'One less needle a child is going to run into:' Everett neighbors clean up heroin needles

Alicia Cappola, Cate Harrington and Jessica Kupcake clean up used heroin needles in a park near their homes in North Everett. (Photo: KOMO News)

EVERETT, Wash. - Alicia Cappola knew it was bad when the problem landed at her doorstep.

Cappola, a mother of two, found a heroin needle in the alleyway near her house. She's lived in Everett for 14 years and had to have a difficult talk with her 8-year-old twins.

"You have to explain: don't ever touch it, don't clean it up. Go find a grownup, you know, I'll take care of it, whatever. That's not a conversation you really want to have," said Cappola.

On Monday, she stood in the driving rain off Lowell Snohomish River Road, Sharps container in one hand, garbage picker in the other. She joined two other women in going through the roadside debris; the needles were easy to spot in large clusters with bright orange caps nearby.

"Every needle we're out here picking up is a needle that a little kid isn't going to find," Cappola said.

It's a once-a-week ritual for Cappola and the group, part of the North Everett Take Back Our Neighborhood team. They sweep places like nearby Lowell Park, searching for needles, tinfoil, crack pipes, and other hazards.

"We're now known as 'Ever-rot'. It's the city you want to move away from and it shouldn't be," said Cate Harrington, a lifelong resident and the group's organizer. "I'm disgusted."

Harrington's public cleanups have a personal tie. Her brother, Robert, died of a heroin overdose about five years ago. He first got hooked on prescription drugs.

"He lost his immediate family. He lost his home. He lost his vehicle. He lost his businesses. He was living on the streets for a good amount of time," she recalled. "It was devastating. It really was. It was devastating.

Harrington walked side-by-side Monday picking up needles and other debris with Jessica Kupcake, another Everett homeowner. For Kupcake, the drive to clean up her neighborhood began when she found a badly beaten man on her doorstep.

"He came back to my house a week later and thanked me for helping him," she said, fending off tears. "It is very emotional."

The group recognizes that they're making a small dent in a growing problem. The number of heroin deaths has quadrupled across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Harrington emphasizes that even a small effort is better than no effort at all.

"Every needle that we pick up is one less needle a child is going to run into," she said. "We're one piece. If we have enough of these pieces, maybe we can fix the problem."

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