News & Events

Calgary Alpha House Society streamlines needle response in collaboration with The City

Shaundra Bruvall | October 16, 2019

Since the initiation of the Calgary Alpha House Society (Alpha House) Needle Response Team, Alpha House and The City of Calgary have collaborated through a targeted, ongoing response to needle debris, that includes proactive patrols and the redistribution of City-managed needle boxes.

Sharing data on collection volume and common needle debris locations has enabled Alpha House’s Needle Response Team to patrol proactive locations while continuing to respond to calls for disposal of needle debris on public and private property. Through ongoing efforts to collect data, Alpha House will continue to proactively monitor areas to adapt field patrols. Alpha House has also initiated an incentive where peer support workers take part in the Needle Response Team on proactive patrols.

“Approximately 60 per cent of all needles collected are done so through patrols and our peer support program,” said Adam Melnyk, Outreach Manager, Alpha House. “In the first six months of operation, the needle response team collected a volume of 6,570 needles, playing a vital role in our community, while building community. Through our peer support, individuals with lived experience are able to give back by working with our team.”

From March to May 2019, the Calgary Fire Department conducted a needle debris response overview with Alpha House and other community partners, to identify the volume of needle debris collected across the city and the locations in which the debris was concentrated. In this time period, 4,567 needles were picked up across the city, with the majority of the proactive and reactive responses occurring centrally. The Calgary Fire Department is currently installing redistributed needle debris boxes to areas of focus based on the data analysis.

“Through collaboration, we recognized the need for added needle debris boxes, identified priority locations, and are working on the immediate installation in these areas,” said Carol Henke, Public Information Officer, Calgary Fire Department. “Fire crews are monitoring needle boxes regularly and this will allow us to continue to enhance our response efficiencies.”

There are currently 22 needle debris boxes that are managed by the Calgary Fire Department in different locations across the city. Up to 5 needle boxes are currently being re-located or added based on the data analysis.

Alpha House is an important partner with The City of Calgary in responding to needle debris. Since the January 2019 inception of Alpha House’s Needle Response Team, the Calgary Fire Department has responded to 906 calls for needle debris, totaling 226 per cent less than received in 2018.

“Alpha House, a community organization, leading the local needle response, is proving crucial in alleviating first responders to tend to other emergency calls across Calgary,” said Henke.

“The response from the community is very positive, as this is a cost-effective approach to public safety concerns and the work extends to cooperation with other agencies as we focus on educating businesses and individuals about safely picking up needles, while engaging with these communities,” said Melnyk.

A more effective coordinated response with partners has resulted in the collection of 22,469needles between January 2019 to August 31, 2019 in Calgary.

Alpha House’s Needle Response Team can be reached at 403-796-5334 (via call or text) or email at needle@alphahousecalgary.com from Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

During the Needle Response Team’s after hours of operation, The Calgary Fire Department continues to respond to needle debris on public property or near school yards and playgrounds or needles that pose safety risk on private property. The Calgary Fire Department can be contacted by calling 9-1-1 or the non-emergency line at 403-264-1022.

For more information on The City of Calgary’s Community Action on Mental Health and Addiction, visit Calgary.ca/communityaction.


Holiday Concert to Help Keep DOAP Team on the Street

Shaundra Bruvall | October 1, 2019

Calgary –  A beloved holiday season tradition, The Huron Carole, is dedicating its proceeds to helping to keep the Alpha House DOAP team on the street in 2020.

Tom Jackson & Friends Present ‘The Huron Carole’ in support of the Alpha House
DOAP Team

Tom Jackson, founder of The Huron Carole Benefit Concert Series, is a musician, beloved TV personality (North of 60, Star Trek, Law and Order), long-time champion for the marginalized and a volunteer member of the DOAP team. Having experienced life on the streets himself, he discovered music was a way to help others. This year’s concert on December 3rd at the Bella Theatre takes on an urgent purpose as it raises money to continue funding the DOAP team that is impacted by an 8% reduction in provincial funding to the Calgary Homeless Foundation, which is a funder of the program.

“DOAP is an essential mobile and outreach service that is doing unique work within our city.  Team members travel throughout the inner city, Beltline and outlying communities to assist people under the influence of drugs or alcohol who need help navigating shelter, detox, medical services, housing and other programs and resources,” says Kathy Christiansen, Executive Director, Alpha House. “We are working to identify new sources of funding through various levels of government, corporate and community partners. Tom’s generosity in dedicating one of this year’s Huron Carole concert proceeds to DOAP brings our community together to continue to help the evolving and unique needs of vulnerable Calgarians. We are asking Calgarians to buy tickets and get involved through sponsorship and silent auction donations.”

The current shortfall is about $20,000/month to operate the DOAP team that averages 57 transports a day. The larger cuts projected for April 2020 without replacement funding will lead to a reduced presence of the DOAP team across the city and a much more limited response. DOAP will then be focused solely on the Beltline and downtown areas at reduced hours and will not be able to assist those who need help in surrounding communities.

“As a member of the DOAP team, I see firsthand the impact we have on marginalized people every single day. Dedicating one of this year’s Huron Carole performances is a way that I can invite Calgarians to be part of the solution in a meaningful and soulful way,” says Tom Jackson. “Path to a Miracle is our theme this year as we pay attention to the light inside all of us…the path we create and the path we leave behind.”

If you are interested in supporting the DOAP Team through The Huron Carole, you can purchase tickets, become a sponsor, or donate to our silent auction.

Concert Details:

The Huron Carole, Tuesday, December 3, 2019,  Bella Concert Hall, Mount Royal University

Tickets: www.tickets.mru.ca/huroncarole

  • $55 – reserved seating  
  • $100 – reserved seating and Tom Jackson meet and greet

Sponsorships and silent auction donations: donate@alphahousecalgary.com     

About The Huron Carole

The Huron Carole is a seasonal music tradition spanning more than 3 decades touring from coast to coast to coast. Expect an evening of contemporary and signature Christmas music, along with stories creatively crafted by Tom Jackson.  Award winning musicians Tom McKillip, Darryl Havers, John MacArthur Ellis, Kirby Barber and Diane Lines join Tom onstage.  This performance will be one of 16 across Canada raising funds for local food banks and family service agencies.  

Helpful links:

The Huron Carole: https://huroncarole.ca

Tom Jackson DOAP Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c-dJTPmv-A&t=13s


An Update on our DOAP Team

Shaundra Bruvall | August 21, 2019

An Update to the Community on our DOAP Team:

The recent announcement about the reduction in provincial government funding to the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) is raising questions about the future of our DOAP Team and the implications for the people we serve and our broader community.

The background

In September 2019, CHF will see an 8% reduction in their provincial funding. As a result, the CHF has to make some unanticipated changes in funding allocations. Four of their funded programs not directly related to housing will see reductions and our Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Team is among these programs.

Since its beginning in 2005, our DOAP team has served a unique need within the city of Calgary. Our team is an essential mobile and outreach service as members travel throughout the inner city, Beltline and outlying communities to assist people under the influence of drugs or alcohol who need help navigating shelter, detox, medical services, housing and other programs and resources.

The DOAP team is an established and integral part of the response to street-level issues, significantly reducing the impact of public intoxication and homelessness on the broader community and public systems. Through DOAP, we can divert people away from inappropriate use of emergency services.

There is no other team doing this work in the city, it will almost certainly get offloaded onto an already stretched public service system [Calgary Police Service and Emergency Medical Service].

In 2018, the DOAP team conducted over 20,700 transports and in 2019 (57 transports a day), with the program expansion, we are seeing higher numbers that reflects the ongoing need for Calgarians across the city, averaging about 89 transports daily.

What does the funding shortfall mean?

For the remainder of the fiscal year 2019 to March 31, 2020, our goal is to sustain the current DOAP program. We are committed to finding funding from various funding sources and the community for the short term to allow all of our current DOAP teams to remain active throughout the fall and winter, when it is essential that people can access our help.

The larger cuts projected for April 2020 without replacement funding will lead to a reduced presence of the DOAP team across the city and a much more limited response. DOAP will then be focused solely on the Beltline and downtown at reduced hours. We feel it is important that we keep our teams on the street, given the evolving and unique needs of vulnerable Calgarians.

Our goal is to find new funding that will enable us to continue to offer our DOAP program at its current level by April 2020.

Alpha House is already in the process of approaching different levels of government to explore ways to address the funding shortfall. We welcome support from corporate Calgary, individuals, and private donors. If you would like to learn more about how you can support the team, please contact me at 403-234-7388.

Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support. We will provide updates on our progress in the months to come.

 

Kathy Christiansen

Executive Director

Calgary Alpha House Society


The Value of Community

Shaundra Bruvall | June 26, 2019

June 26, 2019

Alpha House is fortunate to have the support of the Calgary community. Over the past couple of days, we have seen a tremendous outpouring of kindness as many Calgarians reached out to us in response to a recent petition that advocates for the relocation of our shelter and detox programs on 15th Avenue.

I feel it is important to address some of the key inaccuracies communicated in this petition, and to also share how we desire to be part of and work in community.

Alpha House has been a part of the Calgary community for almost 40 years. In that time, we’ve become recognized as a leader in helping men and women who are struggling with addictions and mental health issues, which are often a result of early trauma in their lives. Following a continuum of care model, we help people find the resources they need to live healthier lives and to find appropriate housing that is often the key to supporting long term well-being and improved health.

Our shelter is busy, but we are not over-capacity and we do not turn people away. We meet people where they are at in their life journey and help them access the right programs and resources along our continuum of care, which includes outreach, encampment, shelter, detox and transitional housing, as well as permanent housing.

Our location is central and accessible to many Calgarians who are in the downtown core and need to access our services. Many of the agencies we partner with are also located in downtown, making it more efficient and effective to collaborate on solutions to address social issues and to help those who need assistance.

Safety is very important to us – for the vulnerable Calgarians we serve, our employees and the residents and businesses that are part of the larger surrounding community. We value our relationships with neighbours and welcome open dialogue. We also take concerns seriously and some of the ways we respond include:

  • Participating in regular stakeholder meetings
  • Providing a dedicated phone number for our immediate neighbours to call
  • Having our staff on the street in front of our main entrance 24/7 to assist the vulnerable Calgarians we serve, as well as to respond to community concerns
  • Documenting all community calls and recording our responses to track any trends or key issues
  • Offering free Vulnerable Persons Training to those who would like to learn more about how to engage with the Calgarians we serve

The expansion of our Downtown Addictions Outreach Partnership (DOAP) team earlier this year allowed us to dedicate more resources to the Beltline area. We also introduced a dedicated needle response team to respond to community concerns and needle debris.

I encourage our neighbours to come visit our facility and learn more about our work – and the difference – that we make. The people we serve have the same hopes as many Calgarians – they want to be accepted, feel safe and belong to a community.

The incredible support we’ve received from local businesses, neighbours, individuals and organizations who have reached out to us is an affirmation that we can come together to find solutions to help our fellow Calgarians who need it most.

Sincerely,

Kathy Christiansen

Executive Director

Alpha House Calgary

 

 


Q and A with Alex of the DOAP Transit Team

Shaundra Bruvall | June 7, 2019

Alex Harris, a member of Alpha House’s Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Transit team, and his partner, Peace Officer Kitty Aalders, received The 2019 Life Saving Award at the Calgary Police Service 2019 Chief’s Awards Gala this June.

As one of the Calgary Police Chiefs Awards of Exceptional Recognition, the Life Saving Award recognizes “an act beyond that which would reasonably be expected and in which the person saves or attempts to save the life of another.” The DOAP Transit team provides a new avenue for vulnerable individuals to connect with addiction services and other social supports. We sat down with Alex to chat about the award, the DOAP Transit team, and how relationship building is crucial to meeting clients where they’re at.

     

Alex, congratulations on receiving the Life Saving Award at the Calgary Police Service Awards Gala! That’s very inspiring!

Thank you very much!

Can you tell us more about the situation you were in and how you and Kitty were able to prevent a tragedy?

We [Alex and Peace Officer, Kitty] were at Victoria Park Stampede Station. We were doing a sweep of the station at the end of the day and we noticed a female that we’d previously seen down at Centre Street station. This lady was acting a bit erratically, and we saw her make her way down the stairs where there was an elderly female and her partner, walking on the platform. There was a train inbound heading into downtown that was probably about 500 ft. away, I don’t know exactly how far but the lady that we’d seen acting erratically ended up shoving her [the elderly lady] onto the tracks. She landed there and was not moving.

So my partner- I was kind of hesitant being that I’m technically a civilian– I wasn’t sure if I should go to the person or if I should go help my partner. I went and helped my partner first, and then other backup arrived. And I hopped down on the tracks and held c-spine for the lady until EMS and the Fire Department arrived.

 

So the train was able to stop well in time or did it feel like a close call?

Well, at the station when you hear ‘the next train is arriving, stand behind the yellow line -‘ that had already gone off. It was probably still 100 ft. out, but it did have to break pretty aggressively.

 

What was going through your head at the time?

It was definitely a shock.

 

Adrenaline rush?

Yeah! It was only our second week of doing this full time- so it was kind of like getting thrown into it right away. It was definitely an adrenaline rush and there was a lot going on but I wouldn’t say it was something that I didn’t expect could possibly happen in this job.

 

What does it mean to you to be receiving this award?

I’m definitely flattered that someone would think to nominate us and then to eventually actually receive it. I’m a little bit humbled by it but to me I was just doing what I think anybody would have done. I think I was just doing my job and so was my partner. At the same time, I’m very appreciative that someone would take the time to nominate us and that means a lot to me at the end of the day.

How are you liking your job with the DOAP Transit team so far?

I love it! Yeah, it’s great. I worked part time on weekends on the main DOAP team when I first started here [Alpha House] and that was great too, but I like this role in the sense that I’m able to do a lot of case management work with the clients and I’m able to spend a bit more time with them to try to reach some positive outcomes, if they want to go down that route.

What would you classify as a successful day / successful client interaction?

I think just whatever the client wants – if the client wants someone to talk to or somebody to listen to them, I think if we can be that person, that’s a success to me. I also think it’s a success when you’re able to build rapport with somebody who you’ve been trying to build rapport with, and it’s taking forever, and they’ve been kind of closed off, that’s a success to me as well. I don’t always think it’s necessarily fair to call success just getting somebody housed. I think it’s that relationship building and just being able to treat someone with dignity and respect and being that person on the streets for them.

Is there anything about your work you wish people knew more about or asked about more often?

I guess for people to understand a little bit more about what we’re actually doing. I think sometimes it’s hard for people to understand that it’s different from the main [DOAP] team – [the public] is so used to the main vans going around but with transit it can be more proactive work as opposed to reactive work.

We’re spending a lot more time with clients trying to get them connected to resources. The main vans do that but it’s a different dynamic with transit so it’s good for Calgarians to understand a little bit more that we’re doing work in different ways with clients, not so much focused on transport and taking calls – we’re connecting clients to the resources they might need, housing, healthcare, ID programs, on a more day-to-day basis.

What are the long term goals of the DOAP Transit team?

One of our biggest goals is working with high users of the system. We want to try to alleviate the stress of individuals who are constantly on the transit system, getting tickets, getting arrested. We want to try to work with those people to figure out a way to alleviate some of that stress on the overall system, and on officers, and on other resources.

So I think if we can try to focus on those individuals to get them connected to the right resources, obviously not everybody is going to choose to do that or want to do that, but if we can try to start building a rapport with that person we can try to alleviate some of the stressors, and hopefully turn it into less of a criminal matter-justice matter- and make it more of a social issue as Alpha House is trying to do with all of its programs.

Would you find collaboration with the peace officers and bylaw has been really good then, in terms of that relationship?

Yeah for the most part! I think there is still education that needs to be done in those areas. You know, it’s a different mindset at the end of the day and they’re always going to have a different mindset given that they are law enforcement but I think overall Calgary Transit has moved into a positive direction on social issues. They’re doing a lot of great things on their end in terms of moving towards more of a social approach to working with this population and making it less of a criminal matter, which is awesome. But there’s still that education piece around addiction that everybody always needs a reminder on but it’s definitely been working well.

The Calgary Police Service 2019 Chief’s Awards Gala took place Thursday, June 6, 2019, to honour citizens along with sworn and civilian members of the Service who performed exemplary acts of courage and commitment to their community. In total, Chief Constable Steve Barlow presented awards to 14 citizens and 35 officers.

The Alpha House DOAP Transit team can be seen around the CTrain and LRT stations. If CTrain riders see someone who may need assistance, they are encouraged to use a Calgary Transit Help Phone or dial 403-262-1000 (option 1). If an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.


Alpha House Outreach Programs in High Demand

Shaundra Bruvall | May 14, 2019

.

We finally have some warmer weather on our hands and that means a number of different things. With snow no longer in the forecast and no longer on the ground, re-exposure of the land means you might notice needles or other debris on your commute to work, school or on your way home. If you spot a needle on either private or public property, don’t hesitate to give our Needle Response Team (NRT) a call. Operating five days a week from 8 AM – 6PM, the NRT is trained to properly dispose of needles 403. 796.5334.

Another thing you might notice as the weather continues to warm up is an assortment of “rough sleepers” – this is a term used to describe individuals who are camping or sleeping outdoors in public areas. Alpha House’s Encampment Team are a mobile response unit that connects with individuals who are “camping” or “sleeping rough” outside, with the goal of helping individuals secure housing, visit the doctor, get to a shelter, or anything else they might need. If you notice a camp, we encourage you to call the Encampment Team at 403.805.7388.

The warm weather also creates the potential for overheating, dehydration, and sunburn. If you see someone on the street who may be in distress, please get in touch with our DOAP (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership) team at 403.998.7388. Should someone be in need of immediate assistance, please call 911.


International Harm Reduction Day 2019

Shaundra Bruvall | May 7, 2019

This is the 6th International Harm Reduction day and it has got us thinking about the principles of harm reduction. Alpha House supports a harm reduction approach in all of its programs. We know  every individual has their own journey and should be treated with support and dignity while they navigate that path.

There is some great discourse happening lately on harm reduction,  addiction and mental health. We want this discourse to continue in Canada and around the world. By continuing to learn, collaborate, and educate others, we can continue to provide hope to individuals caught in a cycle of addiction. Last month, Policy Options shared a great article on the need for greater resources and investment in health care that we thought we’d highlight today.

“”I’ve met thousands of people with substance addiction and I’ve never met any for whom this was their life plan,” says Dr. John Weekes, director of research and academics at the Waypoint Research Institute in Penetanguishene, Ontario.” (Cordy, Gagne, 2019)

We have been fortunate in Alberta to have non-profit agencies and local government that have made harm reduction a principle of their work, but there is more work to be done still. Research continues to show the factors that fuel, and put individuals at risk of, addiction.

“Dr. Sheri Fandrey clinical assistant professor at the University of Manitoba said it well, “We don’t have an opioid crisis or a methamphetamine crisis. We have a trauma crisis; a housing crisis; a poverty crisis; a stigma crisis.”” (Cordy, Gagne, 2019).

Read “Opioid crisis needs more attention and investment: https://bit.ly/2IYe0Jy


Alpha House Partnership with Calgary Transit Continues!

Shaundra Bruvall | April 26, 2019

The two members of the DOAP Transit team, April 24, 2019.

We are so excited to be continuing our partnership with Calgary Transit to bring the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team to city transit, providing a new avenue for vulnerable individuals to connect with addiction services and other social supports.

Alpha House started the pilot for the DOAP Transit program alongside Calgary Transit in September 2018. Funded by the City of Calgary’s Crime Prevention Investment Plan, the Community Outreach Team consists of a Calgary Transit Peace Officer and one of Alpha House’s DOAP team members.

In the 6 months since its creation, the program has had 667 interactions with individuals on city transit. These interactions have led to over 200 welfare checks, 148 case management portfolios, 124 transports, 43 referrals to other community outreach programs, and 16 hospital visits.

“The Calgary Alpha House Society and Calgary Transit partnership has enriched our ability to bring the appropriate support to vulnerable Calgarians while improving safety and facilitating access to services individuals require.” Kathy Christiansen, Executive Director, Alpha House. “We look forward to continuing the collaboration and building on the great work that has already been achieved.”

If CTrain riders see someone who may need assistance, they are encouraged to use a Calgary Transit Help Phone or dial 403-262-1000 (option 1). If an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.

For more information about the DOAP Transit team, along with Alpha House’s other Outreach programs, visit http://alphahousecalgary.com/services/outreach/.

You can check out more media coverage detailing the program extension below:

Calgary Transit DOAP program a success, will be extended through 2019: city
April 24, 2019 | Heide Pearson, Global News

Calgary Transit and Alpha House will continue partnering to help vulnerable Calgarians

April 24, 2019 | Dave Dormer, CTV News

Calgary Transit teams with Alpha House to help vulnerable

April 24, 2019 | Dean Pilling, Calgary Herald

Calgary outreach program building connections with most vulnerable

April 24, 2019 | Kass Patterson, 660 News


Mountain Necklace: A Creative Way to Give

Shaundra Bruvall | May 10, 2018

With Alpha House in mind, a unique hand-stamped mountain necklace was created by CoutuKitsch. The mountain range symbol represents “overcoming obstacles and challenges as well as being a prominent symbol for Alberta,” (CoutuKitsch).

Half of the profits from the sale of the necklaces will be donated to Alpha House. A BIG thank you to the team at the The Livery in Inglewood who came up with this creative way to raise funds for our clients.

To support this project or learn more, visit CoutuKitsch online: https://www.coutukitsch.com/products/mountain-necklace.


Remembering Krista Lee Karch

Shaundra Bruvall | March 12, 2018

Live a life that matters. These are the words Robin Spooner shared at her sister Krista’s funeral in 2015 and they are the same words on a t-shirt she’s designed in memory of her sister to help raise money for Alpha House.

“Krista lived a life that mattered. She was an incredibly kind, generous and caring person. Even when she was living on the streets, if she had a quarter in her pocket, she would gladly give it to someone who needed it more. She had a huge heart,” says Robin.

(Read More…)