KAMLOOPS — The last time Mckenna Smith went to hospital suffering from drug-induced psychosis, nurses hooked her up to an ECG to monitor her heart. She had been living on the streets and using meth for four months.“They ended up telling me I had two heart rates, which is when I found out that I was pregnant,” the 22-year-old said. “I felt like something was leading me to the hospital to tell me, OK, you’ve got to stop doing what you’re doing, you’ve got to stop leading this life.”Smith had been homeless since June 2018, when she and her boyfriend were evicted. At first, the couple slept in their car and couch-surfed with acquaintances. But meth was always within easy reach and Smith, who had been in recovery, relapsed. She started sleeping in parkade stairways, out of view of security guards.Her parents desperately tried to persuade her to come home, showing up at soup kitchens and filling her voicemail inbox, but she wasn’t ready, she said.After Smith found out she was pregnant in October 2018, she entered a women’s shelter that referred her to a recovery house for young moms in Kelowna. Her son Taysen was born healthy on June 9.She is now in recovery and devoted to caring for her child. She has reconnected with family, grateful they never gave up on her. She has become a volunteer with A Way Home Kamloops, a non-profit that advocates for homeless youth.Looking back at her experience, Smith recalled her struggle to find housing — she was on a B.C. Housing waiting list for affordable housing when she relapsed.A lack of nearby youth-specific in-patient treatment centres prevented her from getting the help she needed when she was ready, she said.She said there are only two in-patient centres between Vancouver and Prince George for youth. “So what about all the youth in between?”She wonders whether she would have been spared so much suffering if she had been able to get into detox as a teen.“I just think people deserve so much better than the lifestyle they live in addiction,” she said.
Florence Ballard, Administrative manager of Kamloops United Church. Photo: Gerry Kahrmann/Postmedia
Gerry Kahrmann /
Better addiction treatment essential Two homeless counts in Kamloops last year — one of them youth-specific — found that about a third of people attributed their homelessness to substance use, which has become deadlier and more complex since the fentanyl crisis began in 2015.Florence Ballard, administrative manager at Kamloops United Church, regularly sees youth at the church’s free Sunday meals and in its thrift shop.Youth homelessness is a heartbreaking issue made even worse by the overdose crisis, Ballard said. If someone is found sleeping outside the church, staff will check to see if they are OK.Ballard said she doesn’t see a quick fix to youth homelessness, but would like to see government take a “more thoughtful, human” approach to addiction treatment. That would include recognizing that some people will continue to use substances until they are ready for treatment and that those people need access to a safer supply of drugs in the meantime, she said.“Really, what I’m talking about is surviving until your miracle happens,” she said. “I don’t know what that moment is. I personally believe everybody gets one and I don’t mean that in a ‘church, religious’ sense. I mean everyone gets one and it’s usually a Tuesday. You just don’t know which Tuesday.”Staff at Interior Community Services, a non-profit agency, said Kamloops urgently needs a youth-specific detox centre and residential treatment program so that youth don’t have to travel to centres in Keremeos or Vancouver.“It removes them from their families and all their natural supports, so it’s almost a set-up for relapse when they return here,” said Nicole Arnould, director of youth programs and clinical services for Interior Community Services. “I hate the thought of our kids going six hours out of community for treatment.”The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said in an email that youth with substance use disorder can access programs at the local Phoenix Centre, a non-profit, and find support from the centre’s new youth intensive case management team. The team — which includes a substance use clinician, registered or psychiatric nurse and life skills worker — serves up to 40 youth who have the most complex mental health and substance use disorders, the ministry said.“It is important to note that there is evidence that community-based treatment is associated with substantially better outcomes than in-patient treatment and care, and that shorter stays in hospital are as effective as longer stays,” the ministry said.Tanya Tolman, program coordinator for street outreach and the Kamloops Youth Shelter, said youth who apply for detox at the Phoenix Centre can face waiting times of up to a week. There’s also a lack of supported housing for youth struggling with addiction and mental illness, who need access to experienced, trained staff on site 24 hours a day, said Tolman.“These are our most critically at-risk youth who require that therapeutic model,” Tolman said. “It’s not a simple solution of just housing.”Katherine McParland, executive director of A Way Home Kamloops, has been working to develop Youth Safe Suites for youth ages 18 to 24 since 2015. She hopes that up to 10 suites, staffed 24 hours a day, will open later this year to provide housing to youth with the most complex mental health and substance use issues.McParland said she is on track to raise $140,000 from community supporters and has had promising talks with government about further funding.“The whole goal is to move youth out of homelessness, so they don’t become that next generation of homeless,” she said.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc chief Roseanne Casimir (left) and Councillor Marie Baptiste on band land that may be developed for housing. Photo: Gerry Kahrmann/Postmedia
Gerry Kahrmann /
More homeless on Secwépemc reserveThe opioid crisis and lack of affordable rental units have both contributed to a rising number of homeless people setting up camp on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc reserve, particularly along the Thompson River, said Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir.“There’s a significant increase in drug-related activities and at-risk behaviours within our reserve,” Casimir said. “We also have seen things such as sex trafficking, drug paraphernalia, human trafficking, substance abuse, drug-induced psychosis and increased criminal activity like break-ins, drug dealing and gang activity.”Councillor Marie Baptiste, who oversees housing, said a new language and culture department opening this summer will help protect at-risk youth by connecting them with elders, teachings and ceremonies.Baptiste also wants to use 8.4 acres of Tk’emlúps land off the Southern Yellowhead Highway for tiny homes, social housing and self-financed homes for her people.But the band needs more government support to expand its social programs and housing, Casimir said.“For us, because of the lack of housing and new housing, we have band members who are residing along creek sides, in a lot of areas within the reserve that aren’t proper housing,” she said. “There’s also couch surfing, homes that are overcrowded. That always leads to problems.”email@example.com/nickeagland