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Mother of recently deceased aboriginal teen says support system for young addicts needs to change

A mother whose daughter died two weeks ago in Nanaimo of a drug overdose says the system needs to change.

Charlene Charlie, mother of Bella Jones, said her daughter started using drugs to deal with trauma. 

“There’s a lot of resources out there that children cannot usually reach. It’s not all the time or all the places, but there are places where they need the child to be in [the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s] care in order for them to seek resources for counseling or trauma or treatment or anything. She didn’t like repeating her story constantly. She was frustrated with that because she was going from counsellor to counsellor to counsellor. It became repetitive for her.”

Bella spent almost five years on the streets of Nanaimo, starting when she was thirteen. Charlie expressed it was a two hour ferry ride from the mainland to Nanaimo to search for her daughter. When she was able to find her daughter after hours of searching, she had a hard time convincing her to come home. 

“These were times where she would let us know how she’s feeling. I would be downtown for hours and she would be trying to tell me to ‘go home take care of my brothers and my sisters’ and I told her ‘no, they are the reasons why I’m out here looking for you because they’re because they’re asking when are you coming home. They want you home’. She would tell me that because of her addiction she was not able to come home. She didn’t want them to see that.”

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On the occasions that Bella did come home, Charlie says she would become aggressive and physical.

Charlie expressed dissatisfaction with the current system of support for addicts, as some places can turn away children in need of a support due to a ‘Catch 22’, which is what happened to her daughter. She stated that in her experience, she has known of children as young as eight years old that turn to drug use.

“I went through the same thing as the mother of the twelve year old [who died from an overdose]. When my daughter was addicted, I was told that ‘it’s a catch 22, it’s a catch 22 you can’t force her to do this, we can’t force her into detox, you can’t force her into treatment’. In my mind I was, you know, blown away by that. What is the purpose of my child being [in the Ministry’s] care if we’re not able to do some sort of thing like that? I was told that it would have to be court ordered, and she would have to have a record for her to be able to get the support and whatever else she needed. So it was frustrating because a lot of places I understand there is no age limit. The age limit is sixteen. So for a child who is thirteen years old, [they are] not able to seek those resources within the community. It’s frustrating because you know, the parents are just doing our best to support them.” 

Charlie says she doesn’t believe the government’s new app will make much of a difference for the people who need support most. 

“An app is not going to be very much. We need people out there in the field— many people out there— speaking to our children. Speaking to anybody and everybody.”

Charlie found it hard to support her daughter due to her lack of custody over Bella. However, she said she worked together with her foster mother and some of the people in the community to try to support her.

“[Other homeless people] would talk to me and they’d ask me what’s going on, like why is she on the street if she has a home? [Her death] was just a lot for a lot of people to take because she became a sister to many of them. She became a daughter too for many of them on the street. My daughter told me who she would call mom and who she would call dad, and they were just people that would look out for her— make sure she’s safe— in every which way that they could. It’s very frustrating to see how our people are being treated. Every single one of them is a human being and everyone of them has a story.”

She also believes her daughter did not overdose on purpose. She says Bella is one of many victims who used street drugs laced with deadly additives. 

Charlie said that her daughter wanted to go into social development and be a outreach worker and lawyer, so she would be able to help people with addictions and homeless people.

A memorial for Bella has been put up at the Wisteria Community Association.

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