Against the backdrop of two dilapidated and abandoned duplexes on Chico NE, east of Vermont, Bernalillo County officials held a news conference Friday to announce the launching of a new Needle Mapping website page that allows people to immediately report discarded syringes and enter data that shows up instantly on a “heat map.”
The choice of sites for the announcement was made for obvious reasons. Using grabbers, county health officials walked the perimeter of the two buildings and safely removed 84 syringes.
“It’s just keeping our community safe, that’s what this is all about,” County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said.
The website page “will not only allow us to better track our progress in cleaning our community of discarded sharps, but it will also allow us to work more strategically to target areas of the county and the city.”
Thus far, more than 13,000 needles have been collected since the county began working on the project.
Sam Howarth, the administrator with the county’s Division of Behavioral Health Services, said beyond removing this health hazard from communities the new website page makes it easier to “map the density and migration of needle use in the city and county so that people like us can go do outreach and try to enroll folks in programs that help them address their addiction challenges.”
The web page and heat map were developed in-house by the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, and did not involve any additional cost to taxpayers, Morgas Baca said.
Tim Gaulden, a geographic information systems analyst with Planning and Development Services, said people can store the link to the web page on their cellphones and when they come upon a discarded syringe can use the link to connect to the county’s Behavioral Health Services Needle Mapping page. Just above the map is a “click here” button that takes people to a page where they are asked basic questions, such as the needle discovery date and number of needles found. There is also a map with a pointer that allows the user to pinpoint as much as possible the location, and a comment box so people can indicate if they left the needles where they found them or if a mobile response team needs to be dispatched to recover the syringes (that information can also be relayed by telephone by calling the county’s Behavioral Health Services at 468-1555).
Enrique Cardiel, executive director of the Bernalillo County Community Health Council, and a former facilitator with the International District Healthy Communities Coalition, said about a year ago he and people in and around the International District received training on how to safely pick up and store discarded syringes.
“We felt it was important to not expect the city to pick up all the syringes, and that we could take charge of our community and be part of the solution. … We’d have days where we picked up 14, and days where we picked up 1,400.”
Cardiel called the new heat map a step in the right direction. “We know this is not a solution to substance abuse, we know it’s not a solution to homelessness, but it’s something that needs to be done so people can feel safe being outside.”
One person not likely to use the heat map page is Robert Chavez, who for the past two years has lived on Chico, directly across the street from the abandoned buildings.
“I’ve seen people throwing needles and laying around the side and in back of the buildings and going inside,” he said. “I called police four or five times, but nothing changes. There are just too many needles to report. They’re all over the property, all over the neighborhood. It’s just not worth the trouble.”