October 20, 2018

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City cleans up pile of used needles discarded in Vimy Ridge Park

A dozen or more used hypodermic needles, some with sharps exposed, were discarded overnight in Vimy Ridge Park, bringing the city's meth crisis home to Wolseley area residents Tuesday.

Photos of the needles scattered on the ground were snapped where they lay in front of a memorial bench in the small city park best known for military monuments that pay tribute to Winnipeg's war casualties and veterans.

City parks officials dispatched a clean-up crew that combed the area Tuesday, from the children's playground at the south end to the war memorials at the north. The park covers about two city blocks, flanked by Home and Canora streets (west and east), and Portage and Preston avenues (north and south).

Within an hour or so of the photos being posted on the Wolseley area residents Facebook page, the mess was cleaned up.

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A dozen or more used hypodermic needles, some with sharps exposed, were discarded overnight in Vimy Ridge Park, bringing the city's meth crisis home to Wolseley area residents Tuesday.

Photos of the needles scattered on the ground were snapped where they lay in front of a memorial bench in the small city park best known for military monuments that pay tribute to Winnipeg's war casualties and veterans.

A pile of drug paraphernalia was found a Vimy Ridge Park on Tuesday morning.

SUPPLIED

A pile of drug paraphernalia was found a Vimy Ridge Park on Tuesday morning.

City parks officials dispatched a clean-up crew that combed the area Tuesday, from the children's playground at the south end to the war memorials at the north. The park covers about two city blocks, flanked by Home and Canora streets (west and east), and Portage and Preston avenues (north and south).

Within an hour or so of the photos being posted on the Wolseley area residents Facebook page, the mess was cleaned up.

"Vimy Park this morning," the photo caption read. "This is not about stigmatizing people with addictions, but this is a safety concern."

(The area resident who posted the photos also sent them to the Free Press.)

It’s not the first time sharps have been spotted in Wolseley, but the incident stands out, with so many needles being found in one spot in a public park.

City crews were quick to clean up the pile of needles on Tuesday.

SUPPLIED

City crews were quick to clean up the pile of needles on Tuesday.

The discovery also comes the day after a Probe research poll, commissioned by the Free Press and CTV, showed eight out of 10 Winnipeg residents worry the proliferation of meth will put them in personal danger. On Tuesday, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province should should declare meth abuse a public health emergency.

The meth crisis has hit the neighbouring West End hard, along with the North End. It's become common practice for people to stick to sidewalks, to avoid the risk of being poked by needles discarded on grassy boulevards, residents say.

For the past year, Winnipeg police have raised concerns about soaring methamphetamine use and related crime rates. This summer, the Bear Clan volunteer safety street patrol spoke up publicly about hundreds of discarded needles its members have collected. Community advocates hosted a street march in the West End in the summer to draw public attention to the meth crisis.

"Can someone remind me what to do when we find discarded needles?" one Wolseley-area resident posted on Facebook on Thanksgiving morning, related to another incident, a day before the Vimy Ridge Park discovery.

Candidates respond 

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says the pile of needles and drug paraphernalia found littered at Vimy Ridge Park Tuesday morning highlights the need for a comprehensive, multi-agency strategy to tackle the meth abuse crisis.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says the pile of needles and drug paraphernalia found littered at Vimy Ridge Park Tuesday morning highlights the need for a comprehensive, multi-agency strategy to tackle the meth abuse crisis.

“It absolutely underscores the urgent need for all three levels of government and front-line organizations to be working collaboratively,” said Bowman, who is running for re-election this month.

He pointed to his recent campaign announcement, promising to create a crime prevention and community safety fund that would allocate $400,000 for community groups to address various safety concerns, including rising meth use.

“What we’re hearing from Winnipeggers from different areas of the city is that there are different needs... In River Heights, for instance, I’ve had folks suggest that they’d like better lighting in some of the parks,” Bowman said.

“In Vimy (Ridge) Park, or some other areas of the city where we’re seeing needles, it could be helping fund needle cleanup programs and foot patrols.”

Mayoral candidate Tim Diack also made a meth-related campaign announcement Tuesday morning, calling for police officer units to be created in Winnipeg hospitals.

Diack, who is a Winnipeg Police Service officer, has made combating the city’s meth problem a central plank of his campaign, unrolling a number of policy announcements on the topic. On Tuesday, he said there has been a recorded spike in assaults on hospital staff due to meth the past three years.

Meanwhile, Jenny Motkaluk, who is widely seen as Bowman’s main challenger in the municipal election, recently announced her intention to roll out a meth task force, if elected.

-- Ryan Thorpe

"There’s one in the puddle in the back lane behind my house. I don’t have a pop bottle to put it in... worried a kid might splash in the puddle and get poked."

To give an indication of how fast neighbourhood residents are picking up on the crisis, someone followed up almost instantly, and went around to collect the needle and dispose of it safely. "I got it," the Good Samaritan later replied.

One long-time Wolseley area resident said she and her husband love the neighbourhood. They’ve never felt unsafe, but they've become anxious about crime rates.

There have also been a couple of scary encounters in the last few months, Shannon Fautley-Sawatzky said Tuesday.

A couple of month ago, she said a man pulled a knife on her husband after he chased a couple of would-be thieves.

"I don't think there's that many people shooting up in the park, but with the fentanyl and the crack, my husband’s seen people acting crazy, out in the back, talking to the sky," Fautley-Sawatzky said. "There is definitely a drug problem."

Officials with Street Connections, maa mobile public health unit with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, see the meth crisis as part of a social problem.

"Discarded needles are an indication of outdoor injection drug use and they're an indication of homelessness," said Shelley Marshall, a clinical nurse specialist with Street Connections and a number of other provincial public health programs based in Winnipeg.

Meth is cheap to buy and easily accessible.

"There is tremendous homelessness, intergenerational trauma, social trauma, family trauma. It's highly racialized and colonialized, and it's also related to social class and gender," Marshall said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Alexandra Paul

Alexandra Paul
Reporter

Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 9:44 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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