should really take a more critical look at what we can do to help communities and help the people who are experiencing those kinds of struggles,” Moran said.
Although Queen City Patrol finds a lot of work in North Central, it also does clean-up downtown and is open to expanding its reach.
“We’re not deterred, definitely not deterred,” Will said, referring to the high volume of needles and drug paraphernalia collected to date. “We plan on growing.”
Queen City Patrol is hoping to acquire an office space from which it can offer other services, including snacks, sandwiches and safety when shelters are closed.
LeCaine and Will are also trying to learn more about what they’re doing. They are pursuing training on how to clean up needles left in homes. They will be touring the biomed disposal centre in Saskatoon and are hoping to learn more about that city’s safe consumption site.
In the long term, the pair is hopeful Regina could be approved for a safe consumption site as well. But in the short term, they would just like to see more needle drop boxes.
“Right now, trying to lower the number over overdoses and needles on the ground is kind of our main goal,” LeCaine said.