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Good neighbour discovers empathy goes a long way in the opioid crisis

Young good Samaritan cleans up and safely disposes of hundreds of used, discarded needles in her neighbourhood
KaturaMichellica2 (2)
Kiera Bryant, known to friends and neighbours as Katura Michellia, has been helping neighbours and picking up needles in her bridge plaza area neighbourhood.

Kiera Bryant, known to neighbours and friends as Katura Michellica, is a well-known figure in her neighbourhood near the bridge plaza.

She can be spotted picking up needles, trash and clearing brush in back alleyways in the area, sometimes with help from friends and neighbours, sometimes on her own.

One day stands out to Katura as especially significant.

Recently, she happened upon a dumpster while picking up discarded needles probably used to inject dangerous, toxic and addictive opioids. She spotted a woman she knows from the neighbourhood standing beside the dumpster and the 17-year-old good neighbour struck up a conversation with the woman.

"I recognized her and she recognized me. I knew she was a user but harmless so I went back there to pick up garbage regardless."

While talking with the woman, Katura continued to pick up needles, following the trail around back of the dumpster.

There she came upon about eight or nine more people shooting up drugs and smoking cigarettes.

"One gentleman asked me what I was doing and I told him I was picking up garbage and needles. He watched me for a few minutes and then he joined in," Katura said. "It was a complete domino effect. He saw me picking up garbage and joined in and then they all joined in. Within three minutes we filled the wagon."

That day, alone, more than 300 needles were picked up and safely disposed of. Katura says about 260 of them were from the area around that dumpster.

For 17-year-old Katura, helping out around her neighbourhood is second nature. 

She's always been quick to lend a hand to someone in need, building or repairing fences for elderly neighbours, picking up garbage on the sidewalks and boulevards but, early in June, after hearing about a woman who got a used needle stuck in her foot while walking her dog near the John Street park, she decided to take action and pick up as many used needles in the area as possible. 

"I saw a news article about a woman whose dog got off-leash and she chased it through the park on John Street," Katura explained. "She (the woman) was wearing flip flops and she got a needle through her foot. She was in the hospital for a bit trying to figure out if she contracted anything or needed lifelong medications."

"I grew up in this neighbourhood, I grew up playing in that park. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to experience something so horrific," said the Grade 12 Korah Collegiate student. 

Katura has since gone out to pick up needles on a regular basis, spending five to seven hours doing so each time. By the time of publication, she estimates she has picked up and safely disposed of almost 550 needles as well as other drug-related paraphernalia. 

When it comes to the city’s current opioid crisis, her opinion goes two ways. 

"It’s a tricky one. I feel sorry for these people because they experienced something so traumatic that drugs were the only thing that could give them that sense of relief," she said. "But I also find it incredibly selfish that they’re discarding these needles like this because they’re subjecting the rest of the city to that and that is unfair."

"I might not be making an impact in regards to the opioid crisis because I have no say in who gets what, but the least I can do is make sure that nobody gets hurt or damaged by needles that weren’t properly discarded," she added. 

"The biggest thing I've discovered running around downtown is that, if you give someone a cigarette or two they think you're the best thing since sliced bread. Obviously, proceed with caution but respect the individual. Give them that humanity and empathy they are missing out on."

Katura, who lives with her mom and two brothers northwest of downtown, says that her next project will be to try and remove the graffiti and gang signs around the area. 

"I want to find out if there’s any legalities or objections to that, but I would love to. There's quite a bit of racist graffiti and gang tags near my house and it’s ridiculous. I want to go back there with a tub of acetone and get rid of all of it,” she said. “Acetone is such a harsh chemical that it might clean off the base coat of the paint that was underneath the graffiti, to begin with, which is where the legalities come in.”

"I just hate seeing it. I hate hearing people use racial slurs. I don’t want to see it anymore," Katura said. "I want to see a day where we are equals and we are loving to each other and we can peacefully exist together."

Everything Katura is doing, she’s doing on her own time and doesn’t expect anybody to give her a hand or donate anything. She just wants to help as much as she can, she says. 

"No matter what it is, if I can help I absolutely will. We all have to watch out for each other. If you have your neighbour’s backs they’ll have yours."