Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Teen finds hope amid the traumas of her life
June 13, 2008

These days, Karlie passes her time in an old Victoria restaurant, where she’s working on getting past all the bad things that came her way in the last two years.
She’s 15, and already a veteran of crystal-meth addiction, alcoholism, sexual assault and homelessness. It’s been quite an adolescence.
But clean and sober for a year now, she’s back living with her parents. She’s enrolled in the brand-new Youth Hospitality Training Centre run out of the former Taj Mahal restaurant, and liking it a lot. And she’s dreaming of the day when it’s just her and her dog in their own place - after all, it was the dog that got her through.
Karlie (not her real name) now knows that addiction runs in her family. But at the tender age of 10 - her age when she first started babysitting the children of an addicted neighbour - she had no idea of the trouble she was walking into.
The neighbour used drugs in front of her from the time she was 11, and got her drinking before she was 13. As things took a turn for the worse and Karlie hit Victoria’s streets for a year at age 14, she worked her way in short order through ecstasy, powder cocaine and crack. Then came crystal meth, and she knew from the first hit that she was lost. “I went down pretty fast,” Karlie recalls.
Her father never could stand the neighbour. And for good reason, as it turns out. Karlie was a little girl and the neighbour was 12 years older than her, but that didn’t stop him from pouring her drinks and eventually talking her into having sex with him when she was 13.
She didn’t put the words “statutory rape” to what happened, but her mom did when she snooped in Karlie’s diary and saw what the teen had written about the event. The mother called police. When Karlie told the neighbour, his harsh response set her on the fast track to the streets.
“He wanted me to lie and say it was all a fantasy. But I wouldn’t ,” says Karlie. “So he said he didn’t want anything to do with me anymore, and that I couldn’t see his kids either. He’d been my best friend, my brother, my boyfriend, even my dad in a way. It was like I lost everything. Not even a week later, I was on the streets.”
Police picked her up regularly during the year she was out there, but just as regularly she ran back to the streets. She found a “street grandpa” who looked out for her, and a 13-year-old “street sister” to curl up with on cold nights. Drugs ruled both of their young lives.
Change comes in unexpected ways, and Karlie certainly wouldn’t have pegged a squabble outside Pacific Christian School as a turning point at the time. She’d yelled at a kid who wouldn’t stop throwing snowballs at her, and told him she’d stab him if she saw him downtown. He told his parents; Karlie ended up charged with uttering threats.
She got six months probation, and then another nine months when she breached one of her conditions. (Her total sentence was several months longer than the house arrest the neighbour got for having sex with her, but she’s trying to let that go.) Ordered by the court into youth detox, Karlie started the hard climb out of her addiction.
Karlie’s got a new dream now: An animal shelter for youth on the streets, one that understands that sometimes a dog or cat is literally the only friend a kid has. Nothing in the bylaws stops a youth on the street from having a dog as long as it’s licensed and on a leash, but Karlie says the reality is that dogs are seized all the time regardless of whether their owners are in compliance.
She was so angry at the loss of two pitbull puppies she and her street sister had that she tried to take Victoria Animal Control to court. But only adults have that right, she discovered.
Karlie has another dog safely stashed at home these days, and credits her pet as the primary motivator for her getting clear of crystal meth. When it seemed like all the world had turned against her, the dog never left her side.
“My shelter will let people drop their dogs off if they need to go to rehab, because that’s a big problem out there,” says Karlie. “I want to change the way homeless people are treated with their dogs. I want to help.”

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