Friday, January 5, 2007

Does Tony Clement know where junkies' needles go?

I risk sounding like radio commentator Paul Harvey, “Hello Canadians…. And now for the rest of the story”. I've had the urge to tell the rest of the story since Health Minister Tony Clement visited the supervised injection site on Wednesday, and I read a standard argument for renewing it in the next day's Vancouver Sun:

“Supporters also say the centre has reduced …the number of discarded syringes in public places….”

There is no doubt that many people who walk into InSite to inject drugs, walk out without a syringe to toss on the street. But for the record, the reduced number of discarded needles in public spaces can also be attributed to the fact that people are paid to walk the streets day and night picking them up.

The Consumer Health Board, which is housed in the same building at Hastings & Main as the Health Contact Centre, pays $28 for people to put in a four hour shift picking up needles and doing other assigned tasks. Vancouver Area Network of Drugs Users [VANDU] pays $10 for people to spend two hours picking up syringes. This is under the table income, at least in the case of VANDU members.

A VANDU member whom I know works picking up syringes at night. I sometimes pass him walking along Main St. with his specially designed bucket with a slit across the top. He says hi.

Here I’ll toss in something for Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Despite the fact the wages for these needle collectors comes from the government, it is next to impossible for a Canadian to get one of these jobs if you aren’t at least an occasional drug user. If you’re the type of person who has resisted sticking a needle in your arm or picking up a crack pipe, you won’t make the cut.

Another reason for fewer discarded needles in public places is that in recent years, boxes for discarding needles have been placed in both indoor and outdoor spots throughout the Downtown Eastside. The Carnegie Centre, like other major organizations, has installed these boxes in every toilet stall on every floor; they couldn’t stop drug users from sitting on the toilets to shoot up so they provided them a place to at least drop their needles. Street Program workers, paid union wages, are regularly seen entering these washrooms to empty the boxes into a safe bucket.
The boxes can also be seen in a few alleys; one box is attached to a fence at Oppenheimer Park, a notorious gathering place for junkies and dealers.

Yet another contributing factor to the reduced number of discarded needles in public places is the United We Can alley-cleaning program. It's a government funded program in which low income people are paid by the local bottle recycling depot to walk around in packs cleaning the alleys and sidewalks. They pick up litter, including needles.

That’s the whole story.