Olympic Village residents worry about increase in discarded syringes

People living in Vancouver's Olympic Village say they've noticed more dirty needles littering the area this summer, and they want officials to step up their response.

People living in the Olympic Village say they've noticed more dirty needles littering the area this summer

Discarded needles lie in the grass in Hinge Park near Olympic Village in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

Sarah Desaulniers has lived in Vancouver's Olympic Village for four years, but just this summer, she says she and her neighbours have noticed a major increase in the number of discarded drug syringes littering the area, especially Hinge Park, where she takes her one-year-old daughter to play.

"It started off with a sighting, you know, maybe every couple weeks a year ago, and now it's almost daily, and it's sometimes daily in multiple areas," said Desaulniers.

"It's pretty scary. This is a reality for families here, and it's not acceptable," she said.

Sarah Desaulniers is concerned her one-year-old daughter will find a used needle and get pricked. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Maurie Maher, who moved into the Olympic Village near Science World in January also has a one-year-old daughter and says the issue of dirty needles being left around the neighbourhood is a growing concern.

"Now that I'm finding more needles under benches and just in spots that I'd never expect, like around Science World, I'm just nervous," said Maher.

"I'm afraid [my daughter's] going to get poked, and then injured and then exposed to HIV or something, right?"

"Now, especially in the sandbox and stuff, I'm really scared and just kind of dig through it before my daughter plays in it," said Maher.

Olympic Village resident Maurie Maher plays with her one-year-old daughter in Hinge Park on Tuesday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Maher, who said the needles are typically exposed, rather than capped, found one earlier this week. She said she reported it and was pleased that it was dealt with in 10 minutes, but she would prefer not to have to report it at all.

Desaulniers and some of the other parents in the community have began using a Facebook group to share images, locations and reports of needle sightings. They dutifully call the city's 311 number to report the syringes or call the PHS needle collection hotline.

But according to Desaulniers, the issue isn't always quickly addressed.

"Sometimes that can take hours, and, in some instances, days — three, four, five days, and we don't have sharps containers in this neighbourhood as well, so there's not a needle disposal area," she said.

Needles and other injection drug paraphernalia are discarded in the park next to Science World in Vancouver. (Marie Van)

"A child being pricked by a needle that was just used by a drug user is every parent's nightmare. I mean, with the drugs that are being used now, it's not only heroin, it's fentanyl and it's so lethal."

"It almost brings tears to my eyes. It's terrifying. It's sad. I feel like it's our right to be safe in the city. I'm from Vancouver and I feel like — you know, we want to feel safe here. It's such a beautiful city that we live in, and I absolutely want my daughter to be safe and to thrive here," said Desaulniers.

Vancouver Coastal Health manages needle collections through organizations like the Portland Hotel Society. The health authority reports that 118,237 needles were collected in the first six months of 2017 all over the region.

"While Vancouver Coastal Health understands that it can be upsetting to come across discarded needles, the risk to the public is extremely low. No one has ever acquired HIV, or any other pathogen, from a needle-stick injury from a discarded needle in a park or any other public place in Vancouver," said a VCH spokesperson in an emailed statement.

Somebody left needles, wrappers and other equipment used to inject drugs underneath a bench in the Olympic Village near Science World. (Eduardo Santos II)

The Vancouver Park Board also shares some responsibility for the condition of its parks and the potential hazards people find in them.

"[It's an] ongoing issue for us, challenge in the parks. Our staff are well aware of it, and we do our best to do needle sweeps on a daily basis, seven days a week. Unfortunately we don't get them all, but we do our best," said Howard Normann, the director of parks.

"[In the] Downtown Eastside, there is a crisis, and we're feeling the brunt of that in our parks … so yeah, there's definitely been an increase," said Normann about the discarded needles.

Normann said that a full time park board staff member is stationed at Hinge Park, in part, to try to keep it clean of dirty syringes.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker