A woman who provided a home for six years for a 26-year-old Sooke man who was killed last month says her repeated requests for extra support for him came to nothing.
Karin McKenzie says she cared for Jamie Joe, a client of a provincial government agency that serves people with developmental disabilities, as if he were her own son.
He moved into the home she shares with her husband after aging out of a permanent foster-care placement at 19, transitioning to a home-share arrangement funded through Community Living B.C. and delivered through local agencies, in this case Sooke Family Resource Society.
Just after 1 p.m. on May 15, Joe was found dead in the bedroom of the Throup Road home. Clarice Quoquat, 19, was arrested at the scene, but released from police custody the following day “pending further investigation.” Police said she and Joe were known to each other. McKenzie said they had been a couple eight months.
Police haven’t said how Joe died.
McKenzie said Joe was respectful, took pride in his home, cooked meals, helped with chores, and attended high school. “We clicked right away,” she said. “He had a very witty, dry sense of humour and I’m British so we got along perfectly. He was an amazing kid.”
McKenzie, an early-education assistant in the Sooke school district and mother of three adult children, believed, however, that Joe would benefit from a support worker to help him develop life skills to manage his challenges, including finding employment. It’s something the other client in her care, who has been with her for eight years, has benefited from, she said.
“We kept him safe. We kept him happy. We met all of his needs — but I wanted to see him flourish,” said McKenzie, who was never able to get the extra support for Joe. “I was told that if you have a home-share you can’t have [a support worker] — well, that’s obviously not true, as my other client has both, right?”
McKenzie was told by CLBC through her employer, the Sooke Family Resource Society, that Joe must request the care himself, but he wouldn’t do that because he didn’t understand how it might have helped.
The family carried on well through the pandemic, she said. “He was very quiet. He followed all the rules, he had no friends over, he didn’t go out, we went everywhere together as a family,” said McKenzie. “We really were a good team.”
That was until September last year when Joe began dating a young woman and “problems started right away with fights and drama,” and police were involved.
McKenzie escalated her appeals for a support worker to CLBC through the society. Eventually, a meeting by video was arranged.
“I burst into tears and talked about the situation with Jamie and how afraid I was for him and us and how crazy things were — it was just this constant drama and I was tired,” said McKenzie. “And they promised they would help me and support me and come up with a plan.”
A support worker was never assigned, however, she said. Instead, the Sooke Family Resource Society, for whom she worked for 12 years in various capacities, “cancelled my contract with their agency,” said McKenzie.
The contracts for Joe and her other client would expire May 31. (The society said the situation is tragic and offered its condolences to the family and others affected, but said it couldn’t comment due to confidentiality restrictions.)
Under the home-share program — 4,000 providers looking after 4,200 adults in the province — providers like McKenzie receive a monthly stipend based on the complexity of the client’s needs. The program was created to fill gaps in care after youth with special needs age out of foster care and struggle to live independently.
McKenzie scrambled and found another agency to oversee her home-share contract via CLBC. The home inspection and paperwork were approved, with the transfer set to take effect June 1.
“And Jamie was killed May 15,” she said.
On that day, McKenzie was running errands in Victoria when she received a call from her other client. He and Jamie had separate rooms and shared a bathroom in the lower level of the home. He told McKenzie he heard an altercation in the next room between Joe and his girlfriend.
Unable to get home immediately, McKenzie asked her adult daughter to check on them, unaware of what she would find. “I will regret that to my dying day,” said McKenzie.
Joe was found dead. “He was gone within 30 seconds,” she said.
Her other client temporarily moved to his father’s home in Sooke. Police removed Joe’s body and four days later, the McKenzies were permitted to return.
McKenzie said the society and CLBC expressed sympathies over the phone and offered 10 sessions of counselling as well as reimbursement of the insurance deductible to repair damage to Joe’s suite. “It was too little too late.”
Asked why no support worker was provided for Joe, CLBC spokesman Randy Schmidt said privacy laws prevent CLBC from talking about an individual’s personal needs and the services they receive.
In question period last week, MLA Trevor Halford, the B.C. Liberals’ critic for mental health and addictions, asked Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Nicholas Simons, whose ministry oversees CLBC, to “explain why his ministry failed time and time again to give this individual the supports they needed that could potentially have saved this man’s life?
Simons expressed his condolences but said he couldn’t speak to the matter under investigation other than to say every situation “that comes across my desk is an opportunity to learn and address issues.”
Late Tuesday, McKenzie received word the other client in her care can remain and will be funded once a new agency is found. She said her case was brought to the office of her MLA, Premier John Horgan.
McKenzie worries that if home-share clients can’t receive added support when they need it, Joe’s death will have been in vain.
When youth and young adults need help, whether it be drug and alcohol counselling or housing supports, it needs to be provided quickly and efficiently, said McKenzie.
“When there’s a crisis, you need to get ahead of it, not wait for it to blow up until something gets done.”