News / Vancouver

Finding needles at Andy Livingstone Park a 'daily occurrence': Vancouver parents

The park board is increasing patrols to try and keep the area clean of needles

A park ranger picks up a used needle from Andy Livingstone Park June 15, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

A park ranger picks up a used needle from Andy Livingstone Park June 15, 2017.

Residents in Vancouver’s Crosstown neighbourhood say the park board is not doing enough to keep their park and nearby school grounds safe because discarded needles have gone from posing a nuisance to being a “daily problem.”

When Lorena Chatwell picks up her five-year old son from the daycare next to Andy Livingstone Park, she scans the grounds for needles.   

“We stay in the playground only and don’t use the rest of park. We never use the rest of the park. The kids are not allowed to go there,” she told Metro.

Park rangers pick up about 100 needles from Andy Livingstone Park everyday, according to a park board spokesperson.

The park, one of the largest in the Downtown Eastside, is located between Stadium SkyTrain Station and Chinatown. It is used by various community sports leagues, residents who live in the three Firenze condo towers on the west side of the park, and children who attend the brand new Crosstown Elementary and the daycare beside it.

Chatwell, who moved into one of the Firenze towers seven years ago, says residents hoped the new school would mean a cleaner park but that they have been disappointed so far.

“All the residents were counting on 2017 being the year that finally, we would have the park cleaned up and it just turned out it’s the opposite,” she said.

Vancouver park ranger Sherlan John searches for used needles in Andy Livingstone Park. Crews do their first sweep of the day at 7 a.m.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Vancouver park ranger Sherlan John searches for used needles in Andy Livingstone Park. Crews do their first sweep of the day at 7 a.m.

“Finding needles is not something that happen occasionally – it’s a daily problem.”

About 100 children currently attend Crosstown and the 510-seat school is expected to achieve full enrolment, according to the school board.

The school, by design, does not have its own playground and students use Andy Livingstone Park instead.

Crosstown Elementary staff conduct four sweeps of the playground and surrounding grounds for needles every day, a school board spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Park board staff walk past Crosstown Elementary School as they look for used needles.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Park board staff walk past Crosstown Elementary School as they look for used needles.

The park board deploys its own teams to pick up needles at Andy Livingstone as well. One group walks through the park with tongs and needle disposal boxes at 7 a.m. and another team does a second walkthrough at 9 a.m., often accompanied by police officers, according to Howard Normann, director of parks.

He told Metro that starting Thursday, the park board is also allocating a team of rangers to patrol the park until 11 p.m. every day.

The extensive clean-up efforts are due to an increase in needles, he confirmed.

“We have an opioid crisis in Vancouver. With that, comes more needle use.”

There are two needle-disposal boxes at the park, one near the overpass and another at the washrooms.

Vancouver park ranger Andrew Don searches for used needles in Andy Livingstone park on June 15, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Vancouver park ranger Andrew Don searches for used needles in Andy Livingstone park on June 15, 2017.

But Chatwell says her husband, who runs past the park on his daily evening jog, finds at least one needle every day. He reports every needle to the city and calls the needle pickup line. 

“It’s a constant effort and although it’s tiring, we’re not going to give up because there are so many kids now being exposed to this risk, to this situation,” said Chatwell.

She hopes the park board will find a long-term solution to the needle problem at Andy Livingstone.

“Maybe a kid will have to be harmed for the city to do something and we don’t want to see that of course.”

The park board is trying its best, said Normann.

“I’d love to say every one of our parks are 100 per cent safe but people have to exercise some caution. They have to realize they are in a park in the downtown eastside,” he said.

“We are doing our best to make sure our park is always safe. That’s our number one goal.”

People can contact Vancouver Coastal Health’s needle-pickup hotline at 604-657-6561.

Park board rangers sift through people's belongings at a playground in Andy Livingstone Park for used needles.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Park board rangers sift through people's belongings at a playground in Andy Livingstone Park for used needles.

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