Two Friday’s ago, the Odd Squad gave their drug presentation to my daughter’s sports team to provide the girls a basic understanding about the hazards of drug use. The presentation was the same provided to high schools but was tailored to the small group, which was ideal as the girls were in their peer environment.
In addition to the officers giving the talk, hubby and I were also there – me in uniform, and hubby as a chaperone – but we left the room when it came time for Q&A so the girls would feel comfortable asking whatever questions they needed to ask.
Apparently, they asked some excellent questions.
The officers giving the talk weren’t sworn to secrecy; they were respecting the girls and allowing them the freedom of unfettered curiosity so I’m not sure of the exact questions, but what was clear was this – even though they have heard about cocaine and heroin, the girls showed their naivety and innocence by not knowing what the drugs actually were, and their questions focused more around drinking and cigarettes.
In the end, we, as parents and educators, cannot make decisions for our children, but we can provide assistance and guidance by arming them with knowledge.
Knowledge = power = the confidence and strength to make right decisions.
And with that, the group hit the streets of the Downtown Eastside for a short walk-about.
The purpose of the walk-about was twofold.
1) Walking into the drug trade and seeing it firsthand leaves an impression.
2) What’s important is the girls not see the Downtown Eastside as a wasteland of ruined lives and forgotten souls. Walking into the Downtown Eastside and experiencing it firsthand also shows that underneath the shadow of the drug trade there exists a tight and positive community.
We came across a woman standing beside a dumpster at the mouth of the south lane of Hastings St.
So focused was she on her crack pipe, that she didn’t see the group of us standing on the street watching her.
The girls were horrified and curious, their eyes drawn to the petite blond woman with her dirty hands wrapped around that hot, glass tube. The woman saw us and paused, quickly dropping her hands to try and conceal the crack pipe and lighter. Her face was heavily lined, her lips were blistered and bleeding, and she appeared decades older than her 35 years. She handed over the pipe to one of the officers, then spoke briefly to the girls.
“Shit starts the first time you use drugs. Don’t do it,” she said.
Then she walked away.
I’m not sure what impression the woman made, as her impromptu speech was only a few seconds long. The girls looked after her, and the collective confusion over that they witnessed was obvious.
The girls were clearly out of their comfort zone, and I was fine with that. They had watched the video and seen the drug presentation, but now they were seeing it first hand.
The officer with the crack pipe held it out and asked the girls to gather around. He explained how the glass pipes typically start out quite long, with a rubber tube around one end to protect the smoker’s lips from the hot fumes. He pointed to the bit of steel wool crammed in the end, and at the bits of cocaine residue. He showed how this tube was shorter, with no rubber coating, and how the hot glass had likely blistered and burned the woman’s lips. He explained that when the proper ‘safety equipment’ (like rubber tubing) isn’t available, some people will forgo any precautions just for the drug-high.
Normally, walking in the DTES as an officer, the criminals and drug dealers move away before you like a human tide, while the regular residents and citizens stay doing whatever it was they were doing before you came on the scene.
It was a different experience walking in the DTES with a group of young, teenaged girls. The human tide was still in effect, but the area residents and citizens went out of their way to say hello and to congratulate the girls on taking the time to come down to their area.
The girls were still out of their comfort zone, but they were aware of what was going on around them. They looked, they were curious, they asked questions. They wrinkled their noses and a couple of them gagged at the stench of urine in one particularly nasty spot, but they never complained.
They also met a long time area resident, who took the time to stop and talk to them.
This woman explained she was a recovered addict who chose to remain living in the DTES so she could help other addicts by volunteering her time with various outreach groups. She was positive, friendly and outgoing, even if her physical self had not completely healed from the ravages of long time addiction.
It was a good thing for the girls to have met her.
We wrapped up the evening by walking back to the Odd Squad office along Abbott St. We were almost at our destination and our police escort was walking ahead while hubby and I lagged behind and chatted with the girls about what they had seen. The officers up ahead rounded the corner to the office and went out of sight, and my ears perked up as our group neared the same corner.
One of the other officers was yelling, “Stop! Police!”
There was more yelling and shouting – a theft suspect was fighting with store security out on the sidewalk. The street was crowded and the suspect used this to his advantage – he made a break for it.
He sprinted towards Abbott St and turned south, with the officers chasing after him. I cut around hubby and my group of girls, gave my parked police SUV a longing glance (PSD Hondo was inside, but the truck was too far away to go retrieve him) and joined in the foot pursuit.
Our route took us south down the centre of Abbott St (I cursed that I was not supposed to be in foot chases – that’s what the police dog is for) and east onto Expo Blvd. The suspect was really boogying, but I suspected he would tire quickly. One of the officers was radioing in the chase and I could hear the sirens of police cars coming to assist.
Movement caught the corner of my eye, and I looked over to see a police recruit flanking us in a full-out sprint.
Here’s the thing about police recruits – they tend to be young and very fast, and this recruit blew past us like we were running in molasses – I didn’t have a police dog to deploy, so why not deploy the recruit?
He caught the suspect a few moments later, with us right on his heels to assist with the arrest. Arriving police cars screeched to a halt out on the road, one of the officers let dispatch know the suspect was in custody and I walked back to where the girls were waiting once the scene was all sorted out.
They had witnessed the the foot pursuit and the responding police cars speeding in with lights and sirens – “Just like in the movies!” one of them said.
They cheered when I said we had caught him, and they were chatty and laughing as they repeatedly said, “That was so cool!”
It was an excellent way for the girls to end the night.
In a perfect world, the night would have the following results:
- the drug presentation would provide the girls knowledge and understanding about the dangers of drug use, enabling them to make good choices as they grow up
- the walk-about would leave an impression of how bad the living conditions are for hard core addicts
- the walk-about would also leave an impression that the regular residents and citizens of the DTES are good people, not to be judged by the area’s rampant drug trade
- the ending spectacle of the foot chase would spark interest in a career in law enforcement (that was an added bonus!)