Ottawa's needle-exchange policy too dangerous, shelter says

One of Ottawa's main homeless shelters has abandoned a key aspect of the city's needle-exchange policy because discarded needles are creating dangers for the public.

One of Ottawa's main homeless shelters has abandoned a key aspect of the city's policy of handing out clean needles to addicts even if they don't turn in a dirty one for safe disposal, saying used needles are littering parks and streets and creating a danger for the public.

The Shepherds of Good Hope's new policy is to provide clean needles only to people who turn in dirty ones.

Prompted by Byward Market-area residents who collected more than 1,000 discarded needles, the Shepherds conducted an audit of its program over a 25-day period.

"We gave out just under 2,000 needles, and less than 500 came back. There was so many more going out than coming in," said Yvonne Garvey, a spokeswoman for the shelter.

Market residents Chris and Lisa Grinham were concerned about the safety of their children when they set out to collect discarded needles in their area. They collected more than 1,000 in a six-week period.

"Because we have such distribution, and because there is such availability of this stuff, now they [addicts] are shooting up and dropping them where they are shooting up," said Chris Grinham.

The Shepherds of Good Hope is one of 13 agencies distributing clean needles in a program designed to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and not all of them agree with the change made by the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Rob Boyd, who runs the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, makes no apology for operating what is essentially a needle-distribution program.

"There was mounting evidence that we weren't getting enough needle coverage throughout the city, and therefore we adopted a distribution model as opposed to an exchange model," Boyd told CBC News on Wednesday.

The Grinhams and Shepherds of Good Hope fear that approach means addicts have no incentive to dispose of needles properly.