Friends and family of the young woman recently killed in an apparent hit-and-run feel she was as much a casualty of the health care system as she was victim of any car accident.
Abbotsford's Shaminder Brar, 34, was found by a passing motorist sprawled in a ditch along Riverside Road the morning of Feb. 18.
Police believe she may have been struck anytime from when she was last sighted on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. and early-morning on the day she was discovered.
However, Shamind-er had been reported missing to police by friends and outreach workers in downtown Abbotsford as early as Feb. 12.
Shaminder, who struggled with mental health and addiction issues and lived on and off the streets for years, talked to the Abbotsford-Mission Times in April, 2008.
At that time, the young woman who frequented the Jubilee Park area described what life on the street was like.
"It's a place that is really lonely, a place that is painful. You don't really belong anywhere and you're not what people are looking for," she said.
Shaminder, who tried leaving drugs behind in the past, was not hopeful her life would get better.
"I don't think I could turn my life around if I got off the drugs," she said.
"What I'm trying to get away from is some place I don't want to be in."
Michele Giordano, coordinator of the Warm Zone that serves street-entrenched women, said Shaminder was "family" and will be sadly missed by staff and the other women at the facility.
Her death is an illustration of how women dealing with concurrent mental health and drug problems fall through the gaps in the health care system.
"My first reaction to hearing of Sham's death was one of overwhelming sadness but also of rage," said Giordano.
"She was a classic example of someone falling through the cracks in the health system. If she had only been receiving the proper support and care that she needed, rather than wandering the streets in the dark alone."
In general, women facing a duel diagnosis don't get the help they need in psychiatric wards because of their substance abuse issues, but neither will treatment programs intake women until their mental health issues have been stabilized, said Giordano.
"It's always a struggle to get women struggling with multiple barriers the support they need," she said.
Shaminder's younger brother, Gur-vinder, posted a Facebook message to friends this week saying the health care system had failed his sister and devastated her family.
He documented Shaminder's transformation from a bright high school student to a promising a college student with a job and savings, whose life then began to unravel as her addiction and mental health issues progressed.
It was difficult for his parents to keep Shaminder, who was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder and later with schizophrenia, on her medication and stop her from mixing them with street drugs and alcohol.
In the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the world trade centre in New York, Shaminder talked of hearing voices in her head that told her to kill her family to prevent them from being tortured to death by terrorists.
"My father and mother pleaded with the doctors to put her in a rehabilitation center where medication will be monitored and alcohol and banned substances will not be present and she could get the proper treatment," wrote Gurvinder .
But after stabilizing a couple weeks
at the psych ward and no longer deemed a threat to the public or herself, Shaminder was sent home. As in the past, Shaminder would be fine for a while, but the cycle would begin again and she'd start to self medicate with a mix of medication and street drugs. Shaminder's older brother, Barinder, said the family kept being told that Shaminder had to voluntarily commit to drug treatment programs.
"We kept on hearing she's an adult and we couldn't help her because she had to admit herself to treatment, but how can somebody with those mental health issues make that decision?" Barinder told the Times Monday.
Shaminder's family continued to reach out to her while she was on the streets and tried getting her into treatment, but doctors resorted to telling her family the most effective thing they could do was let Shaminder "hit rock bottom".
The family even reached out to their MLA Mike de Jong, health minister at the time, to no avail for a meeting about what health care changes might be made to help Shaminder and others like her, said Barinder. Mandatory drug rehabilitation has been used in Europe with some success, he noted.
"We are really disheartened. . . we wanted to see a policy change," Barinder said.
"We understand reservations around forcing people into mandatory treatment, but some discussion to find a solution has to take place so people having these problems can get treatment."
? The Warm Zone is planning a memorial event for Shaminder Brar on Friday.