Earlier this month, Arleen Bird stepped on a used needle while in Qualicum Beach at the farmer’s market.
“On June 9, I stepped on a dirty, used drug addict’s needle,” Bird said to Qualicum Beach council Monday (June 18) as part of a delegation with Jeannie Shaver, the Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market manager.
Bird became emotional while telling her story to council, and had Shaver take over her prepared speech.
“Arleen spent the next nine hours going to three doctors, two hospitals, two labs and a pharmacy. She has had a tetanus shot, a hepatitis B vaccine shot, two hepatitis A immunoglobulin shots and she’s not done yet. She needs another hepatitis shot, three anti-HIV shots in the next six months,” Shaver said.
Shaver and Bird presented to Qualicum Beach council Monday (June 18) following the incident June 9. Shaver said Bird was walking across the singles tennis court when she stepped on a dirty needle.
“It went right through the sole of her shoe and her sock and then punctured her toe,” said Shaver.
During the presentation, Shaver asked council about a clean-up crew — similar to one in Whistler — as well as where Vancouver Island Health Authority’s responsibilities lie in terms of handing out needles. She said while serving on the Official Community Plan, she learned about navigating competing priorities.
“In this scenario, we are keeping the users safe by providing clean, single-use needles, but are in turn putting the greater community at risk,” Shaver said.
Shaver suggested possibly looking to other communities for solutions.
Shaver and Bird showed council two different types of single-use needles. The first type, once discarded, could still puncture a person, but the second has a retractable needle that would possibly prevent people being punctured.
“These vanishing-point needles would keep them (the drug users) and the community safe,” said Shaver.
Coun. Neil Horner said he believes it was two people, who have been seen outside of Qualicum Foods, “shooting up all over town” and leaving the majority of used needles throughout the town. Following Bird’s incident, he said he had a sign made that read, “Please don’t give money to junkies. They’re using their used needles all over town. We want a safe community,” and stood outside QF. He said he hasn’t seen the two people around town since then.
“This isn’t about homelessness or addiction. Not all homeless people are addicts,” Horner said.
CAO Daniel Sailland told The NEWS that there has been an “ebb and flow” with issues around the washrooms in behind the Leigh House off of Second Avenue.
“They have been used and they were damaged so we shut them down for a period,” he said. “Now having learned from last year, we actually have more restrictive times around it. Wherever there’s an area that’s open to the public, we sometimes see individuals try to use them as an overnight sleeping spot or try to use them for what they choose to do.”
While staff doesn’t have a record of the calls made regarding used needles around town, Sailland said from year to year staff is seeing issues in different spots around town.
“Certainly last year and this year, we’re seeing this ongoing presence.”
It is the town’s responsibility to clean any needles that are found within Qualicum Beach. Sailland said if the town has the right equipment, then staff will dispose of the needles. If not, he said, staff will mark off the area and call in the right people to clear the area.
Coun. Anne Skipsey said she wasn’t aware this was an issue in the town until she heard about Bird’s incident through social media. Skipsey asked Shaver and Bird about the costs associated with the two different types of needles.
Bird said the non-retractable needles are about 10 cents per needle, while the retractable needles are about 25 cents per needle.
“I think it’s worth the 25 cents to make it safer,” said Bird.
Following the presentation, Horner made a notice of motion for staff to investigate options for a paid return system for used needles in town and for council to lobby VIHA to only distribute the retractable needles.
“If junkies are dropping needles, why not have the junkies pick them up?” Horner said. “We can’t fix addiction, we can’t fix homelessness, but we can fix the needles on the ground problem.”
Shaver also said she would be willing to work with town council and staff to come up with ideas on how to fix the discarded needle issue in the town.