On the streets of Langley, Arlene Fowler was known as a mom to many, always looking out for everyone else, and bringing a smile or a laugh to people, even on the toughest days.
Arlene, a daughter and a mother, with her striking blond hair, a big smile and distinctive laugh, died of a fentanyl overdose just before Christmas.
Her daughter, Nicole Fowler, said Arlene was using heroin with two young people in the garage where she was living in Langley when she overdosed.
She was 49.
Arlene spent much of her adult life working as a sex trade worker in Langley, living on and off the streets.
Her Facebook profile once listed her occupation as ‘sex therapist.’ In November, she changed her occupation to massage therapist.
Her zest for life was contagious and she was well liked among the tight-knit family who call Langley’s streets and forests home.
‘Dropping Like Flies’
One homeless man called the Times in late January to say that people living on the streets were ‘dropping like flies’ out there. He, like Arlene’s daughter, want to help stop the carnage.
Nicole wants to share her mom’s story, to show that she was loved and in hopes of helping save even one person from the same fate.
“And to humanize my mom. She wasn’t just another statistic, she was loved. She was my mom,” said Nicole.
“My mom taught me not to judge people.”
This past summer, Nicole got to live with her mom for two months when Arlene had temporary housing.
“It was really special to spend that time with her,” the 23-year-old recalls. Many of the people living on the streets would visit Arlene.
Nicole got to know many of them and said, they are “some of the kindest people you could meet.”
She’s still in contact with many of them today. Many came to her mom’s funeral, as did a Langley RCMP officer who knew Arlene.
Outreach worker Fraser Holland got to know Arlene over the years as well.
“Arlene, more often than not, had a smile to give and would put concerns for others ahead of her own,” he said.
Disease With No Escape
Nicole was raised by Arlene’s mom, Nicole’s grandmother.
In telling a little about her mom’s life, Nicole revealed that Arlene was a twin.
Unlike her brother, who excelled academically, she had learning disabilities and was bullied.
She was bipolar, but “back in those days, it went without treatment and she used drugs as a way out,” said Nicole.
Nicole said through the years, her grandmother tried everything to get Arlene help for her addiction but always to no avail. The addiction was so strong, it was a disease she could not escape.
“My grandma spent thousands, sent her up to Ashcroft to get help.
“My mother checked herself out, got a bus ticket back to Langley.”
Arlene had two daughters. Nicole’s sister committed suicide several years ago.
That’s when Arlene spiraled and it resulted in several bad situations, including her being run over by a truck and being attacked while working.
Accept and Forgive
Through it all, her mom always tried to find the positive and encouraged her daughter to always do the same.
And while she was sometimes angry at her mom, Nicole has learned to accept and forgive.
By reading the Narcotics Anonymous book, Nicole has found comfort — and a better understanding of her mother’s struggle — in passages that explain that addiction is an “incurable disease, that is often fatal.”
“No one chooses to become an addict. It is a disease, just like cancer.”
She wants people to know that addicts are people too, with family and heart.
Nicole wants to spread the word about her mom’s death in the hope it will promote safer drug use, as well as awareness and compassion. She also wants to ask the community for their ideas on how Langley should deal with the fentanyl crisis.
She has created a website to raise awareness for mental health and addiction at www.nicoleknowledge.com.
She is hoping people will share their opinions and ideas.
“I think there should be safe injections sites.
“I think users should always use with a friend, maybe have one sober person there to help if there is an overdose.
“Narcan kits should be everywhere.”
Nicole carries one at all times.
Holland said preventing overdoses means users have to heed the advice, ”not to use alone, don’t mix drugs, understand that your body’s tolerance for substances can change, taste your shot,” he said.
Nicole is also looking into speaking at Langley schools about safe drug use.
“We promote safe sex in high school, so why don’t we promote safe drug use?
“Some kids are using drugs, so why not keep those kids safe?”
She just wants to know that she can help save even one life in honour of her mom.