VANCOUVER police officers from the Odd Squad have given 10 North Shore high school students a firsthand look at the harsh reality of drug and alcohol addiction.
David Steverding, a Vancouver police officer and North Vancouver resident, was one of several Odd Squad members who took students from Sutherland secondary on an interactive tour of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Feb. 18. According to Steverding, it's a privilege to live on the North Shore but drug abuse has no boundaries.
"The fact remains there are still addiction issues no matter where you go, whether its the Downtown Eastside or the North Shore," he said. "I don't think there is enough educational influence . . . this is just an opportunity to provide one side of the addiction issue to students."
The Odd Squad was created in 1997 and was made up of seven officers from the Vancouver Police Department. Today the squad consists of 22 active and retired police officers from various fields within law enforcement.
Joe Calendino, program director for Yo Bro Youth Initiative was also on hand and spoke to the students about his time as a member of the Hell's Angels.
"Of course you have regrets," Calendino said. "I can't focus on the negatives that I've had in my life. Every day now for me is a positive."
Calendino has since dedicated his life to educating youth about drugs and gangs. He has presented his message to more than 1,500 youth throughout British Columbia.
The Sutherland students will be creating a presentation of their own that will outline the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction. They will then go to schools across the North Shore and teach students in grades 7 and 8 about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
According to Steverding the best way to address drug addiction is to provide education and awareness to children early on.
"We know the best way to address it is to prevent it from happening in the first place," Steverding said. "At the end of the day, they do listen to their peers."
Elaine Langton, 15, found the presentations by Calendino and Steverding interesting. "I thought it was really informative," Langton said. "There were a lot of things I didn't know."
Langton said she realized that not everyone is as fortunate as herself. "I want to see what other people have to go through," she said.
Many of the students had no idea that many of the addicts live in old hotels that have become homeless shelters over the years.
"I didn't really know about the hotels and how dangerous they were," said Emma McIver.
After the orientation presentation, Steverding led the kids down various alleyways and through the Eastside.
Building relationships with the people in the Downtown Eastside is an extremely important part of Odd Squad's job.
"They may have done bad things but that does not necessarily make them bad people and we treat them with dignity and respect," Steverding said. "We get respect back and we form a lot of relationships with these people and they will tell us what is going on in their lives, what they have been up to, even what drugs they are using . . . they share a lot of what they are going through with us."
The Sutherland students were given a chance to ask questions to some of the residents.
"They will talk to you because they don't want you to make the same mistake." Steverding said. "I have yet to meet a drug addict down here who has said, 'Life is really great down here. You should try it.'"
One Downtown Eastside resident, who calls himself Mark, knows how dangerous long-term drug use can be.
"I've been using dope since I was 11, and I am 51 now," he said. "In 1995 I almost killed my whole family because of dope."
He said the hardest part about living on the eastside is how lonely it gets.
"If you look in the guys' eyes down here, you won't see any soul in them," he said. "Drugs do that to you."
Mark added that he can count about 50 people he knew who have passed away because of drug use throughout the years.
"I got six people that I've known for years that are dead since January," Mark said. "Any way you look at it, kids, its negative. There is nothing positive about it."
Steverding said it's crucial for children to remain active and involved in extracurricular activates after school.
"I personally get upset over the fact that we do tell kids to stay involved in healthy activities and be positive in that aspect, but yet on Friday and Saturday nights in communities the recreation centres are shut down, the school gymnasiums are shut down. There is nowhere for a lot of kids to go," he said.
"The North Shore is a great example. I think it is fantastic that parents can spend money for kids to play soccer and get involved in hockey and do all these other activities, but it is costly and there are a lot of kids that are left on the sidelines because they're parents can't afford to get them involved."
Grade 11 student Lachlan Fontaine, said he enjoyed the experience.
"It was good," he said. "But I was a bit nervous."
McIver also found the Odd Squad experience informative and worthwhile.
"It was interesting to hear what most of the people had to say," McIver said. "How they would rather not be here. No one said it was good to be down here."
Alanna Dunbar said early drug education might have made a difference to some of the people they met.
"If they had more guidance when they were younger, it would have helped them," Dunbar said.
The students are hoping that younger students will hear the message they hope to impart.
"I think that because we are teenagers they might actually listen," Stephanie Goetz said.
"When I got to high school I was shocked at how much drugs and alcohol kids were doing. It will be good to let the other kids know," said Dunbar.
"We will talk about prevention at a younger age and it will actually help them a lot."