Frances scours Parkdale in search of clean needles

By Frances Sedgwick
True North Perspective

Frances Sedgwick's keen eye and ear for the human condition reveals the heart and soul of Parkdale in southwest Toronto, one of the country's most turbulent urban areas where the best traditions of human kindness prevail against powerful forces that would grind them down. True North Perspective proudly presents a column by writer Frances Sedgwick. Her critical observation combined with a tender sense of humour will provide you with something to think about ... and something to talk about.

22 April 2011 — I was visiting my Family Medicine Clinic at the local Health Centre the other day. As I was waiting in line for my number to be called, I looked around the room. There were a lot of new parents.

Some were both parents attending to their tiny offspring. Others, just the mother, or, in one case, just the father.

As I enjoyed watching these parents doting over their babies, I noticed a woman in her late 20's walk timidly into the reception area. 

You could tell she had never been there before. She appeared out of place as she shyly looked around.

I immediately went up to her and explained, "You have to take a number and in turn the receptionist will call you."

She thanked me, took a number, sat down still looking very uneasy and out of place.

Eventually the receptionist called her number. She went to the registration desk and went through the usual procedure of registration.

Now this receptionist had a particularly audible voice. Unfortunately for the young woman nothing was private between her and the receptionist.

I could hear the receptionist on the telephone asking for the 5th floor and then, "Do we give out free needles? No! Do you know where she can get any? She's using dirty ones now!"

The answer was obviously no as the receptionist informed the young woman who left the room with her head down.

I had a lump in my throat as I tried to think fast about where she could go. As a thought came to mind I ran after her but she had left the building and I had to go back to wait for my number to be called.

I couldn't get her out of my mind.

Among all the electioneering, where attack ads are taking over the TV, competing with the Royal Wedding, here is a person in real need of help. Her need lost in all this rhetoric. And how many more are in similar situations?

It bothered me so much that the next day I went out to search Parkdale to see if I could find a place where this young woman could go for help.

I found it at the Parkdale Community Health Centre on Queen Street West at Dufferin.

There is a program there called Harm Reduction, which includes a needle exchange.

A non-judgmental space for people to come and exchange needles and attend drop-in groups if they wish. Where they can talk to people with similar problems. Or just a safe place where they can go.

As I was speaking to the person in charge of this program at the Parkdale Community Health Centre, I said I'd take this information to the Family Medicine Clinic so that next time they will be able to direct people to this program.

She replied, "Sounds like a place where we should do some outreach. I'll go and take our material and posters."

My Parkdale

Meanwhile, Happy May Day everyone.

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