Photos provided by Game Ready Photography
Players get a first-hand look at the devastating consequences of drug addiction in Vancouver’s downtown east side.
“It’s overwhelming, and of course a totally different environment for young role models,” said Cpl. Kent Dahl of the RCMP of the two-day trip.
About 10,000 people are packed into this single region and about 2,000 of them are homeless. Drug use is rampant.
“You see hundreds of addicts injecting themselves. It’s very shocking.”
Players from junior hockey teams have been making the trip to Vancouver for 13 years. They have to be at least 18 years old and interested in giving back to the community and being a positive role model for the middle-school students they’ll be speaking to after they return home.
Dahl added many of the players come from rural settings, so seeing the East Hastings area is particularly eye-opening.
“They’ve never been exposed to anything like this,” said Dahl. “It makes them realize how important it is to lead a positive, drug-free lifestyle.”
Once the players arrive in Vancouver in the morning, they undergo a drug awareness presentation explaining why the downtown east side is the way it is and how drugs are brought into the city. They also see drug paraphernalia up-close and had a day-time tour of East Hastings.
They also visit Vancouver’s harbor, and receive further insight into how the drug trade affects the city. A night-time tour of East Hastings is also included where the players can get out and talk to the addicts and get a grittier feel of what life is like on the streets.
Once home, the players will visit local schools to share their experiences with students.
Part of the tragedy of East Hastings is that many addicts spend decades trying to survive and end up dying there as well. When the players talk with some of the addicts, they learn that many had normal backgrounds and families.
“They are from all walks of life and all parts of the country,” said Dahl. “It’s heart-wrenching for the players because they see people who are driven by their addictions and nothing else.”
Another presentation the receive is at the B.C. Children’s Hospital was about babies born with addictions to drugs.
“East Hastings in Vancouver has some of the worst activity and the players meet the street people that the police know well and hear about their stories – how they got there and why they are unable to get out.
“It’s far more impactful when they have gone down and seen the drug trade first hand.” “They have a basis of knowledge to go on.” “People are so open and are willing to talk to you. We heard stories of some of the people who ended up there and some of them were just regular Joes.
“Within six square blocks you can walk and see every single junkie in Vancouver. The drugs come off the boats in the harbor and then go right onto the street.”
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