Loss of funding has Surrey’s ‘Rig Dig’ needle cleanup program in crisis

Lookout Emergency Aid Society program that collected 600,000 used syringes in 2015 may end in September, society says

Lookout Emergency Aid Society volunteers pick up syringes during a recent cleanup in Whalley. In 2015

WHALLEY — A program responsible for the cleanup of hundreds of used needles a day in Surrey might see its end in September due to funding cuts.

As the Now reported last week, the Downtown Surrey BIA is calling for expansion of the needle program due to used syringes becoming an “ever-growing concern” in the area over the past two years.

Lookout Emergency Aid Society’s provincial gaming grant is not being renewed and as a result, their peer-lead ‘Rig Dig’ needle recovery program is in crisis.

This loss is coupled with a $15,000 per year funding reduction for peer programming from the Fraser Health Authority, according to Lookout.

SEE ALSO: Surrey businesses offer up fresh solutions to needle nightmare

Lookout reports it collected nearly 600,000 used needles from Surrey streets in 2015.

On Saturday, Fraser Health and the Surrey RCMP issued a public warning following 20 known drug overdoses in 24 hours. The count has since increased to 43. None were fatal.

“Rig Dig is such an essential community service – but without the recent emergency grant from the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society to sustain operations in the first quarter (of our fiscal year), Rig Dig would have already ended,” said Shayne Williams, Lookout’s executive director (pictured).

“We project that we will be forced to end in mid-September unless we can solidify new funding. We are disappointed because there is such a pressing need to expand the program.”

A recent Downtown Surrey BIA (DSBIA) report, titled Addressing Discarded Needles in Downtown Surrey, calls for expansion of the “Rig Dig” program. The report states that calls to the service often go unanswered.

SEE ALSO: Number of used needles strewn about Surrey is shocking

Since April, Lookout has reduced operations of the needle program to 60 per cent of the previous year’s level of service.

Even with the reduced service, Lookout has spent $8,190 on Rig Dig honorarium alone, in just three-and-a-half months.

And while Lookout previously had more than $50,000 of funding for Rig Dig, it only has $8,400 a year going forward (provided by Fraser Health). Even so, that funding is a combined fund for honorariums, health fairs and the Rig Dig program.

“They (needles) are everywhere. It’s scary. It would be like walking on eggshells if we weren’t here,” said Donna Wheeler, a former addict who now volunteers with the needle recovery program.

Lookout is now scrambling to find funders to help keep Rig Dig running.

Click here for more information on the Lookout Society.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

 

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