A North End community group is sounding the alarm about an increase in used needles they're finding in Winnipeg back lanes and on boulevards.
Armed with biohazard containers, gloves and pliers, the North End Ambassadors are out daily removing dirty needles discarded by drug users.
So far the team has picked up 476 syringes in March alone — a spike compared to this time last year, the group says.
"It does get emotional after a while because of how many needles you see around and just the thought of what might happen you know if somebody was to poke themselves," Kenneth Harry, the group's supervisor, said Thursday.
The team searches "hot zones" or areas that are known for having discarded syringes.
Harry said this year his team is finding dirty needles everywhere—front yards, back lanes, boulevards and in school zones.
"It's getting warmer, a lot kids like to wear sandals and if they're running through the boulevards and high grass areas the needle can just easily poke your toe and you don't know what diseases could be inside of the needle," said Harry.
When CBC followed the group Thursday, four needles were found in less than an hour. Three in a back lane and one on a boulevard in the William Whyte neighbourhood.
More needles being found: WRHA
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority confirms the number of needles being found on Winnipeg streets is on the rise.
As part of its harm reduction initiatives, the WRHA distributes clean needles at several sites across the city. Last year 888,766 needles were handed out—an increase of 36 per cent compared to 2014.
The health authority provides safe disposal sites at six locations in Winnipeg and said it collects needles if they are discovered on private property.
The North End Ambassadors want to see more needle drop boxes installed in the North End, particularly in back lanes.
The the three-person team is funded by the North End Community Renewal Corporation and heads out to remove needles from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Harry would like the city to provide funding for the North End Ambassadors so they could expand their efforts to more neighbourhoods.
"The city does not fund this type of program. I am not sure why because this is a major problem," he said.
"It would be nice if even you know Mayor Bowman could come down and take a walk with us."
Mynarski councillor Ross Eadie said Thursday he is aware of the issue and supports the group's call for more needle drop boxes, noting that is a WHRA decision.
A spokesperson for the WRHA said the authority will move drop boxes to new locations as needed.
"Street Connections will work with anyone who calls in, organizations or individuals and property owners, to set up additional sites or move less active ones to higher-traffic areas as appropriate," said the WRHA.