British Columbia

Needle collection program in Surrey shutting down because of lack of funds

The Rig Dig program runs on funds from government organizations, but had its budget slashed this year.

'There’s clearly a need in the community for a service like ours,' says society that oversees the 'rig dig'

Needles found in the Whalley neighbourhood on Sunday, July 17, 2016. (CBC)

Removing dirty needles from public spaces is a priority in Surrey, B.C., — but a program dedicated to do just that will be shutting down on Friday due to cutbacks in government funding. 

"We need the support of the community and I think we've got that, but it needs an injection of funding to keep operating," says Shayne Williams, executive director of the Lookout Society.  

"We don't know who's going to pick up used needles in the community if it's not the organization."

The Lookout Society has been running the Rig Dig project, where volunteers go through parks and playgrounds picking up syringes and trash.

Over the last five months they've picked up more than 21,000 needles, Williams says, and the program provided meaningful opportunities for Surrey's most marginalized people. 

"This is one small little program that brokers a relationship with those people, that taps into their expertise and gives them an opportunity to break their cycle," he said.

However, the provincial gaming grant that paid for most of Rig Dig hasn't been renewed, and annual funding from Fraser Health was reduced by $15,000. 

That leaves Williams with two choices: find new money or wind down the program.

He's hoping for the former. 

"There's clearly a strong need in the community for a service like ours," he said.

With files from Jesse Johnston