Saskatoon

Saskatoon sees spike in dirty needles on city streets

While the number of needles collected have been climbing, calls to the fire department have decreased. Saskatoon's Fire Chief says that's a result of partnerships in the community.

Saskatoon Fire Department has logged a 18 per cent increase between 2016 and 2018

Used needles can be seen in a Styrofoam cup in Saskatoon in October 2018. (Matt Garand/CBC News)

The number of disposed needles collected by the the Saskatoon Fire Department has jumped substantially in the last three years. 

Since 2016, the Saskatoon Fire Department has logged an increase of roughly 18 per cent. That's an increase of 1,137 needles from 2016 to 2018.

Saskatoon Fire Chief Morgan Hackl said that while the number of needles being picked up has jumped, the number of calls coming in has been fluctuating.

In 2016, the Saskatoon Fire Department received 1,414 calls for needle pick ups. That number jumped to 1,478 in 2017, but then fell again in 2018 to 1,300. 

Fire Chief Morgan Hackl said that while the number of needles being collected by fire crews is on the rise, the number of calls they're receiving for sharps is falling. (Cory Herperger/CBC News)

Hackl said the number of calls have likely been falling due to partnerships the Saskatoon Fire Department has with community organizations like AIDS Saskatoon.

He said these partnerships take pressure off of fire crews, as roughly 10 per cent of incident response is for needle pickups.

AIDS Saskatoon already has needle pickup crews working two days a week and is currently in discussions with the Saskatchewan Health Authority about hiring a full-time employee to focus on it. 

Jason Mercredi, the executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, at the needle exchange office on 33rd Street. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

Jason Mercredi, the executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, said having a full-time employee dedicated to needle pick up would be beneficial on several fronts. 

"We would be able to dedicate people to Pleasant Hill and Riversdale specifically, where we find most of the needles and we'd prevent people having to see that with their kids," he said. "On top of that, while they're out in the community, they'd be able to provide needle safe education to community members."

He said people who are the "hardest to reach" are those most in need of education.

Mercredi also said the employee could pickup sharp calls coming into the fire department during the day, taking pressure off fire crews. 

He said they get back 10 per cent more needles then they distribute at the needle exchange run by AIDS Saskatoon. 

While there is no timeline on when a full-time employee would be hired, Mercredi said discussions with the SHA are ongoing and he hopes to see them in place "sooner than later."

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