Cambridge needle pickup program 'exceeded all expectations,' may expand to Kitchener, Waterloo

The Working to Improve Neighbourhood Safety project employed people in recovery, or seeking treatment for addictions, pick up discarded needles and pipes in Cambridge. The one-year pilot was so successful that the Region of Waterloo is considering expanding it.

Workers picked up 3,400 needles and 226 pipes from alleys, streets and trails

The WINS Project (Working to Improve Neighbourhood Safety) in Cambridge has seen peer workers pick up 3,400 needles and 226 pipes from alleys, streets and trails. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

A program that pays people who are in recovery, or seeking treatment for addiction, to pick up needles in Cambridge could be expanded to Kitchener and Waterloo next year. 

During a community services committee meeting on Tuesday, regional councillors heard WINS (Working to Improve Neighbourhood Safety) trained 14 people in the first year of the pilot project — people who have faced barriers to traditional employment.

Over that year, the workers picked up 3,400 needles and 226 pipes from alleys, streets and trails.

There were also 762 interactions with the public, including people who use drugs, that offered a chance for education on safe disposal and other supports.

"The results exceeded all expectations," said a video shown to councillors.

Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz said she was pleased with the results of the pilot. 

"It's a win-win-win. We get clean-up, we get outreach to the community and we get people who can become contributing members of the community again," she said.

The people behind the program, which has included Region of Waterloo Public Health and Sanguen Health, are proposing expanding the peer-based needle recovery program to all three urban cores. That will be part of an issue paper to be discussed by regional council as part of the 2020 budget deliberations.

Workers given support to prevent relapse

During the committee meeting, Coun. Helen Jowett — who represents Cambridge — questioned if it's problematic to have people who currently use drugs, or who have been through recovery, do this work. 

"We are literally putting them back in a very vulnerable environment," Jowett said.

Violet Umanetz, manager of outreach for education and prevention for Sanguen Health, said prior to peers starting work, the job expectations are made clear. She said they have frank discussions with the workers and debrief regularly.

She said many reported the work has even been helpful in their recovery.

"We know when people are really isolated, it is much harder for them to access those services. And part of the WINS model and part of peer work in general is being very open about the fact that we know that you have this history," she said.

"We can support that differently than we would for a traditional employee where we're not quite sure what you should do," Umanetz added. "It's already out on the table, right out front."


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