Vernon city councillor pitches 'out of the box' solution to discarded needles - InfoNews

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Vernon city councillor pitches 'out of the box' solution to discarded needles

September 18, 2019 - 8:00 AM

VERNON - It appears Vernon city councillor Kari Gares is now heading into council meetings armed with something up her sleeve.

At Vernon council's Sept. 16 meeting city staff recommended against Gares' suggestion to implement a needle buyback scheme. The councillor appeared to know her fellow councillors would follow suit and came prepared with a backup plan - proposing a mobile needle exchange.

And Coun. Gares was right, the buyback was met with a lukewarm reception from city staff.

"A year ago I would have jumped on this, but I think we've seen a lot of the things that we put in place as a council have made a huge difference in this community," councillor Dalvir Nahal said.

Luckily for Gares, her second pitch was received far more favourably.

"(A) mobile needle exchange program is where we have a physical vehicle that is geared specifically to doing an exchange, they hand out needles they get needles back, the benefit of a mobile needle exchange program is that it's not isolated anymore... it can travel around the community," Coun. Gares said. "This needle exchange program has been highly effective in other communities."

She said the initiative reduces stigma, follows current harm reduction strategies and would hopefully reduce the amount of discarded needles that ended up on the city's streets.

Coun. Gares said she supported the current Folks on Spokes needle clean-up program but so far it had cost over $11,000 since April and collected 348 needles.

"That's not a lot in that time frame," she said.

Councillor Scott Anderson said he was in favour of the Folks on Spoke's program but it was "not enough."

Coun. Gares had requested staff look into the effectiveness of a needle buyback program, an idea widely talked about in 2018 with two existing in Kamloops and Penticton, and one in Vernon run from the back of a minivan.

The staff report recommended council not support a needle buyback program, citing among other things that the sites in Kamloops and Penticton had closed.

Council voted in favour of the mobile needle exchange program and requested staff to report back on the feasibility of such a program.

Coun. Gares' next move will be getting the initiative to come into fruition.

In June, she put forward a motion to bring to the table ideas originally pitched to the previous council by the Activate Safety Task Force in the summer of 2018 regarding the street entrenched population.

While she managed to get the recommendations back on the table, acting on them has been a bit of an uphill battle. Council is still waiting for a quote on the cost of hiring private security after being asked for one on three occasions and leading to allegations that staff were stonewalling the process.

Five of six motions put on the agenda at the Sept. 17 meeting addressing ideas pitched by the Activate Safety Task Force were met with recommendations to follow the status quo.

Council did get garbage collection moved from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. An initiative that they hope will cut down of bins being raided throughout the night.

Gares' motion that city crews do daily clean-ups between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. came with a price tag of nearly $150,000 and a recommendation from staff that a community outreach program continues instead.

"There is sometimes the feeling like your up against a wall at times... even though that's what it seems like I don't believe necessary that's staffs intent," Gares told iNFOnews.ca.

"Any time you want to make change... you have to think outside the box, and if something doesn't get support it doesn't mean council isn't in support, you might just have to come at it from a different angle," Gares said.

Gares pointed at the bike patrol, scheduled to be part of next year's budget discussions, the extra garbage bins downtown, and the soon to be installed public toilet, as small steps that will have a big impact.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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