Hamilton

'Ongoing issue' with used needles at park by Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Elementary school

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board said the school on Belmont Avenue has 'had an ongoing issue with needles' in a park connected to the school playground.

'My son almost picked them up. Thank God I was right there,' mom says

Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School said finding used needles in the park next to the school has been an 'ongoing issue.' (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It's been more than a month but VanessaLea Mcandrew still remembers the phone call that had her rushing to Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Elementary School.

"My brother calls me and was like, 'You need to get to the park,' and I said, 'Why?' and he said, 'They're playing with needles,' " Mcandrew, a nursing student at Mohawk College, said.

On Sept. 23 Mcandrew's brother told her that he watched a young girl prick herself with a used needle after school hours in Belview Park, a small patch of grass connected to the school playground that leads to train tracks and Primrose Avenue.

Mcandrew said the young girl tried to rinse her hands off in the splash pad.

The school playground at Holy Name of Jesus is mixed in with a city park, which has led to used needles being found by kids. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Mcandrew arrived and said she offered to walk the girl back home to her parents to try and get her immediate medical attention, but the girl refused. Mcandrew ran into the same girl again days later and learned her parents never found out she was pricked by a needle.

Mcandrew says she has found needles in the park before and called public health and the school about the issue, but doesn't feel enough has been done. 

"My son almost picked them up. Thank God I was right there," she said.

"They need more people and public health needs to come out and do something about it. They need to put out a safety bin and keep the kids away from the park."

It's a symptom of Hamilton's opioid problems, which worsened between 2018 and 2019.

Mcandrew ended up contacting a local couple who have been spending their own time and money to collect used needles around the city. Nicole Barati and Tyler Kipling helped with the cleanup. They are helping to clean up other hotspots for used needles across the city.

School board acknowledges issue with needles

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board confirmed the incident and identified it as part of a larger issue in the area.

"The city cleaned up that night, but school staff did a sweep of the park and playground the next morning to recover any needles that might have been missed," read an email from Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board spokesperson Marnie Jadon.

"The school has had an ongoing issue with needles in the park, however, the custodian and staff do their best to clean the area each day and keep our students safe."

A Hamilton man holds a used needle without the sharp end. Needles like these have been found near Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Michelle Baird, director of epidemiology, wellness and communicable disease control with Hamilton Public Health, said hearing about needles in parks is "unfortunate but not unusual."

She also said she hears about needles near schools more than she'd like to.

"It does happen unfortunately, sometimes in school near parks that aren't part of the school property or sometimes on the school property, people find syringes," Baird said.

"We have an issue in our city with respect to opioids and we've been trying to make needle exchange programs available and put more sharp bins in the city."

Signs promoting people to avoid littering line the fence that separates the train tracks from Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

She said it's important for parents to teach their kids about what syringes are, what they look like and why they're dangerous.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

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