‘It’s a sad place.’ Whatì youth visit Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Five youth from Whatì visited Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, infamously known in the 1990s as Canada’s poorest postal code, to gain an understanding of the damage drug addiction can do.

The two-day visit at the end of November was held to teach young people about drugs and addictions, police from the Northwest Territories said in a news release on Tuesday.

The youth reportedly spent time walking the streets of downtown Vancouver to link what they were learning in the classroom to the realities people face. The training was held by Odd Squad Productions, a group led by current and former Vancouver police officers.


In the news release, teenagers who took the training spoke of the difficult realities they witnessed.

“I learned that people can stay a long time on the street if they use drugs. It’s a sad place,” said 14-year-old Marvin Romie.

Cpl Bradley Barbour, Whatì’s RCMP detachment commander, said that while students had seen videos about the area, “nothing could prepare them for the things they would see, hear, and experience.”

Wedged between Vancouver’s downtown core and the quickly gentrifying Strathcona neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside is both the historic heart of the city and a place where residents face many complex issues: homelessness and substandard housing, unemployment, mental health challenges, and addictions. The neighbourhood is seeing increasing numbers of overdose deaths as Canada faces a fentanyl crisis.

The Downtown Eastside consequently also has a high concentration of social service providers, including North America’s first legal supervised injection site, known as Insite.


“I watched them hold back tears as they spoke with an elderly lady that had a crack cocaine addiction,” Cpl Barbour said. “She talked about how her addiction has affected her relationship with her family.”

Another participant, 15-year-old Kushalini Smith, said she learned the lesson of “think before you do it.”

Youth who took part will now prepare presentations for their school, as well as for the community and council of Whatì.