Remnants of addiction — group cleans neighborhood of discarded needles

Used and bloody needles pose health risk 

Chris Juhn/MSR News

“I can’t let my daughter play in her own backyard and be a kid because I fear what would happen if she picked it up or got poked by a needle,” said Corey Byrd, homeowner and contract worker for St. Paul and Minneapolis Public Schools.

Members of Natives Against Heroin (NAH) are on a mission to address the safety concerns of Byrd and others in the community by cleaning up the neighborhood. On Monday, June 4, NAH came together to pick up used and discarded needles in a South Minneapolis neighborhood near the Little Earth of United Tribes housing complex.

The group, led by founder James Cross, met for an evening of action on the corner of 25th and Bloomington avenues where they protested against a rising drug epidemic and dealers and, most importantly, helped clean up the neighborhood.

Members of Natives Against Heroin, led by James Cross, march in the street in protest to the drug epidemic. Chris Juhn/MSR News

Research about the rate of discarded needles is virtually nonexistent for Minnesota. A staff member at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) advised that the State does not collect data on needle-finding or pick up because there is no mandated reporting on a local level.

Anecdotally, however, the number of discarded needles during NAH’s afternoon pickup is alarming. In less than two hours, the group had found over 100 needles. A child or adult accidentally poked by these discarded needles can be infected with diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

After feeding pizza and water to the homeless and hungry, the group of roughly 30-40 men and women pulled on gloves and began their journey through the neighborhood. Their first stop: a nearby alley.

Member L. Keiji Narikawa immediately found seven needles at the entrance to the alley. As they walked, they found many more. Some of the syringes still had drugs in them as well as blood from the users. They picked up the needles as well as other refuse used to snort and smoke drugs.

L Keiji Narikawa (left) and James Cross hold up the needles collected from the day’s cleanup. They  put them in a safe container that was sent to a medical facility where it was disposed of properly. Chris Juhn/MSR News

The group found a needle just a few feet away from a Minneapolis resident’s home. Greg Franson also found empty syringe wrappers in his yard.

Franson, who has been sober for the past six months, lifted a rock where a plastic bag was hidden. Underneath he found, among others things, a stash of drugs, a candle and needles. “They like to stash things under rocks so they don’t have their [drugs] on them” he explained.

The group collected nearly 20 needles behind an abandoned home. “I found one in the mailbox,” said one of the women as they searched the area.

Needle and syringe collection differs city by city. The MPCA advises the general public to contact the local police department for proper disposal of discarded needles.

Greg Franson (left) and Corey Byrd talk outside Byrd’s home. Franson found empty syringe packages in the yard as well as a needle in the alleyway behind Byrd’s home where Byrd’s daughter plays. Chris Juhn/MSR News


Stephenetta Harmon, MSR Editor-In-Chief, contributed to this story. Below, click through more images of the day by Chris Juhn.

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