Broken crack pipes, used condoms, liquor bottles, and various bits of trash have accumulated on Chilliwack middle school’s sports field, prompting the school to ban students from accessing it unsupervised.
Some parents at the school were taken aback by the change, which was explained to students in an assembly on Wednesday. Those parents took to social media to band together and try to find some answers.
Cheri Bojcic said the school told students the field is city property, and that they are not to use it unsupervised, or hang out there at lunch.
By Thursday morning, city staff and the school’s administration were out in full force with pick-up tools to clean up the field.
“I basically want to know what they are doing about the needles and protecting my child and the others from this potentially happening,” Bojcic said, and “what they plan to do if my daughter (or another child) gets pricked by a needle that wasn’t seen originally — that field is huge.”
In past years, students were able to access the field and hockey box beside CMS. The field includes a ball diamond and backstop, and goal posts for field sports. It’s also regularly been used by various school teams after school, including rugby and soccer.
Evelyn Novak, superintendent of schools for School District 33, acknowledged there has been a flurry of concerns among parents this week, as school started up.
“There are some concerns being raised around the students’ use of the field that’s outside of CMS, along with the homeless situation,” she said. “There’s been a heightened awareness for parents around that.”
There is some uncertainty about who actually owns the field, she said, and the school board and city are going over paperwork to sort it out.
“But regardless of whose it is, it’s property that we want to make sure is safe for the kids to be outside and play on,” Novak added. “What we’re focused on is ensuring the students are safe.”
She says they’ve been working with the city in pinpointing trouble spots — and those are popping up all over the city, not just downtown, she adds. And they’ve trained their custodians in proper disposal of all paraphernalia.
As school has gotten into full swing, the district is seeing a dwindling number of homeless camps around their schools.
“We have seen it dissipate over the last few days, but we will continue to be vigilant in getting people off our property,” she said.
“But this is throughout the city of Chilliwack,” she underlined. “It’s a Chilliwack community issue, it’s not just in one area or another.”
She said any parents with concerns should first address their school principal, who will relay the information to the district.
There has also been some confusion around permission slips for leaving school grounds, she added. The forms are the same routine walking field trip forms that have been sent out to parents in years past. They allow students to walk to facilities at Chilliwack secondary with a teacher, to use sports fields there.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said Thursday that the field is indeed school property.
Still, she says the school district shouldn’t have to shoulder the costs of cleaning up after homeless camp messes and illegal drug and prostitution activities.
“This is a provincial issue,” she says. “It has to do with housing, and mental health, and recovery, and they collect the taxes for that, we don’t.”
She said it’s “good to shine a light” on the issue, and she hopes that Education Minister Mike Bernier pays attention to the matter. Gaetz is certain it’s not just Chilliwack schools that will start to see problems like this.
“It can’t just be Chilliwack,” she said. “There must be other municipalities that are affected like this. And maybe the homeless people don’t know where the school parks are, or what a city park is.”
Either way, she said, it’s important that residents speak up and complain to the proper people. That would be our local MLAs John Martin and Laurie Throness and MP Mark Strahl, she said.
“I would encourage people to call their MLAs and ask for legislative change,” she urged. “I’m glad they’re shining a light on this. It’s impacting us all in different ways.”
The issue of homeless has reached unprecedented levels. The latest estimate from those in the field is that there are about 300 homeless people in Chilliwack, whereas in 2014 there were 73.
“It’s disturbing. It’s distressing,” she says, and must not be tolerated.
She urges anyone who sees illegal activity, such as the woman photographed recently shooting up drugs in a children’s park while a young girl was sitting on the swings, to call the RCMP right away. Even if they can’t respond, or charge someone, she says at least they will know which areas to monitor.
And if there is any garbage left around city property, a call to city hall will result in it getting cleaned up, she added.
“Even through this isn’t a city responsibility, we’re working with other agencies, we’ve come up with a homeless action… we’re hiring more RCMP, and we’ve also hired more bylaw enforcement,” she said. “We’re now spending huge amounts of time looking after this. We’re not happy with the judge’s decision, but I don’t think he could have in any way known the impact it would have on the community, on playgrounds, on children.”
“I’m hoping they come up with a solution,” Gaetz added.