A Langley City resident stepped out of her apartment one morning to find a startling discovery — drug paraphernalia scattered about the property.
She called the City to report the mess, but instead of City staff or the police coming to clean up the mess, Lookout showed up at her door.
The non-profit society, which quietly opened an office in downtown Langley in December, has a two-person team available five days a week to pick up — and properly dispose of — used needles found anywhere within the City or Township of Langley.
And they do it for free.
Afterwards, if the area continues to be a problem, it is added to the monitor list for the Rig Riders, teams of two people who patrol Langley on bikes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to provide needle recovery, overdose response and harm reduction services.
“Monday the team goes out and they check the Walmart, Willoughby area, and then Wednesday they do the downtown core — Douglas Park, Rotary Park, that space. And then Friday they go out to the (homeless) camps,” said Kathie Viirk, a Lookout outreach worker who started with the organization five years ago along the ‘Whalley Strip’ in Surrey.
“We’re not just doing businesses, we’re also checking to make sure if you’re going hiking through a trail, you’re not going to find something you don’t want to find. So we’re cleaning those up as well, and any referrals in between. We cover all of Langley and all of Aldergrove.”
Most of the Rig Riders are people with “lived experiences” who have been through addiction and homelessness before, and they are paid a small stipend for their services. One of the main participants is a gentleman named Nick, who recently became homeless himself.
“With the collection of drug paraphernalia — that’s hard to see,” said Susan Keeping, manager of Lookout’s Langley branch. “It makes you feel unsafe, there’s a huge emotional reaction. You can’t blame anyone, it does feel that way. But knowing that there’s a tool or a service that you can call (is comforting), and we’ll immediately respond.”
The Rig Riders represent just a fraction of the services offered by the Lookout Society, which helps adults with low — or no — incomes throughout Metro Vancouver. Volunteers started offering services in Langley two years ago on an as-needed basis. Now, they have two full time staff — Viirk and Stephanie Wilson — and a number of volunteers.
The organization, which is funded in part by BC Housing and Fraser Health, also has a mobile health van, offers harm reduction supplies — such as personal needle depository boxes, condoms and overdose kits — and has a ‘Housing First’ program to help people find affordable homes.
“When we’re trying to do outreach to that really vulnerable population, by doing harm reduction we actually are able to then build rapport,” Keeping said.
“It gives us the ability to build relationships with people who normally would not want anything to do with anybody. And it is an illness — we know that when you’re in the throws of addiction, there’s no critical thinking or the ability to think beyond the ‘do drugs or die’ scenario. It’s very limited.”
As part of this, the outreach workers act in a friendly, open and non-judgmental manner.
“If someone came in here and said, ‘I want 20 condoms,’ we don’t question it. We give them what they need, we try to chat with them, give them some water if they want some resources. We might even be able to get to the discussion if they’re homeless, if they need help,” Keeping said.
“And then when they’re ready for that — which often happens when they hit rock bottom or they have a traumatic event — they feel that, ‘I can go there. It doesn’t matter what I tell them, I know that they’re not going to judge me, they’re not going to make me feel worse when I hit rock bottom.’ That’s usually when you’re most vulnerable and most afraid to ask for help.”
As they distribute harm reduction supplies, the outreach workers also teach people how to properly dispose of the products, and introduce them to a ‘Good Neighbour’ policy to remind them to not loiter in front of businesses, openly use drugs or make a mess.
“Again, it’s in a respectful (way). It’s not a blaming matter as in, you guys are unworthy or you don’t matter,” Keeping said. “Everybody has value, but we all have to live here together and we all want to make sure that we don’t negatively affect the community in any way.”
The team also provides free training on Naloxone and overdose response, as well as drug paraphernalia clean-up, to anyone in the community who wants to learn, including churches, schools, businesses, parents, and those who use drugs themselves.
For more information on these services, and to report discarded drug paraphernalia, call or text 604-812-5277.
For more information on Lookout’s Housing First program, call 604-816-1387 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.