Click here for the original 'SportCafe' post
This week I was fortunate to have the eye-opening experience of taking a trip to downtown Vancouver with the ODD Squad. The Odd Squad is a group of police officers who are using their experiences in the East area of Vancouver, one of the most drug and crime ridden areas in North America, to educate youth about the dangers of drug addiction. The Odd Squad has been operating for 15 years and has made a handful of documentaries about their experiences. They also take people such as myself with them to walk around the area and get the full experience in order to be able to share it with people in their community.
My night with the Odd Squad began with a 90 minute presentation about why the program exists and what we should be prepared to see. The presentation made me nervous, to say the least. The most experience I have with drugs is seeing other kids smoking joints at high school parties. So, to go out on the street and talk to someone smoking from a crack pipe is beyond shocking. The video presentation was graphic, and showed the effects that different drugs may have on a person. Then, we turned around and hit the streets to see for ourselves what was taking place in the Eastern area of Vancouver (and, sadly, all across North America).
We rounded a corner and happened upon two girls, approximately my age, who were smoking crack. They were comfortable around the police officers, and spoke with us about why they are living on the street and addicted to hard drugs. Their stories were starkly contrasting, but the outcome was the same. One girl had been smoking pot with her father since she was 9 years old. He has since been murdered. It was easy to see why she had turned her back on life. The other girl, however, seemed to have had a more normal (or at least what I was considering to be normal) upbringing. She had a college diploma and enjoyed working with animals. She hadn’t started using drugs until a friend had invited her to try them after college. Once she started, she was instantly addicted and still hasn’t stopped looking for her next fix.
Both the girls were friendly, which for some reason surprised me. These are people that, had I walked past them on the street, I would have held on more tightly to my purse and hurried along my way. I am ashamed to admit it, but I have never bothered to consider that these might be people who society could learn valuable lessons from, or who could contribute in some positive way. Both girls were still hopeful that they would beat their addictions and wanted children to hear the message that ANYONE is susceptible to drug addiction- they wanted it to be made clear that once you get a taste of these drugs, you will be hooked. They wanted youth to know that once you start to spiral down into this way of life, it’s impossibly hard to get back out again.
The experience with these two women, and the entire Odd Squad evening, made me thankful (yet again) to live the life that I do. Things can seem so hopeless, so depressing, but it is important to continue to move forward making smart decisions. These people, who I was blessed to interact with, really have no where to go, they are sitting at the bottom of the barrel, yet they remain hopeful that they will one day be able to climb out of the dark places they are in and realize their dreams. If they can be give back to children by passing on their message (to have a plan to say "no" when someone offers drugs or alcohol), and stay hopeful that they will be able to get clean and have safe places to live, than I can surely keep my wits about me when I am exhausted from the luxury of too much speed skating training or sitting sick at home in my warm house with my husband and dog by my side.
One of the many Vancouver allies we walked through to learn about drug abuse and addiction
The Stanley- a place filled with drug addicts taking refuge from the elements. RIght across the street is one of the fanciest restaurants in Vancouver