British Columbia

Stabbings, syringes and school: Parents of kids at urban Vancouver elementary worry about safety

Two mothers of students who attend Crosstown Elementary School, near Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, say their children are increasingly exposed to drug and crime activity and want all levels of government to do more.

Crosstown Elementary School is located near the notorious Downtown Eastside

Bonnie James says her son, who attends Crosstown Elementary School, has trouble sleeping because he is afraid he is going to get sick from the drug paraphernalia littering the streets in his neighbourhood. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The tipping point for Desiree Miller happened last spring.

She was walking her three kids home past a neighbourhood park when they spotted police caution tape and learned there had been a violent stabbing after a drug deal went wrong.

The stabbing happened near Crosstown Elementary School, located east of downtown Vancouver at 55 Expo Boulevard, not far from the Downtown Eastside, where drug use and homelessness are rampant and police say violent crime is on the rise. 

Miller, whose three children, aged 10, eight, and six, all attend Crosstown, says parents are growing increasingly fearful about what their children are exposed to during their daily routines.

"We've seen in the last two years a rapid decline happening," Miller told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition. "We've always known there were challenges in our hood but for everyday people ... we feel unsafe just walking the streets."

Desiree Miller says she has seen the Crosstown neighbourhood rapidly decline in the last two years. (CBC )

Bonnie James has two kids at Crosstown, aged six and seven, and said she has also noticed an increase in crime and drug use in recent years as well as a decline in safety. 

"It honestly scares me," said James. "If I've seen that much of a change, what's it going to be in the next two years?"

One of her sons has had trouble sleeping because he is afraid he is going to get sick from drug paraphernalia. And this summer, the family left their townhouse to go on a holiday and returned to find a homeless person camped out on their patio. 

"We need to protect our children," said James. "This can't be the new normal that we live in."

Bonnie James wants to see municipal, provincial and federal governments work together to tackle homelessness, crime, addiction and mental health concerns in Vancouver. (CBC)

Both women said it is challenging to pass by people suffering from homelessness, addiction and mental health issues on their commute and not be able to tell their children why these people are not being offered help.

"I think it's a failing in society when we don't have resources or a program to be able to say this is how we can help," said Miller. "There are individuals in our community who need help."

James said that help needs to come from a multi-government approach. 

 "In my mind, it's not a Downtown Eastside issue. It's everywhere — It's a national issue," said James. "I want to challenge all levels of government to talk about this together, I don't care what party you're in." ​

To hear the complete interview with Desiree Miller and Bonnie James, access the audio link below

Desiree Miller and Bonnie James speak with Stephen Quinn about taking kids to school in the Downtown Eastside. 9:23

With files from The Early Edition

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