Needles, drug use a growing problem outside Vancouver elementary school: residents
With just days left until classes resume, residents near a downtown Vancouver elementary school are voicing serious safety concerns over drug use and discarded paraphernalia in the area.
On Sunday, Mike Henniger snapped a photo outside Crosstown Elementary School that he said encapsulates those fears.
"I was walking my dog and I seen two people sitting right in the front entrance of the school using drugs openly, leaning against the elementary school front doors," he said. "I just thought the picture with the elementary school sign in the picture with clear drug use was something that was pretty poignant."
Crosstown, which opened in the spring of 2017, has limited land due to its location and uses the neighbouring Andy Livingstone Park as its playground.
But Henniger said a recent uptick of drug use in the park is making the area unsafe.
"I won't walk my dog here at night anymore. My wife doesn't feel safe in this park," he said, adding that he sees discarded needles nearly every time he is in the park.
Henniger said he found several uncapped needles near the playground just last weekend and alerted the city. When he returned the next day, however, the syringes were still there and he was forced to remove them himself.
"When I saw someone in the park cleaning up needles, I mentioned it and they said, 'Yeah, we're really underfunded,'" he said. "The last two, three weeks have been horrible—really, really bad. Things definitely have deteriorated here."
Maintenance of the park is a complicated issue partly because it falls under several jurisdictions.
While ensuring the safety of children is up to the school and the school board, cleaning up park property is ultimately up to the Vancouver Park Board and it falls on the police to deal with anyone whose drug consumption or other behaviour is putting other park users at risk.
The Vancouver School Board's director of instruction said he has been made aware of the problem by the chair of a community group near Crosstown and the board is taking steps to improve the situation.
"The initial thoughts were we need to make sure that the school grounds are safe for the kids when they return to school on Tuesday. That's always been our number one priority," Richard Zerbe told CTV News.
"It's not surprising we would see a buildup of those materials, the debris and the garbage over the summer," he added. "We don't have the full complement of resources… It's worse in the warm weather—brings more people outside."
According to the park board, several measures are already in place to keep the park safe and clean for all.
Rangers patrol the area at least three times a day, seven days a week. There are six needle receptacles on the property that are emptied on a weekly basis. The school itself conducts four safety sweeps every day and city sanitation staff show up to clean the park and the surrounding area every morning.
"On an ongoing basis the City, Park board, health and school board officials and VPD have been working on a coordinated response to serve local residents and enhance park and playground security by ensuring needles in the park are cleaned up as quickly as possible," the statement read.
Henniger, however, told CTV park rangers "were here for a month and they absolutely disappeared" after the school first opened, adding that whatever's being done now clearly isn't enough.
"It's just a matter of time before some small child gets stabbed with a needle and gets some serious infectious disease. It's going to happen. Some violent activity is going to happen," he said. "If I had a kid at this school, I think I'd be speaking to you in a very different tone of voice. I'd be losing my mind right now."
Parents in the area echoed those concerns Tuesday.
"We see an increasing number of needles here," said Leandro Ang, who often uses the park with his daughter.
Ang said the situation has been getting worse over the summer, with some people beginning to stay in the park on a more permanent basis.
"There's always a tension between the people that actually want to use the park and the people that actually want to stay here because obviously they don't have a choice," he said.
This isn't the first time drug use has caused problems at Crosstown Elementary.
Resident Tricia Dong said she was outraged to find needles and other drug paraphernalia outside the school in June of 2017.
Both Henniger and Ang are calling for more action from all parties involved in maintaining the park. But with the school year set to kick off on Tuesday, it's unclear how much can be done to keep children safe.
Anyone who finds a needle on the street or in a park can report it by calling 311, the VanConnect app or the Needle Van Hotline at 604-657-6561.
Those who witness a crime or any kind of behaviour that could put other at risk should call 911.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Sheila Scott