nb-saint-john-carleton-park

The Red Shirt campaign will see volunteers patrol the playground outside the Carleton Community Centre. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

A Saint John community group is turning its attention to a playground on the city's west side that has become a gathering place for teenagers and bad behaviour.

Members of the Lower Westians plan to don red shirts, and patrol the playground outside of the Carleton Community Centre, starting on May 11.

A number of older youth have been scaring away parents and their children at night, said group founder Meaghan Colwell, who lives across the street from the playground.

So she decided to "start calling on the community members to start coming together," she said.

"I've seen bonfires in the middle of the park, I've seen them partying in the park," Colwell said. "Drinking, drugs, smoking, swearing — it's just insane."

Colwell, who started the Lower Westians last year to improve the quality of life for people living on the city's lower west side, said she has no problem with teenagers spending time at the playground.

Gone too far

However, she said some of them have gone too far, by destroying property, fighting, and disturbing neighbours with excessive noise, sometimes "screaming at all hours of the night, right up until 6 a.m. sometimes."

"For young kids down there and wanting to play … they can't get to the swings because they're taken up by a large group of youth that they're scared of," said Colwell. "We were just tired of it."

Belinda Coleman's grandchildren play at the park. She said they often feel pressured to leave.

"I've seen the way the teenagers are in this park, and I'm glad [my daughter] doesn't bring my grandsons down here at night," she said. "You should not have to leave a playpark with your child because of some teenager."

As part of the Red Shirt Campaign, volunteers will walk the park in pairs for three hours every evening, between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., and tell misbehaving youth to leave.

Colwell said the volunteers aren't worried about possible confrontations.

"We are going to be having a self-defence course provided to us, but we're hoping that's not going to come to that," she said.

"They're going to be pretty understanding … the respect is just lacking and we would like to get that back."

Ten people have signed up for the neighbourhood watch program to date.