DTES residents fear more park patrols would drive drug users 'into further isolation'

Vancouver city council is considering increasing current park patrol due to the prevalence of needles on park grounds.

Vancouver city council considers increasing park patrols due to prevalence of needles on ground

Discarded needles in Vancouver's Andy Livingston Park. (David Horemans/CBC)

The City of Vancouver's ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of discarded syringes in city parks has some residents of the Downtown Eastside concerned.

Vancouver city council is considering an increased park patrol presence to ensure drug users don't leave needles in public green space.

Karen Ward, board member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, admits that the needles are a growing public safety concern, but worries that the motions put forward earlier this week could end up causing more harm to people battling addiction.

"We know that those rangers are frequently accompanied by police," she told guest host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On the Coast.

"And we know that because of the stigma and discrimination and the criminalization associated with drug use ... people will only go into further isolation, will hide themselves even more, and withdraw even further from any kind of safe place."

Growing concerns

Earlier this week, patrols found 120 used and unused syringes littered on the ground of Andy Livingstone park, just steps away from a new elementary school.

A man sleeps beside the pedestrian bridge in Andy Livingston Park (David Horemans/CBC)

Syringes in the park have long been a problem, so much so that several syringe receptacles have been made accessible to drug users.

Ward fears that increased patrols would force users out of the park, and make them more vulnerable.

"People are already pushed so far to the fringes," she said. "There's nowhere else that is remotely safe for them. They're not safer in the alleys, they're slightly safer in the park."

City council is considering increasing park patrols in an effort to reduce the amount of needles left in public spaces. 9:38

She argues that the city should be examining more proactive solutions to the issue, such as setting up temporary consumption sites in parks, or providing users with personal needle receptacles.

"We don't want to expose children to horrible situations, but the children also need to understand ... that you don't throw people away."

Motions to increase park patrols are currently working their way through Vancouver City Council and the Vancouver Park Board.

Used needles are left in Vancouver's Hinge Park on Tuesday. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

With files from CBC's BC On the Coast