Pubdate: Mon, 17 Nov 2008
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Colette Derworiz, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Youth)


Survivor Tells Harrowing Story Of Addiction

By the age of 12, she was regularly sneaking out of her southeast
Calgary home, dabbling in drugs and hanging out with a much older crowd.

Her escalating drug use over the next year would ultimately lead to a
fight with her mom. She ran away and moved in with a boyfriend who was
in his early twenties.

It wasn't long before the teen was sleeping on the streets, where she
got addicted to meth and worked as a prostitute.

"I was just on the streets smoking crack all of the time," says
Michelle, whose real name can't be used under a publication ban. "I
knew where to get the crack.

"My dealer actually mixed the crack with meth."

Then, after nearly two years of shifting from the streets to her
parent's home to a safe house to the streets again, she hit rock bottom.

"I met these guys and they were wanting to traffic me," she says.
"They were like, 'You are coming to Mexico with me. I said, 'Am I
really? No.'

"So I phoned my mom."

Michelle, now a striking 15-year-old who lives at a suburban home with
her family, has come a long way since that fateful night. She tells
her story to help prevent others from falling into the same trap.

Each year, dozens of Alberta teenagers run away from home in favour of
a life on the street.

According to the latest count, in May there were 154 homeless kids in
Calgary between the ages of 13 and 17, up from the 56 counted six
years earlier. Another 327 young people between the ages of 18 and 24
are also homeless.

Some of those teens end up like Michelle -- addicted to hard drugs and
involved in prostitution.

Michelle's story begins with a relatively normal family moving to a
rough neighbourhood after her dad lost his job. Her mom, who had some
health issues, was often busy with her other children who have special

In junior high school, Michelle started experimenting with drugs,
smoking pot with some classmates.

It soon escalated to pot laced with crack and, soon after she left
home, crack laced with meth. Before long, Michelle was addicted to
drugs and involved in prostitution.

"It wasn't me when I was using," she says. "I was soulless."

Her mom Catherine, also not her real name, would search the streets
with her husband, looking for their daughter, on an almost nightly

But they were unable to find her, so they decided to get help through
the provincial Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act.

The act, established in 1999 as the Children Involved in Prostitution
Act, was created to allow police and social workers to apprehend young
people who are victims of sexual exploitation. Children also
voluntarily seek services under the act.

According to statistics from the province, 880 children have received
services under the legislation -- including 98 in the 2007-08 fiscal

Michelle was first apprehended at the age of 13, but she refused to
stay with the program.

"I whined and complained at court," she remembers.

The teen, who was gaunt with washed-out skin and hair,

returned to the streets.

"It was horrible," says her mom. "I wouldn't eat and sleep when she
wasn't home.

"I'd phone the police and let them know she was back. As soon as she
would leave, I would call them back and report her missing again."

Finally, on that fateful night when a group of guys wanted to send her
to Mexico, Michelle recognized she was being sexually exploited.

She agreed to enter a treatment facility.

After more than six weeks in a safe house, Michelle went to a
treatment facility in small-town Alberta, where she stayed for an
entire year.

"We thought that would be the best bet . . . to separate her
completely from Calgary," her mom says.

Michelle, who was one of six girls in the facility, says it was
difficult detoxing alongside other addicted teenagers.

But she was tough and her family remained by her side, visiting their
daughter on weekends and bringing her home when they could to help
integrate her back into their lives.

She's now back at home, where she spends a lot of time with her
parents and gets home-schooled.

Around the same time she left the small-town facility, Michelle and
her family joined a program called High Fidelity Wraparound.

The program started 11/2 years ago, after the United Way provided
funding as part of its Strengthening Families initiative. The program
helps young people put together a team that will support them in
meeting their needs and goals.

"The youth drive the process," says program supervisor Melissa

"They decide who is on their team, they decide what they want to work
on . . . and they have a whole team to support them in doing it."

Michelle says the program has helped her stay clean.

Her mom says it has helped to change their lives.

"It keeps us working on goals and things for the future," says

Michelle says her experience has made her realize she wants to become
a counsellor working with youth facing similar problems.

In the meantime, she will volunteer with the wraparound

"I realized what I am here to do with the rest of my life, which is to
help people with any of the same issues," she says. "To change the
world almost."
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