Pubdate: Thu, 29 Jul 2004
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2004 Whitehorse Star
Author: Sarah Elizabeth Brown


Downtown residents speaking at a public forum Wednesday evening about drug
trafficking in their neighbourhoods introduced themselves by the streets on
which they live.

Introductions of "I live on Wheeler Street", "I used to live at Eighth and
Alexander", "I'm near Cook and Sixth" or "I have three drug houses nearby"
drew murmurs and sympathetic nods.

One mother spoke about a house where drugs are sold, complete with heavy
bars on the windows and doors, close by her children's bus stop. She
lamented that her seven-year-old knows what a drug house is and where
they're located.

Most were horrified at the number of used needles they've found in their
yards, on their walking trails and on their neighbourhood streets. Some 100
residents, politicians, service providers and RCMP officers crammed into the
Whitehorse Public Library's meeting room to talk about the downtown drug

With many people's comments left unheard because the library had to close,
another forum is planned for early September.

Whitehorse Centre MLA Todd Hardy noted the Yukon has always had a connection
with Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, albeit a sad one. Growing up in
Whitehorse, many kids aspired to going to Vancouver, the Yukon NDP leader
said, noting many ended up addicted to drugs and living on that
neighbourhood's streets.

"Very easy prey for drug abuse, for drug dealers," he said.

One friend of his died on one of those Vancouver streets, said Hardy.

For Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the community started on a new,
comprehensive way of tackling drugs when crime and the sheer visibility of
the drug problem couldn't be ignored.

People get involved when they "feel it in some way," said guest speaker
Libby Davies, the NDP MP for the riding that encompasses the Downtown
Eastside's 10,000 residents.

At one point, Vancouver police said 80 per cent of crime was driven by the
drug trade, said Davies.

The city's mayor, community members and even drug users began pushing a
"four-pillar" approach to drugs, one that sees enforcement teamed with
prevention and education, treatment and harm reduction.

One measure of success in the Vancouver project is decreased visibility --
and while drug use in the Downtown Eastside is by no means gone, it's become
less visible, said Davies.

Treating an addiction isn't just about throwing a user into a treatment
program, said Davies, noting drug use is the end result of something wrong
in that user's life.

"It's really the outcome of a bunch of other stuff going on in that person's
life," she said.

Some of the most amazing meetings were between senior police officers and
drug users, said Davies.

The addicts explained how they felt they weren't wanted, how they were
pushed from area to area, beaten up, with no place to go. In turn, they
heard what a police officer's job is about.

Even more incredible, the federal politician said, were the talks between
drug users and middle class parents of addicted kids. Together, she said,
those two groups went after governments about why there's no treatment for
young people.

In Vancouver, drug users formed their own group. They were incredibly
helpful because they could speak with members living on the street and bring
that input back to the multitude of groups.

They could also speak to users about not shooting up in sensitive areas like
schools, and because the users felt respected and listened to, were more
likely to.

It's important drug users are included in any discussions and community
action, said Davies.

A Whitehorse street nurse who drives with the outreach van that provides
food, health education and a roving needle exchange told the forum that last
week, the van staff took in more than 3,000 needles. It was out for eight
hours throughout the week.

They've had more in a week, and they've had fewer, she said, adding she
hands out clean needles even if a user doesn't have a dirty one to exchange.
The risk of spreading AIDS/HIV and Hepatitis C is just too great, said the

"They're doing it right out in the open," one resident said of dealers and

Several people, particularly Davies, urged that users and drug dealers can't
be lumped in together, and that addicts should be viewed with empathy as
victims of the drug trade.

Another woman questioned how citizens can influence the sentencing process,
arguing penalties for dealers are too light. "The dealers aren't users," she
said. "This is an economic gain for them.

"Everyone says the RCMP should do this, this and this," she continued. "I
don't think so -- I think the answer is some place else." A former longtime
Yukoner, back in the territory on vacation, noted that while new buildings
are going up in some places of town, neighbourhood recreation infrastructure
such as baseball diamonds are falling victim to weeds and lack of use.

And trails he walked on as a kid are now "littered with needles," he told
the forum.

Yukoners used to refer to inside and Outside people -- meaning those from
the territory and those who'd come from the south. The term used to
differentiate between big city problems and those in the Yukon, the
vacationer continued.

But that's clearly changed, he said.

"There's no such thing as being inside or Outside."

One downtown resident said her favourite pastimes are playing outside with
her kids and hiking on local trails. She also works downtown with disabled
people to pick up litter along the waterfront.

"I'm tired of finding needles and drug users among the trees," she said. "It
is disgusting, the amount of needles we pick up along the waterfront on a
daily basis."

Some residents spoke of measures they and their neighbours have already

One resident of Wheeler Street, a single street with more than one
trafficker open for business, noted his neighbourhood cut down the tall
grass and underbrush next to a notorious drug house and created a park. The
RCMP came in and had a community barbecue next to the drug house too, he

Another resident suggested people who live around drug houses talk to the
landlords, recounting how his neighbourhood did just that.

Once the landlord, who hadn't come around much before, learned that dealers
were working out of his rental property, the dealers were evicted, the
resident said. 
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