Students at Mohawk College are campaigning for the school to introduce sharps disposal containers in washrooms.
The Change.org petition campaign, being led by a group of six Mohawk students in their final year of the social service workers program, currently has over 100 signatures.
Vince Soliveri, a campaign organizer, said the petition is driven by safety concerns and a desire to de-stigmatize the use of needles.
Currently, Mohawk College does not have sharps disposals in washrooms.
Instead, there are signs asking students not to flush needles down the toilet or put them in the garbage.
“Because it is so stigmatized, people do not want to have that conversation,” Soliveri said. “Telling people to cap needles and take them home is a pretty harmful way to go about the situation.”
Soliveri first started thinking about the subject when a harm reduction worker from the AIDS Network came in to speak to the crisis intervention class in November.
“[The harm reduction worker] brought up that Mohawk College is branding itself as a safe and inclusive space for anybody and having a sticker like that on the wall is stigmatizing for those that use needles and do not really to create a safe and inclusive environment for people who do use needles for any reason,” Soliveri said.
The project team members began serious work on the project in January.
Soliveri has a particular connection to the issue as well, being a placement student with the AIDS Network in downtown Hamilton.
These experiences make him confident about the feasibility of installing sharps disposals.
“It does not really come at an expense other than a little bit of labor screwing the sharps container and mounting it on the wall. That is really the hardest part of it because everything else is provided by other agencies in the city,” Soliveri said.
The AIDS Network currently runs a “Community Points” program in collaboration with Hamilton Public Health Services, where the organization picks up needles and drops off sharps disposal containers around the city by request.
For the rest of the semester, the team will be working out the exact details of a potential sharps disposal program. They are also planning a public outreach phase.
After that, they will bring their plans to the college administration.
“This is probably a project that will go beyond our time as students,” Soliveri said. “We finish school in April, and we are hoping by then, we can at least have a pretty good set of signatures in our petition that we are circulating around members of the Mohawk community.”
Soliveri is hopeful that the petition could have lasting effects beyond Mohawk.
“We are hoping if this project is successful and people are into it and understand the value, that it can be used as a framework for other places in the city,” Soliveri said. “And that could be as big as a university or that could be as small as your local café, just letting people understand that the process is not as daunting as people think it is.”
A sharps disposal system at Mohawk would not be the first of its kind.
Ryerson University is planning to install sharps containers in over 500 washrooms in university-owned buildings following a successful pilot project last January.
McMaster lacks sharps disposal containers in its washrooms. McMaster Associate Director Health Safety and Risk Management Lisa Morine said the university regularly inspects the campus and sees no present need to implement sharps disposals in washrooms.
The Mohawk College online petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/get-sharps-containers-at-mohawk-college. To contact the Community Points program for disposal of sharps or for harm reduction supplies, call 905-546-2489.