In the span of seven months, Valerie Lafontaine lost both of her adult daughters while they were living at the YWCA in Regina.
The first call came Christmas Day 2022.
Andrea Lafontaine, 32, died from a suspected drug poisoning, although Valerie said she has not received the final coroner’s report.
YWCA staff logs show Andrea was checked on at 5 a.m. and again at 9 a.m. when she was found slumped over, dead in her bed. A bottle of Narcan was found next to her in her purse.
Seven months later, Valerie received another call from police. Her daughter Nicole Lafontaine, 31, had fallen out of a fifth floor window at the YWCA. She died from her injuries in hospital a short time later.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my girls,” Valerie said. “I got a lot of life to live myself and now I have two less children.”
Regina police confirmed officers responded to a report of an injured person at the YWCA on July 22 at 2:45 a.m. Based on the investigation conducted by police and the Saskatchewan Coroners Service (SCS), Nicole’s injuries and cause of death were deemed not criminal in nature.
Valerie believes Nicole was suffering from a drug-induced psychosis at the time of her death as a result of withdrawing from fentanyl.
YWCA logs show that staff members were aware of changes to Nicole’s behaviour in the days leading up to her death and her struggles with withdrawal. Extra room checks were encouraged for her and staff tried to connect her with a harm reduction clinic.
“They were both seeking help. They both had active addictions and they should have been checked on,” Valerie said, adding both her daughters were fleeing abusive relationships.
“As far as I’m concerned, the YWCA failed my daughters.”
YWCA Regina cannot comment on specific cases, but CEO Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen said the situations surrounding every death in the building undergo an internal review.
Coomber-Bendtsen said each of the YWCA’s clients have a specific case management plan in place, which includes a safety plan for those with active addictions. The plans determine how often people are checked in on, whether that be hourly, nightly or somewhere in between, and what supports are provided.
“Case management plans would include housing, budgeting and now all of our case management plans also include safety planning around drug use, so ensuring people aren’t using by themselves and ensuring people that do use also have the ability to be trained in naloxone,” Coomber-Bendtsen said.
Since 2022, eight women staying at YWCA Regina have died from drug poisonings or overdoses, according to Coomber-Bendtsen. She said the number of drug-related deaths is much higher when including all women who are connected to the YWCA’s outreach team.
As of May 2023, YWCA staff responded to more than 75 overdoses in the building and surrounding area.
“In the last couple years, the drugs that we’re seeing and how quickly someone could be poisoned by them, as opposed to the idea of overdoses, has drastically changed the amount of deaths that we’ve seen,” Coomber-Bendtsen said, adding clients cannot use drugs inside the building, but are allowed to use outdoors without losing access to YWCA services and shelter.
In response to the growing addictions crisis, Coomber-Bendsten said the YWCA has invested in a harm reduction team and training for staff and volunteers, which includes training on naloxone and safety planning for drug users.
“It has become part of what all of our staff get when they first start working here,” Coomber-Bendtsen said.
There have been 108 confirmed drug toxicity deaths in the province this year, according to data from the SCS last updated Sept. 6. Another 225 suspected overdose deaths have been recorded.
Final autopsy reports, on average, take between four and six months to receive, according to the SCS. Reports can take longer depending on the type of examinations conducted. However, the SCS said it is not currently experiencing any significant delays.
The SCS could not specifically comment on the reasons why Valerie has not received the final report for Andrea’s death.
SERIOUS ACTION NEEDED
Taneisha Roussin knows what it feels like to lose a loved one to drugs.
Her sister Myia Tovee, 20, died from an overdose while living at the Regina YWCA in October 2022.
YWCA staff found her dead on the floor of her room.
“I believe my sister was sitting there for minimum six hours by herself before somebody came in and actually checked on her,” Roussin said.
Tovee was found with carfentanyl and acetyl fentanyl in her system, according to Roussin. Prior to her death, Tovee had been sober for nine months.
“It just took the one time of her relapsing,” said Roussin, adding she believes her sister’s death could have been prevented.
“I think that if she were with somebody, she wouldn’t have had the temptation to relapse.”
“I know she was smart because when she would use by herself in the past, she’d always have Narcan with her. I just I can’t see her doing that to herself if she was surrounded by people.”
After reviewing her sister’s text messages following her death, Roussin believes another woman staying at the YWCA is the one who supplied Tovee with drugs, which she said is “alarming.”
Roussin understands enhanced security and safety measures come with money, but she would like to see the YWCA increase its surveillance and wellness checks on residents.
“To me, it’s just like, how many overdoses are you going to allow happen here before you start taking serious action about it?” Roussin questioned.
Valerie echoed Roussin’s calls to action. On top of increased security and safety measures, she believes staff should be better trained to identify warning signs related to drug-induced psychosis.
“I want some accountability. I don’t want any other parents to have to go through this anymore,” Valerie said.
In the YWCA’s experience, adding more surveillance cameras and increased “policing” in the building does not necessarily result in fewer drug poisonings, Coomber-Bendtsen said.
“Anytime we have policed the issue more, we have not seen a reduction in the amount of people that are dying by overdose or by drug poisoning,” she said.
“It’s really about a healing journey and providing space for that healing and opportunity for support services for that healing.”
Those support services include access to detox centres and a safe space for people to move through their drug addiction, Coomber-Bendtsen said, adding that wrap-around services will yield better results than increasing security cameras.