SURREY — Fraser Health says it is looking at “interim strategies” for needle recovery in Surrey after the Rig Dig program ended last Friday.
Lookout Emergency Aid Society ran the program for the last few years and it was not uncommon for the team to discard of hundreds of needles everyday.
But it came to an end on Friday (Sept. 9) after a loss of funding.
“We are exploring ways to ensure there is continuity of the needle recovery program, like Rig Dig,” said spokeswoman Tasleem Juma. “However, since we have not been the primary funder previously, we have to evaluate all of the options available and ensure the strategy in place best addresses the issue of improperly discarded needles.”
Lookout says it was the loss of $44,000 in gaming grant funding for Rig Dig that resulted in its demise this year.
While Fraser Health noted funding for Lookout actually increased this year (by $186,603 to $660,293), Lookout says just $8,400 of that is for the Rig Dig program. And even so, that pot is shared with other programs.
Juma assured outreach staff are monitoring the situation and carrying sharps containers to enhance safe disposal. She said Fraser Health will also be reaching out to other partners to have them spread the word and pick up needles.
“(The) city already has clean-up crews that operation. Temporarily, city crews will increase their presence,” she noted.
“We’ll be asking staff at harm reduction sites to reinforce and speak to individuals picking up supplies to remind people about safe disposal,” said Juma. “We share the public’s concern for inappropriately discarded needles. Substance use is a complex issue and a major concern from a public health perspective. Evidence has shown that communities with robust harm reduction services have less inappropriate discards than communities without.”
Meanwhile, Lookout executive deputy director Keir Macdonald hopes to find a way to revive the Rig Dig Program.
“One of the things I worry about is school’s back,” he told the Now last week. “So it’s not just the primary business area that we keep an eye on, the parks, the streets, we do the school areas as well. Without this service we won’t be sweeping through.
“There’s always the potential risk of pricks,” Macdonald continued. “That’s the fear. All it takes is one.”
He noted the business community, residents and even users are supportive of the program.
In July, the Downtown Surrey BIA released a report that said stray needles have become an “ever-growing concern” in the area.
“Whereas used needles were once largely confined to 135A Street (‘the Strip’), they are increasingly spreading to new, previously unaffected areas,” states the report.
One of the BIA’s recommendations is expansion of the now-cancelled Rig Dig program.
“Everyone recognizes what a valuable service this is,” said Macdonald. “We really don’t know what’s going to happen.”