Through the beauty and simplicity of a flower, one New York City organization is hoping to help keep their local parks cleaner and safer from dirty syringe needles.
The Washington Heights CORNER Project (WHCP) —a harm reduction agency that aims to improve the quality of life and health of drug users — is set to launch Tuesday the city’s first public-access syringe drop-off box.
Standing 6 feet tall and shaped like a daisy, the drop-off box — which will be located at 177th Street and Haven Avenue — will allow individuals to pass by at any time and drop off used syringes, instead of disposing them in the parks.
“[We want to] keep the parks safer and generally more pleasing and more approachable for the general community,” said Sarah Deutsch, WHCP associate director of outreach and prevention services.
Since 2007, WHCP has been sending outreach workers to pick up used syringes across Washington Heights. During that time, the group has learned where drug users most often dispose their syringes.
The group has collected a total of 93,000 syringes in Washington Heights since 2009 and the location of the drop-off box is one of the highest density areas for syringes.
WHCP tracked the collection of syringes through GPS for three months and afterwards took the information to the city’s Parks Department, which then helped design something that would be more user and community friendly —a drop-off box in the shape of a flower.
The design — which was influenced by a similar box in Canada and locally received large support from community members — features small drop holes and is tamper-proof and secure.
Deutsch added that although WHCP welcomes individuals to drop off syringes at its drop-in center, the park drop-off box will give people access 24/7 while also provide a sense of anonymity.
“We want to provide opportunities to not have needles disregarded carelessly,” said Mark Townsend, WHCP interim executive director. “This is the beginning of trying to do this in parks across the city.”
Overall, the goal is to monitor the drop-off box for the next six months — with CORNER project maintaining it — and measure how many syringes are disposed and note if a change has occurred in the parks.
The group will then continue to work closely with the Parks Department and also the Department of Health with hopes of replicating the plan in parks across the city.
“We really hope for it to be something that is really replicable and really low threshold in terms of maintenance so any community can take it on,” Deutsch said.
Along with helping keep the parks clean and safe, the drop-off box will also include information for individuals that might want to seek help from WHCP or want to get some information.
Since it began, WHCP — whose acronym CORNER stands for Community Outreach and Resources, Needle Exchange and Harm Reduction — has been offering access to clean syringes through street-based outreach. It also offers resources, advocacy and also educational, health and referral services aimed at reducing risks associated with drug use.
WHCP will celebrate the launch of the drop-off box at 4 p.m. on Tuesday together with local leaders, community members and elected officials.