Pilot has former drug addicts picking up discarded needles in Cambridge

The Region of Waterloo Public Health is teaming up with Sanguen Health Centre for a needle pickup pilot project launching at the end of February. It will see people who used to struggle with addiction pick up improperly discarded needles in Cambridge.

Project gives people job experience and a way to give back to community

People who had substance use problems in the past will be hired to pick up improperly discarded needles in Cambridge as part of a six to 12-month pilot project. (Submitted by Tyler McGrath)

People recovering from addiction will be part of a new pilot project that will see them picking up discarded needles in Cambridge.

It will launch at the end of February and is being run by Region of Waterloo Public Health and Sanguen Health Centre.

The pilot will use a "peer model," said Grace Bermingham, manager of harm reduction at public health. That means it involves people who have had issues with addiction making meaningful contributions with their "expertise and experience." 

The pilot is based on a program run out of Ottawa, which Bermingham said has been very successful for years.

"We know that when people come across folks who might not have for example proper disposal containers, if they speak with somebody that they know have had experiences similar to them, they're likely more willing to listen," she said in an interview with Craig Norris, host of The Morning Edition on CBC Radio.

The program is also a way for the hired workers to have a "meaningful opportunity" for employment.

"There are a number of people who might have had experiences of addiction and substance use who might not be quite ready for the traditional job market," she said.

Another thing is they often get "a sense of wanting to contribute to the community and give back," Bermingham added, and this project would be one way to do it.

A Cambridge community cleanup in October last year found 648 needles in a day. (A Clean Cambridge/ Facebook)

February launch

Peers will be hired by Sanguen Health Centre, an organization that runs a mobile harm reduction health van in the region. The agency will also be responsible for training and supervision.

Once the program launches, the workers will be heading out in pairs or teams in pre-determined routes and on shifts. They will pick up discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia for proper disposal. The pilot that will run for six to 12 months.

While the program is starting in Cambridge, there is a chance it could move elsewhere, Bermingham said. 

Cambridge was chosen as a starting point because in the past year, there have been an increase in needle litter in parts of the city.

"We want to make sure we're putting in some strategies to address that right away," she said.


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