Another First Nations teenager has died while receiving help from the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development — the third to die in three years.
Her friends say the system failed her, as it has failed at least two other aboriginal youth since 2013.
Patricia Lee “Indigo” Evoy, 19, was found dead along with an unidentified deceased male in a Burnaby, B.C., apartment March 10. The cause of their deaths is under investigation.
Started stripping at 18
Friends described Evoy as headstrong and rebellious — “a tornado” — who had been receiving assistance from the Ministry of Children and Family Development since she was at least 18.
That’s the same time Evoy also started stripping at a New Westminster club, says her friend Michael Houliston, 26.
But when she turned 19 in October, she “aged out” of some of the care and oversight provided by the Ministry.
Houliston says more should have been done for Evoy, and he’s “devastated” by her death.
“The system treated her the way it’s treated many others,” said Houliston. “There are children falling through the cracks that need services.”
Houliston speaks from experience. He’s a former youth in care, who now hopes to become a social worker and says he had been trying to help Evoy.
“I’m upset by the professional indifference I see. It really bothers me, when I see my friend dying in this kind of way,” he said.
Evoy had been receiving help from the Broadway Youth Resource Centre. The BYRC’s website states it’s a non–profit “one stop youth centre that provides a wide range of social, health, education, employment and life skill services to youth between the ages of 12 and 24.”
The building at Broadway and Fraser in Vancouver is also home to an apartment building run by the Vancouver Native Housing Society. It provides rooms for youth at risk, under a contract with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Evoy had a room there. But Houliston says she had recently spent one month in St. Paul’s hospital in Vancouver, fighting off an infection. He says she told him she fell behind on her rent and was facing eviction.
He believes her desperation forced her into a risky situation that resulted in her death.
“I know that Patricia was going through a struggle and needed more than just rent money,” said Houliston. “This tragedy could have been avoided if [the Ministry] made the radical changes that they have been recommended,” he said.
Turpel-Lafond: ‘Profound sadness’
The office of Mary Ellen Turpel–Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, says it’s looking into the latest death involving an aboriginal youth, stating the female found dead March 10 in Burnaby “had been involved with MCFD and was trying to navigate the system of youth support.”
“I can only express my profound sadness at this loss and offer support to her family and friends as they learn of this tragedy,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“I am reminded again of the frailty of the lives of some young people in our province, especially aboriginal youth as they make the transition from child welfare to adulthood.”
Media representatives with B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family development would not confirm or deny any details about what supports were provided to Evoy.
Past ‘brutal and cruel approach’
The tragic deaths of aboriginal teens prompted the B.C. government to promise change in the past.
In 2013, a 19-year-old girl identified only as “Paige” died of a drug overdose after a troubled life on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
That prompted a scathing report by B.C.’s child watchdog. Turpel–Lafond blamed the B.C. government’s “brutal and cruel approach” for her death.
In response, the government promised to form a “rapid response team … to reach out and directly address the needs and safety of the highest-risk youth.”
But in September of 2015, Alex Gervais, 18, fell or jumped to his death from a room at an Abbotsford hotel where he had been living on his own for several months after the province closed his group home. That tragedy remains under investigation.
Evoy’s friends see her death as the latest sign aboriginal youth at risk aren’t getting the care they need.
‘Lost … little bird’
“She was headstrong and rebellious. Far too old for her age, but beautiful in every way a person could be beautiful. But also lost — a little bird always searching for a place to land,” said Baron Cameron of Culture Thug Photography, who hired the young woman as a model since she was 17.
Evoy’s family couldn’t be reached for comment.
In the past, her mother has publicly acknowledged she has faced ongoing addiction issues. Evoy’s sister posted a YouTube tribute to her sister, stating, “when I was 16 I was lucky enough to have found you and met you … I was blessed with the most amazing sister anyone could ask for. I love you forever.”
There was also an outpouring of grief on Facebook.
“I just wish her spark had the chance to become the inferno she was meant to be,” wrote Dan Reimer. “She was filled with an incandescence I’ve never seen in anyone else before. Burn bright, Indigo, your legacy continues to illuminate.”
Houliston wants Evoy’s death to finally bring about real change for youth at risk.
“We need this to stop” he said. “I don’t want to see my friends dying in this way.”