No easy solution for neighbourhood ‘overrun’ by prostitution
For Jessica Leung, the discarded needle at the foot of her front steps was a rude awakening.
“We’ve been making offers on houses in the neighbourhood since January,” Leung said. “We were desperate to get into this neighbourhood for the schools and just for the proximity to everything. I think the reality has been a little bit different.”
Since Leung and her family moved in to their million-dollar home in East Vancouver’s Kensington-Cedar Cottage neighbourhood in May, they’ve found that -- for all its desirable qualities -- their new address is also a hotbed of sex work and drug use.
“It’s not just the needle,” she told CTV News. “I’ve phoned the police since we’ve been here probably six times for open prostitution, open drug-dealing, on the street in the middle of the day -- 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Residents in the neighbourhood say they routinely find used condoms, needles, and discarded clothing on their properties. Some say they’ve even caught sex workers and their clients in the act.
“Basically, we’re being overrun by prostitution,” said Bob Larson, who has lived in the neighbourhood for seven years.
“I don’t have an issue with prostitution in general,” he said, but lately “it’s getting out of control. It’s way too much, unfortunately.”
The problem has gotten so severe that earlier this year neighbours circulated a petition calling on the city to do something. More than 400 people signed on, but little has changed as a result.
Many of the residents who signed that petition are parents of young children, who say they don't even feel safe taking their children outside in their own neighbourhoods, even during the day.
Confrontations with sometimes hostile sex trade workers have forced them to teach their kids some tough life lessons at a young age.
“I'd love my son to walk to school by himself, but I don't feel safe,” said resident Ewart Aitken. “They're aggressive in the morning.”
Politicians, police, and city officials have met with residents numerous times, and Vancouver-Kingsway MP Don Davies says their concerns are legitimate.
“Everyone agrees that street-level sex work should not take place in residential neighbourhoods, near schools or children,” Davies said in a statement. “We’d like to see a federal government that plays a more positive role in this issue.”
Responsibility for drafting new prostitution regulations fell to the federal government in 2013, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public with clients.
Last fall, Parliament passed Bill C-36, which criminalized the buying -- but not the selling -- of sex. Critics argue that this change actually hurts sex workers, forcing them into more dangerous situations in order to protect their clients.
Whether a different approach to the legality of prostitution would help reduce the evidence of it that piles up daily near Kingsway in Kensington-Cedar Cottage remains to be seen.
For now, residents agree that it’s a complex problem, but they’re hoping to see more police and less prostitution.
“I hope that people understand that we’re wanting to make a change in the community that’s for the better,” Leung said. “We want to raise our family here. We don’t want to move. We want to stay.”
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Sarah MacDonald