Photo: Alanna Rizza

Ryerson student seeks volunteers for needle pick-up group on campus

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By Sam Harley

A Ryerson University masters student is calling on students to help clean up safe injection and harm reduction materials from campus.

Annabelle Bernard, a 28-year-old finance for social innovation masters diploma student, started a volunteer needle pick-up group one month ago. She said she wants to clean up harm reduction materials, including pipes, arm ties, syringes and purified water pouches left in visible areas around Ryerson.

Volunteers meet outside the School of Image Arts every Thursday at 6 p.m. to search for items to clean up. As of now, Bernard said the group consists of her and a couple of friends that she has recruited.

“Seeing one pipe can make a significant impact on a student,” she said. “There are numerous reduction materials discarded on the ground, the most common being small blue purified water pouches and occasionally syringes.”

Bernard decided to form the group after one of her coworker’s mentioned that she felt unsafe in the area around Lake Devo.

She said her nearly two and a half years of experience working for WISH, a sex worker drop-in that worked alongside a supervised injection site, and Sistering, an agency for women experiencing homelessness in Toronto, have prepared her for this work at Ryerson. Bernard is also trained in drug overdose prevention.

Eva Konart, a social worker and friend of Bernard’s, has volunteered with the group to help clean up campus. “I personally found the experience of going out with the group to be an act of compassion and allyship towards people who use drugs.”

Konart said they haven’t found any needles so far, after conducting extensive searches in shrubs, seating areas and around the pond.

“By being out on the street this group creates opportunities for dialogue about the [safe injection site (SIS)], which opens up possibilities for developing new insights and potentially creative solutions to some issues raised about the SIS,” she added.

The first site to ever open in Toronto is located at 277 Victoria St., a few buildings down from the Chang School.

A Toronto Public Health (TPH) spokesperson told The Eye they dispatch volunteers and city staff to maintain the cleanliness of the area. This includes disposing of all needles and drug equipment. TPH outreach staff also refer the site’s users to proper housing and care units.

Bernard said she spoke with a TPH representative about her new group. The department, she said, appreciated the efforts. Since there are many areas where people use drugs around Ryerson, it is difficult for outreach workers to maintain all of these sites, she added.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Bernard was 20 years old, and that she worked at a meditation facility and a prevention hotline. The Eyeopener regrets these errors. 

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