News & Events

Give Hope Through Housing Campaign – Any Landlords Out There?

Shaundra Bruvall | June 19, 2024

Alpha House Launches ‘Give Hope Through Housing’ Campaign to Call on Calgary Landlords to Support Through Housing Shortage

By Michelle Brown

As Director of Alpha House’s Community Housing program, I have seen firsthand the dramatic impact of finding a home on our clients. There is hope, peace, and relief not only for our clients, but also for their families and loved ones who worry about them.

Every day, we see in the news headlines how the affordable housing crisis impacts Calgarians from all walks of life. Our clients need the community’s help more than ever, which is why we are asking the Calgary community to support our most vulnerable citizens through our ‘Give Hope Through Housing Campaign’. The campaign will raise awareness about the opportunities for landlords and property managers to partner with Alpha House and invites the Calgary community to make financial donations to help ensure we can subsidize client rent and basic needs once they are in housing.

For many years, landlords have been key stakeholders in ensuring our Community Housing program continues to grow and support our clients and I would encourage anyone who is a landlord to consider partnering with us.

A current landlord we have partnered with for five years shared recently, “We had an excellent experience with Alpha House. Their teams are very passionate, goal driven and dedicated to their assigned tasks. They are very reliable and easy to communicate with.”

Thanks to our current landlords who are committed to providing secure housing to those in need, Alpha House has been able to help our clients make healthier choices and find new hope for their future.

Our clients in the Community Housing program live in their own homes in communities throughout Calgary and sign their own leases. We are looking for a full range of suites, from one-bedroom apartments and legal basement suites to rowhouses and townhouses, for our clients in all areas of the city.

Our team works to help clients sustain their housing with case workers visiting them routinely – providing our clients with the support and life skills they need to be good neighbours and community members.

Our goal with the ‘Give Hope Through Housing’ campaign is to secure 20 – 30 additional units in Calgary to help us achieve our goal of housing 150 clients this year and raise $100,000 to support client rent subsidies and their basic needs. We believe in and hope the Calgary community will join us in helping our community’s most vulnerable people.

A landlord we have partnered with for five years shared with our team recently, “I love to see that a person’s life can start to change through offering them a place they can call their home. Giving them a second chance to start a new life and help them dream dreams again.”

In addition to knowing you are making a real difference in someone’s life, there are also practical benefits to partnering with Alpha House. Our clients sign their own leases in the Community Housing program and we subsidize lease payments to ensure consistent rent, as well as provide a home maintenance commitment to maintain the property’s condition.

Moazzam has been a landlord partner of Alpha House over the past four years and shared with us, “Alpha House has provided outstanding support and commitment. Their commitment to paying on time, maintaining cleanliness in the rental spaces, and ensuring the well-being of all clients while caring for other tenants exemplifies professionalism and dedication.”

It is a profound experience to be a part of changing someone’s life and I would encourage any landlord who is in a position to do so – to reach out here to learn more about our programs.

Chris is a long-term client of Alpha House and shared with us, “Being homeless is a very difficult way to live – to be able to get back into housing is very tough but when it happens, it gives you hope and joy and a future.”

We are asking all Calgarians to be a part of our campaign – whether you are a landlord, property manager, or a Calgarian able to donate, we hope you will join us as we work together to ensure everyone has a place to call home in our city.

Spotlight: Indigenous Peer Support

Shaundra Bruvall | May 24, 2024

Augustine Hunter (Auggie) bottom left teaching earring making at Alpha House’s Detox


Alpha House has had Indigenous Peer Support Workers (IPSW) on staff for many years and we finally had a chance to sit down with one such worker, Augustine Hunter (or Auggie) to learn more about what her day looks like and the unique cultural activities she’s able to support in our Detox Program. Settled in our Wellness room, a culturally safe space for ceremony and gatherings, blessed by Elder Alvin Manitopyes in late 2022, Auggie, just back from a walk with clients, speaks enthusiastically about every aspect of the program.


Why are Indigenous Cultural Supports so important to you and the clients in the program?

“Usually, people want to learn the Indigenous route because it’s peaceful. Indigenous culture isn’t religious, but spiritual instead. When you’re working with a population facing addiction and homelessness, many of them feel disconnected from Mother Earth and The Creator as a result of their time on the streets. The role of an IPSW is to have those supports here for clients looking to detox; they need support and something to look forward to when they’re first coming into the program.”

We ask about the different activities she supports. The answer is a huge variety. Sharing circles to express feelings and experiences in a safe, non-judgmental space – both traditional sharing circles and shorter gathering circles—  Wellbriety, a AA program with an Indigenous focus, sweat lodge ceremonies – a central part of reconnection with land and body for many – medicine walks, arts and crafts, and one-on-one peer connection.


Sharing Circles

Throughout the day, clients participate in traditional sharing circles, and shorter sharing circles, like thought/quote of the day. Shorter sharing circles, like thought of the day, offer a low stakes opportunity for clients to open up in a supportive group environment; this is especially helpful for easing clients who have a lot of walls up into sharing with a group, and could result in other breakthroughs down the line.

“Often they’ve [clients] gone through something traumatic and sharing circles allow them to read quotes from celebrities or writers or doctors – these are quotes that may apply to their life and we talk about those – it can be very helpful for clients”



Wellbriety has been a big part of our cultural programming at Alpha House for many years, and is something we facilitate in-house. The Wellbriety Movement is a 12-Step AA/NA program that has been merged with the teachings of the Medicine wheel. This movement helps individuals heal from substance use, and also addresses and looks to heal the systemic intergenerational trauma that Indigenous peoples have faced historically. That’s not to say that Wellbriety is only for indigenous clients— individuals from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds are welcome and can benefit from the spiritual teachings rooted in indigenous culture. The start of each cycle is marked by welcoming returning clients, and is ended by recognizing participants who have completed the Wellbriety program.

“Me and my partner got our certifications to facilitate Wellbriety recently. I feel like we were meant to do this and I’m excited to share the spiritual side of the AA book. The foundations that Wellbriety is built on have been around almost 200 years– I’m excited to show them [clients] about the key routes to why we have pain – it isn’t just bout being angry or hurt – it’s more than that.”


Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Every week, our clients have the opportunity to attend a sweat lodge ceremony. Participants are driven out onto the land where they will enter a lodge made of wood and tarps/blankets to begin the ceremony. During the ceremony, the entrance to the lodge is closed and steam is created by pouring water onto heated rocks; this is to encourage the sweating out of negative energies in the body. There are brief reprieves where the entrance is open to let some steam out and to allow cold air to enter to prevent any health hazards. Sweat lodge ceremonies are intimate communal ceremonies that come with many benefits for clients including pain relief, relaxation and stress relief, and fostering a strong sense of community with the other participants.

“The connection between the individual to Mother Earth is central to Indigenous teachings Mother Earth gives us food, medicine, and our strength; even (and especially) during ceremony, she is present— the rocks (grandfathers), the water, and the branches that we use for ceremony all come from Mother Earth.”


Medicine Walks

One of the more frequent, and favourite, activities of the clients, are the medicine walks, where clients are taken out into nature to hear stories and learn about land-based medicine teachings. This can look like taking a group walk along the elbow river, or taking a group trip to Nose Hill Park, which gives clients the opportunity to hear different stories and learn about other medicines.

“The clients really love this – they always give thanks that they’re able to learn this stuff – always say they’re really happy to learn things they feel disconnected from.”

And it’s true that there are lots of interesting stories and facts to take in about all these long-standing locations in our city— the name of the elbow rives originating from the bend of an elbow, or how certain trees were used as camouflage by wolves while they hunted their prey, or how tree bark and buds from particular trees (like cottonwood or willows) can be used as a sort of alternative to Aspirin, due to the salicin found inside the bark/buds working to relieve similar symptoms like headaches, muscle soreness, and inflammation. These teachings alongside the physical exercise during the walks cumulate into a therapeutic experience for everyone involved.

While on the topic of medicine walks, Auggie recalled one of her favourite moments working at Alpha House:

During a medicine walk, I noticed that one client was struggling to make it up a hill. I approached him to see how he’s doing, and while looking up at the hot sun, he told me that he doesn’t think he can finish the medicine walk.

I chatted with him for a while as everyone took a rest, and reassured him that he could do the walk, but if he really wanted to turn back, then we could. He was still feeling a little unsure, so I offered up some advice: “…you’re looking to the distance, seeing how long the journey is, but you need to focus on the present moment and take it step by step. We will take breaks to sit down, learn, and engage with the teachings and stories of the knowledge keeper so, don’t worry, we’re not doing the whole walk in one go.”

By the end of the walk, he was at the front of the group, engaged in the stories and teaching of the knowledge keeper. I was so happy to see that he was able to finish the walk and asked him what had changed from the start of the medicine walk, where he could barely make it up a hill, to the end, where he was at the front of the group. He said that he took my advice and tried to pay attention to the stories and teachings as they walked and, before he knew it, he was engrossed in what the knowledge keeper was saying and forgot about his discomfort.


Arts and Crafts

Auggie shares that arts and crafts are one of her favourite activities to do with the clients, which she also believes to be an important step in recovery. Arts and crafts act as an opportunity for clients to engage with something they can succeed at, and that sense of pride and accomplishment they feel when finishing a craft can be an important part of improving their self-image.

“When you’re coming into recovery, you need to keep yourself busy. You get to talk and share stories and you can keep them [clients] engaged.”

Auggie tries to make the arts and crafts portion of the day a peaceful moment; she’ll sometimes lightly play some Indigenous music in the background while clients share stories, and work on their crafts.

Alpha House is always looking for more arts and crafts donations because it’s such a popular activity in our Detox program.


One-on-One Peer Connection

In between all the group activities, Auggie makes time to have one-on-one sessions with the clients to debrief what’s on their mind that day, traumatic experiences, and everything in between.

“Let them vent and sit with them, listen and then suddenly you’ll see an emotional person come out when you give them that room to feel. A lot of people are angry or disrespectful at first but that’s their way of defending themselves, once you peel back the layers, they’re kind humans.”



Alongside the regularly scheduled programming, staff are able to provide opportunities for Detox clients to get involved in fun projects that come up throughout the year. Recently, we had the pleasure of bringing in Trevor Prairie Chicken and Naomi Eyahpaise from Kiit Fine Arts to work with our clients to paint the tipi we’ve been using for our sweat lodge ceremonies. Other such opportunities include creative projects like painting community garden boxes, cultural reconnection camps, and even Superbowl parties and attending Calgary Flames home games.


What does Auggie like most about working at Alpha House? We wondered too:

“Helping the clients is my favourite part of doing this work. Even before Alpha House, I was doing outreach and helping people with addiction in the community. I felt like that was my purpose that the Creator gave me a couple of years ago, and I went with it…”


What does she see clients struggle with once they’ve finished the detox program?

“A lot of clients are scared to leave detox once they’re sober and finished the program. It’s hard to discover what sober fun is, especially when you don’t know any sober people. They [clients] need to stay connected to the community, we can’t do it alone.

We see some people that have slipped up and need to come back to detox, but we don’t judge that. It’s important to remember that recovery might not happen on the first, second, or even the twentieth try, but we keep trying for when that day does come around.

We can plant the seeds, but we need to keep watering them in order for them to grow.”


Her favourite part about the clients themselves?

“When they win, you win. That sits with me. I try to be what I didn’t have when I was on the street— someone to sit with and listen when they’re hurting. I needed help and I didn’t know how to ask for it, so now I try to be who I needed and that’s gotten me far in building relationships with the clients.

Some of the clients that we help here have reunited with their kids, some go back to work or school, and others are still in recovery. It makes us all happy to see them doing well out there.”

Camping: It’s About Perspective

Shaundra Bruvall | May 17, 2024


Let’s talk about camping! May long weekend is here, and we’ve got some thoughts to share as everyone gets ready to enjoy a weekend of family, fun, camping, BBQs, or other traditional long weekend activities.

Encampments and the challenges they pose for communities, the public, law enforcement, and governments has been an ongoing topic of discussion in Alberta these past many months and Alpha House is jumping into the conversation once again to talk PERSPECTIVE.

“Camping” is often thought of as a fun, mostly short-term activity that couples, families, and individuals partake in when they want a break from work or responsibilities and desire a reconnection with nature, fresh air, or simplicity (or maybe just an open area where their kids can run wild). But there is a lot of food for thought in the way we talk gleefully about an upcoming camping trip—about the pleasures it will bring—while simultaneously speaking ill of those for whom rough sleeping is a constant (often necessary) reality.

The pleasures and joys of camping—solitude, an inexpensive getaway, open country and fresh air, living by the land—are stated easily in casual conversation and accepted unquestioningly by most. Yet, the most frequently asked question when we talk about people who rough sleep or camp continuously rather than access shelters, is why on earth would someone choose to sleep outside?

The conversation is often – ‘there must be something wrong with shelters if someone is choosing to sleep outside instead.’ Speaking as an agency who meets people where they’re at without judgement, we know things are more complex than that. Shelters are an emergency response to (ideally) short-term crisis. They were neither created for nor expected to be for long-term comfort. Some people choose to stay outdoors because they feel more comfortable doing so because of trauma, anxiety, mental health, or simply personal preference in a choice that’s the lesser of two undesirable options.

Choosing to sleep outside, at least, if nothing else may be, is a relatable aspect of those who are about to head off to a campsite this summer and those individuals or couples who just setup a tarp and tent in the field near your house.

Camping can provide freedom and solitude and, when you have access to the tools and supplies you need, be relatively relaxing. Except, of course, when it feels like the only option on a seemingly endless road of being homeless; when staying warm with a fire is risky, when you haven’t showered in a few days, when you haven’t eaten anything hot in a week, when you’ve outstayed your welcome in the area and you have to pack up all your belongings and lug them off to find yet another temporary spot.

The reality is that what is challenging about camping – the preparation, the packing, the setup, the maintenance, the waste, the lack of access to things easily accessed in a home – is made more so by the circumstances of a person’s homelessness.

And what is rewarding about camping – the fresh air, the peace, the getaway, the freedom, is often made irrelevant by the circumstances of a person’s homelessness.

Encampments are not a solution to homelessness; they are a reality for those for whom going to a shelter is a challenging or upsetting prospect. We wish to see anyone who rough sleeps supported into housing that suits their needs and we wish to see camping become nothing but the hobby it’s about to be this summer for so many of you.

As we enjoy this May long weekend, our wish is for people to remember that rarely is anything as straightforward as it may seem. There is always room for perspective.

Ecological Responsibility – Earth Day 2024

Shaundra Bruvall | April 22, 2024

Happy Earth Day! First started in 1970, April 22 marks the 54th annual earth day! In today’s short blog post, we wanted to talk about the challenges of being environmentally conscious while being unhoused, and to share a bit about how Alpha House works to reduce our environmental footprint.

In the conversation about encampments, we hear a lot from some community members about how unhoused encampments leave behind debris. The most common refrain we hear is that they create a lot of waste and, not only is this an ‘eyesore,’ ‘gross,’ and ‘a major problem,’ it is also an environmental issue. We aren’t here to make excuses for litter or inappropriate waste but we do want to shed some light on a hypocrisy that exists when we talk about waste left behind from people experiencing homelessness. We make garbage and waste too; theirs is just more visible than ours – and the reason it’s more visible isn’t their fault at all.

Each individual household is responsible for a significant amount of waste; the difference for households, however, is that most households in North America have access to convenient ways to dispose of their waste that typically require minimal effort on the part of the individual. Unhoused individuals main way of disposing of waste is public garbage bins – not always conveniently located, not a solution to human waste, and not easily utilized without also having ongoing access to garbage bags. It might sound fairly inconsequential at first, but imagine if EVERY TIME you needed to dispose of a single piece of garbage— instead of disposing of it in a garbage bag in a bin in the next room, you had to walk an unknown distance to the nearest garbage bin. Or, imagine that EACH TIME the garbage bag in your kitchen was full, you didn’t just have to take it out back to a black or green bin that you never thought about again because Residential waste services picked it up every 1-2 weeks, you had to hump it to that far away garbage bin. Imagine if instead of purchasing a 100 pack of garbage bags at the store to last you a few weeks/months, you had to keep reusing the same soiled bag over and over.

The reality of homelessness is often far more complex than we like to think about. A common response to talking about these complications is for people to offer solutions: “It’s really easy to do ‘X’ and then the problem wouldn’t happen,” “If they just did ‘Y’ then they wouldn’t have to think about that issue,” or “It’s not hard to insert something that may not be hard but is not something top of mind when you’re homeless.”

With the frequency in which every one of us disposes of waste on a daily basis, we can see the barrier that exists for unhoused individuals to responsibly dispose of their waste regularly, and how it can quickly become unmanageable when compounded with other challenges like addictions, tri-morbidities, and/or mental health. The reality is that ecological responsibility is not a burden that can always be shared equally. It doesn’t mean we excuse poor environmental actions, it means we do the best we can until we have the means to do better, and then we do better.

How is Alpha House working on reducing our impact on the environment?

  • Planning a community cleanup? Our Needle Response Team would love to be a part of it! Reach out to [email protected] for more information
  • Speaking of community cleanups, we’ve hosted a number of community cleanups over the past couple of years to reduce waste in the communities that we serve and have several more on the docket this spring/summer
  • We partner with SkipTheDepot to dispose of all of our bottle recycling
  • We partner with SkipTheDepot to help us recycle textiles that we can’t use, like damaged clothing we can’t distribute to our clients
  • We partner with the City of Calgary as a designated drop-off location for reusable shopping bags, which we distribute to clients to help them carry their belongings

Visit the official page for Earth Day 2024 to learn more about the environmental crisis our planet is facing and to find Earth Day focused events near you.

Support for Re-Zoning City of Calgary

Shaundra Bruvall | April 19, 2024

The City of Calgary’s Housing Strategy: ‘Home is Here’ outlines 98 action items to ensure Calgarians have an affordable place to call home. One of the main tactics for addressing both the shortage of houses available to those who need them and the need for different types of housing options in the city is to increase the supply of housing.

Scarcity of housing means a lack of housing affordability – pushing groups with more income to capture the part of the market previously accessed by lower income groups, whose options are further reduced to co-habitation with friends and family or living in spaces that are unsafe or unhealthy. Scarcity of housing, for the same reasons, forces individuals into units that don’t adequately meet their mental, physical, or psychological needs. For many, including Alpha House’s clients, this doesn’t just mean being housed in a smaller unit (1-bedroom vs 2-bedroom for example), it could mean:

  • an inability to be housed in a certain community where they have connections
  • an inability to be housed with caseworker supports due to a lack of supportive housing options
  • an inability to be housed where mobility challenges are supported
  • an inability to be housed in a neighbourhood with a familiar culture

…and many other needs that may not be met due to a lack of diversity and choice around our housing options.

Therefore, on top of the affordability barrier, a second challenge that currently impacts Calgarians is an inadequate spectrum of housing options. Different types of housing options could include single-detached, rowhouse, townhouse, apartment, and semi-detached. Historic data shows single-detached housing as making up 58.3% of housing type in the city, which generally favours certain socio-economic groups. To increase the number of 1-bedroom or 2-bedroom apartments available for clients in our Community Housing program, for example, would mean supporting an increase in developments like rowhouses, townhouses, and apartments complexes. An increase in the availability of these units will lower the prices of these same units due to an increase in supply; the idea being that these price decreases will make renting/owning a rowhouse, for example, more accessible for someone who is living in smaller or shared accommodations and wants to move into a bigger space. As these individuals move into bigger spaces, the availability of 1-bedroom apartments increases thereby making them more affordable for those with lower incomes.

One of the main reasons for the constrained supply of housing and housing diversity is that the current land use districts (zones) in approximately 60% of Calgary’s residential areas do not allow for a choice of housing beyond single-detached or semi-detached homes. Allowing for diversity in housing structures within each community better suits the wide array of individual and family needs within the city, and a mixture of rental and ownership properties at market and non-market (subsidized) rates offers people at all income levels access to safe and stable housing options.

Alpha House sees firsthand the need for diversity in types of housing to meet the unique needs of the clients we serve and, as a result, we whole-heartedly support the City of Calgary proposal to “rezone all residential parcels that currently only allow for 1 or 2 units, it will be easier for property owners to add additional housing varieties across the city, without having to go through the additional steps of a Land Use change Amendment application.” This application process can take upwards of 6-months to process, maybe longer if there are other issues to be resolved with.

Rezoning will not solve all our housing-related problems, but it is a significant step forward in supporting affordability for Calgarians through increased housing supply and increased diversity in housing supply.

The City of Calgary Council’s recently passed strategy has five main points:

  • Increase the supply of housing
  • Support affordable housing providers
  • Enable the City’s housing subsidiaries to improve service delivery
  • Ensure diverse housing choice
  • Address the affordable housing needs of Indigenous people.

This strategy was adopted on September 16, 2023 with implementation plans stretched out over 2024-2030. The current public hearing about the specific rezoning amendment is April 22, 2024. If you are someone who has asked themselves how you can support reducing homelessness in the City of Calgary, we urge you to write to your councillor and tell them you support re-zoning efforts.

The City of Calgary has an excellent frequently asked questions page for those concerned about what re-zoning could look like in their neighbourhood.

Partner for Life – World Health Day 2024

Shaundra Bruvall | April 6, 2024

April 7th is World Health Day, dated on the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948 and celebrated annually! Each year the WHO uses World Health Day to draw attention to a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world. The theme for 2024 is ‘My health, my right’, chosen to champion the right of people across the world having access to quality health services, education, and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions, and freedom from discrimination.[1]

In Canada, the difference in the number of people who need blood donations or know someone who needs them is much greater than the number of people who actually donate. Canadian Blood Services (CBS) reports that 52% of people have indicated that they have, or their family member has, needed blood or blood products at some point in their life. In contrast, CBS says their data indicates that about 1 in 2 people are eligible to donate blood and plasma, but most have not donated.[2]

As a social service agency, Alpha House knows acutely the impact of a lack of access to healthcare, a lack of adequate supports for physical (and mental) health, and the long-term detriments when health is not treated as a right. There are, of course, many conversations about healthcare in Alberta these days. Something Alpha House did recently to take more ownership in supporting health measures was setting up a blood donation team as an agency! We owe special thanks for the idea to one of our staff members who had a personal connection to advocating for this setup.

Alpha House is now what is called a “Partner for Life” with CBS and we tested out our first blood drive last month. Together, a group of staff members got on the (aptly named) ‘Lifebus’ and headed off to our appointments.

When we arrived at Canadian Blood Services, we went upstairs to check in.

  • If it’s your first time donating, then you’ll need your ID and to fill out a quick questionnaire that’ll get you set up with a profile
  • You’ll also get a blood donor card in the mail a few weeks after your first donation
  • After all the paperwork is done, you’ll be in the waiting area for a couple of minutes with the opportunity to enjoy some free snacks and beverages before your donation

The blood donation itself can take up to 15 minutes, after which you can help yourself to more snacks and drinks to help restore your blood volume levels faster! The process for our staff was easy, quick, and meaningful AND (no surprises!) the Canadian Blood Services staff were very kind, patient, and made sure everyone was comfortable before, during, and after the donation.

The best thing about Alpha House becoming a ‘Partner for Life’ is we have another cool way for community members to join our work and build community with us!  Anyone can join us and become a “Champion for Life.”

Together we can unite to raise awareness, donate blood or plasma, or support the stem cell or organ donation registries. As part of Alpha House’s Team, you can help have a direct impact on patients in Canada and the families who love them. If you join our team and become a “Champion for Life,” your donations contribute to Alpha House’s overall count!

We will be continuing to organize team events for donating blood for our staff because it’s important to our staff, but also because of how closely it aligns with our agency’s values and the population that we serve; many of our clients see their health deteriorate because of being on the street, lacking access to basic hygiene and adequate food supply, and facing other hardships. We will also continue spreading the word through our social media channels and encourage you to join our team.

Alpha House is a strong advocate for this year’s World Health Day theme: ‘My health, my right’ – recognizing healthcare is a RIGHT; a blood donation is one tiny part of healthcare that can make an enormous difference for a client of ours or anyone who finds themselves in such a situation of need and we believe in being a part of individuals having access to blood donations (and other healthcare) when they’re needed most.

If you want to join Alpha House’s blood donation team as a Champion for Life, check out the instructions here or via the graphic on top of the page!

  1. Log in or create an account on or the GiveBlood App
  2. Click on the “Partners” tab
  3. Click “Join an existing team”
  4. Search “Alpha House” or our team number “CALG0117318
  5. Select “Yes” and then click “Join”
  6. Welcome to the team! Click “Book” to get started and make an appointment

Remember to get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water before your donation!



Partnering with the Indigenous Drug Treatment Court

Shaundra Bruvall | March 19, 2024

Indigenous Drug Treatment Court Partnership:

Celebrating World Social Work Day 2024

World Social Work Day takes place on 19 March 2024. This year’s theme is ‘Buen Vivir: Shared Future for Transformative Change’, which emphasizes the need for social workers to adopt innovative, community-led approaches that are grounded in indigenous wisdom and harmonious coexistence with nature.[1]

Given the theme of this year’s World Social Work Day, we want to share about an innovative partnership Alpha House’s Detox Program has with the Calgary Drug Treatment Court’s Indigenous program. Drug Treatment Courts (DTCs) were established as a response to the drug epidemic in Canada, specifically focused on reducing recidivism regarding crimes linked directly or indirectly to substance use challenges. The first DTC in Canada was established in Toronto in 1998, followed by a second in Vancouver in 2001, and four more DTCs in 2005 covering Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, and Ottawa. The Calgary Drug Treatment Court (CDTC) started operations shortly after in 2007.[2]

The CDTC follows a diversion model aimed at court intervention and treatment services with the goal of ending drug-driven crime and assisting participants in returning to their families, workplaces, and communities by providing an alternative to incarceration.[3] The CDTC will consider individuals with charges related to substance dependencies where the expected jail time is between 1 and 5 years. Eligible charges include crimes like theft, breaking and entering, possession and intent to distribute, or other adjacent drug driven crime.[4] The CDTC accepts individuals from many different situations, and as a result, they’re running at full capacity most of the time.

CDTC provides weekly court intervention, addiction treatment, connection to resources, and a range of programming that addresses substance dependencies and community reintegration. The assistance that the CDTC provides doesn’t stop at direct addictions treatment, the CDTC will also assist with referrals (including long-term housing and medical), employment, and participation in recovery and aftercare programs.[5] Recovery looks different for each person, and success is greatly improved when individuals are given the agency to determine their own goals of treatment with the support of a care provider. The CDTC has a network of resources, partners, and supports that they can connect individuals with to help reach their goals – one of those partners is Alpha House!

The population of individuals Alpha House serves is roughly 55% Indigenous and we know that Canada’s drug overdose crisis disproportionately affects the Indigenous population.[6] A study on overdose data and the Indigenous population in BC shows that Indigenous peoples experience 14% of all overdose events while they only make up 3.4% of the population.[7] Further exacerbating this issue, culturally safe mental health and substance use treatment can be difficult to access for a variety of reasons. The CDTC’s Indigenous Program has similar aims of community integration and wellness but specifically looks to address the lack of supports created by a history of colonialism, racism, and intergenerational trauma faced by the Indigenous population in Canada.

The CDTC’s Indigenous program’s partnership with Alpha House sets aside 2 beds every week for Indigenous individuals who are wanting treatment. These clients either start in the Detox program or, if already sober, move into the Transitional Recovery program while we support them with referrals to long-term treatment programs or other social service supports (income assistance, employment referrals etc).

The CDTC partners with groups that can provide a safe place to go to support a treatment process; instead of getting released to the street, individuals in the program get released to a partner like Alpha House. Probation officers and parole officers will work hand in hand with Alpha House staff; setting up phone or in-person meetings to support the requirements of the CDTC while ensuring the individual is in a safe place with supports. The most common transition into the program is for individuals just getting out of remand; the Indigenous Judge assigned to the client’s case will meet with the CDTC lawyers who do the initial assessments of a person’s case and, ideally, support them towards a partner like Alpha.

“We are really pleased with the way the program has been operating; those 2 beds are full all the time. Often clients will move to long-term programs or they’ll work with us through their detox and move towards other options in line with their CDTC conditions.” – Diane Dumais, Program Director – Detox

The CDTC follows a 5-stage program that follows individuals from addiction treatment all the way to community reintegration and graduation. A detailed breakdown of the stages can be found here.[8]

Alpha House is a partner in Stages 1 and 2 of the CDTC’s program: the focus of Stage One is addiction treatment where participants either attend a residential addiction treatment program or a day program. The focus of Stage 2 is developing recovery skills. In this stage participants attend a minimum of 3 support groups per week that work best for their recovery and attend court on a weekly basis.









Women Leading the Way in the Homeless-Serving Sector

Shaundra Bruvall | March 8, 2024

Women Leading the Way in the Homeless-Serving Sector

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Each year, this day serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made towards gender equality and highlights the work that still needs to be done.[1]

The 2024 theme for International Women’s Day is Inspire Inclusion, which means….well that’s a great question. In today’s blog post, we talk about inspiring inclusion in a variety of different ways including between the for-profit and non-profit sectors, the disparity in income between female and male employees across sectors, and female leadership in Calgary – its exciting developments and the very long distance it still needs to travel – particularly in terms of ethnic and racial diversity.

First and foremost, one of the key pillars of Inspire Inclusion is the promotion of diversity in leadership and decision-making positions.[2] To this day, women – particularly those who belong to other underrepresented groups – continue to face barriers when seeking leadership roles. In the non-profit sector, which employs 285,000 people in Alberta – 78% are women.[3]

Overall, the non-profit sector in Alberta contributes $5.5 billion to our GDP and fills critical needs for the province in areas such as food and basic needs, immigrant settlement supports, senior and childcare supports, sports and recreation, and arts and culture[4]

In the name of inspiring inclusion, we might say there is some room in the public domain for a conversation about how the non-profit sector is often devalued compared to the for-profit sector, in spite of its positive impact on those who live and work in Alberta. In a similar vein, we often see female-dominated industries valued less than their male-dominated counterparts: “male-dominated occupations have traditionally had more respect, higher pay and more fringe benefits.”[5]  Also significant is that even though female employees dominate the Alberta nonprofit sector, Statistics Canada shows their annual wages and salaries remain lower than their male coworkers by 14%.[6]

One of the recommendations from The Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organization’s State of the Sector Report in 2023 was to “identify what success looks like in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as a sector and within our own organizations.”[7]

There is quite a bit of research that talks about women leaders in male-dominated fields because it is typically more newsworthy and interesting to people. But there is less research around female-leaders in female-dominated industries. One of the cool things about the community and social services sector in Calgary is that, unlike many other female-dominated industries, we have many examples of female leadership to celebrate. Alpha House, The Alex, Inn From the Cold, Patricia Jones, Sandra Clarkson, Carlene Donnelly, Distress Centre, Closer to Home, John Howard Society, Discovery House, Calgary Food Bank, HomeSpace, and Sharp Foundation are all examples of female leadership in the community and social services sector in the city. These are women who work everyday towards improving the living conditions and of those experiencing homelessness or facing housing insecurity, those facing domestic violence, individuals and families facing food insecurity, and individuals working to overcome criminal pasts or poverty – to name a few groups positively impacted by the agency leaders we have today.

It is worth celebrating that all of these agencies are led by women. But we also know that alone is not enough. It also does not mean that we have achieved ‘success’ in terms of diversity, equity, or inclusion, particularly when the sector, as CCVO point out in their report, has not yet defined what success looks like in this area.

We know that by providing support and resources, women can be empowered to overcome obstacles and achieve their full potential, but we also know that empowering women to overcome obstacles does not inherently mean there are not still gendered obstacles, and it also is not a silver bullet to ensuring increased and ongoing diversity or inclusion within the agency. But it is a great start and it is something worth celebrating. A 2023 study on leadership from the Leadership Circle Profile, a scientifically validated 360-degree assessment of leadership that measures “Creative Competencies” and “Reactive Tendencies” saw that female leaders demonstrate higher levels of leadership effectiveness and higher levels of Creative competency (in all dimensions) compared to their male counterparts, suggesting women leaders are not only better at building relationships but also that the relationships they build are characterized by authenticity and an awareness of how they contribute to “the greater good beyond the leader’s immediate sphere of influence.”[8]

Given the theme of inspiring inclusion for the 2024 campaign on International Women’s Day is meant to encourage everyone to recognize the unique perspectives and contributions of women from all walks of life, including those from marginalized communities, we wanted to take this time to recognize the women leading our sector today, while acknowledging that there is still much work to do in areas of wages, safety, and marginalization for non-white groups.






[6] Statistics Canada, 2021



Harm Reduction

Shaundra Bruvall | February 2, 2024

Harm Reduction

The social services sector evolves with the needs of the people that it serves; harm reduction has become a leading framework for those working with individuals facing homelessness and substance use challenges because of its effectiveness in minimizing risk in situations involving physical health, mental health, and/or substance use.

Understanding Harm Reduction

First off, what is harm reduction? Harm reduction is a non-judgmental approach that seeks to reduce the health and social harms associated with an action that is inherently risky. In the social services and addiction sector, we seek to reduce the harm associated with substance use, without requiring individuals that use substances to immediately abstain. We often refer to this as ‘meeting people where they are at’ instead of placing a moral judgement on their behaviour i. The goal is to reduce harm in the immediate while supporting conversations and options around what reducing harm can look like long-term.

Why Not Abstinence?

For many people, substance use is part of recreational activities, and risk of long-term substance use disorders is minimal, but for others it can develop into an addiction that significantly impacts all other areas of that individual’s life iii. A common misconception about harm reduction is that it is an enabling action and that abstinence isn’t an option within a harm reduction model. Harm reduction is about giving individuals the power to make decisions for themselves, and that can mean anything from continuing to use substances, reduced substance use, choosing abstinence, and everything in-between. This framework is here to support individuals in improving their circumstances over time with a non-judgmental approach, and, ultimately, to help people lay the foundation for lasting change in their lives.

Harm Reduction in Practice

Harm reduction in practice can look very different depending on its application and doesn’t only apply to situations involving substance use. People engage in harm reduction practices every day, often without realizing it; for example, putting on sunscreen to reduce the harm of sun exposure, wearing a seatbelt when driving a car to reduce the risk of serious injury in the event of a car accident, and using oven mitts when cooking are all examples of harm reduction measures.

In the realm of substance use, overdose prevention sites are part of reducing harm due to toxicity or quantity. Overdose prevention sites have considerable positive impacts on those in active addiction. These sites reduce the harm of illicit drugs by providing a safe and clean environment where people are monitored by medical professionals to ensure quick, life-saving action in the event of an overdose. These sites are known to reduce costs for the healthcare system, prevent illnesses, and most importantly prevent overdose fatalities ii. Other examples of harm reduction practices and services relating to substance use might be:

  • Outreach programs
  • Safe supply
  • Needle exchange programs
  • Opioid replacement therapies
  • Drug testing kits/services
  • Use of naloxone kits


Harm Reduction and Homelessness

Alongside the need for shelter, unhoused individuals face many challenges that compound experiences of homelessness. We know that individuals living on the street are at a higher risk of mental illness, physical health issues, and basic hygiene challenges; in some cases we see substance use become a coping mechanism for individuals on the street as a response to struggling with the challenges (and trauma) of experiencing homelessness. Unhoused individuals often experience barriers to health care on top of not having access to basic hygiene supplies, resulting in a higher number of negative health outcomes such as infections, Hepatitis B and C, and HIV. This is why ensuring unhoused individuals have access to safe supply like sterile water, needles, and glass pipes is essential to ensuring the safety of unhoused folks.

Harm reduction is a practice related to substance use as one example, but other health interventions are harm reduction practices that are equally important. Access to clean clothing, for example, reduces harm by removing dirt, bacteria, fleas, and other irritants which helps reduce the occurrence of infections, rashes, and disease. Access to showers, as another example, reduces the harm of infestations like scabies, fleas, and head lice which individuals on the street are at a higher risk of due to infrequency of washing supplies iv. Once the immediate safety of the individual is addressed, there is room for support, referrals, and goal setting towards other improved circumstances.

The overall goal of harm reduction is to minimize the negative consequences involved with an inherently risky action (such as substance use) while recognizing that each individual’s circumstances are different and require a unique, non-judgmental approach.

If you want to learn more about the root causes of homelessness, harm reduction, and practical strategies on how you can better navigate interactions with this population, we offer a free 90-minute workshop twice a month at the carya Village Commons. You can learn more about the workshop and available dates here.


  1. Thomas, G. (2005) Harm Reduction Policies and Programs Involved for Persons Involved in the Criminal Justice System. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Use.
  2. Mental health. CMHA Ontario. (n.d.).,for%20people%20who%20inject%20drugs.
  • Harm reduction. Harm Reduction | The Homeless Hub. (n.d.).
  1. Thelwell, K. (2020, October 24). Struggles obtaining convenient access to showers. The Borgen Project.


Donating Expertise

Shaundra Bruvall | December 16, 2023

Supporting Vulnerable Populations: Donating Services and Expertise

With the need out there so great, giving back to the community feels more important than ever. Monetary donations are one of the most common ways to donate, but giving back through pro bono work can be even more impactful. Donating professional services fills essential capability gaps for non-profits and is an effective way to break down barriers for vulnerable populations by providing access to services that they would otherwise be unable to access.

Non-profits often have few resources for extraneous programming (i.e. programming not specifically included in our Shelter funding). Volunteers with unique expertise, whether it’s legal advice, graphic design, or IT supports, can fill gaps and support programs in different ways, resulting in greater positive impacts for the community.

A few examples of professional services that has been donated to Alpha House in the past are haircuts, yoga classes, and acupuncture sessions. Here’s a few examples of professional services that have been donated, and how their impact goes beyond monetary support:

Legal Services

Pro bono work in the legal sector is a great example of how invaluable donating expertise can be to non-profits, and more importantly, the vulnerable populations that we serve. Accessing legal services is gatekept by significant financial barriers, making them out of reach for most vulnerable individuals and non-profits; having this expertise donated is often the only way they can access these services that are essential to improving their circumstances. Working directly with clients isn’t the only way to donate legal services either; providing your knowledge and expertise in how to navigate the legal system can be a big asset to non-profits working in this sector.


Integrative Health Centre has been working with Alpha House to provide our clients acupuncture treatment based on the NADA Protocol, a treatment model developed in the 1970’s to help individuals with substance use disorder with their recovery. This acupuncture is effective in helping with trauma, anxiety, depression, irritability, and cravings. This treatment is a nonverbal, non-threatening intervention that is well suited for group sessions; this means that there is no need to talk about past experiences/trauma, making it accessible for a lot of our clients. Therapeutic services like these are important to the recovery process, and without practitioners willing to donate their time, they would be otherwise unavailable to vulnerable populations that need them.

“This partnership with Alpha House has been very rewarding and I’m honoured in providing treatments and supports for the clients.”

  • Lynda Smith, Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine


Haircuts are a great example of an essential service that homeless individuals would otherwise not spend money on, in favour of prioritizing food or other essential items. When it comes to homelessness, and especially long-term homelessness, basic hygiene such as hair maintenance can become a big struggle. Improved self-esteem and dignity are huge benefits to receiving a haircut as an unhoused individual, but the biggest benefit is the improved health outcomes that comes with clean hair and a practical haircut that they can maintain. Long, unkempt hair over a long period of time can lead to issues like matting, causing that individual pain and discomfort until they’re able to access the resources they need to maintain their hair.

We want to encourage businesses to offer ‘Volunteer Time Off’, which gives employees their regular compensation for hours spent volunteering at a charity/community organization. Encouraging employees to volunteer their expertise gives them the opportunity to work closely with a cause they care about and to see the positive impact of their contribution firsthand. This can be a powerful motivator— giving employees the opportunity to work in different environments can bring fresh perspectives and ideas into your company and raise morale all around.

What if you want to donate your expertise but commuting or finding a schedule that matches up with yours is an issue? Virtual volunteering is a great way to volunteer when you need a more flexible opportunity. VolunteerConnector is a useful resource for Albertans looking to find virtual volunteering opportunities; there are plenty of volunteer postings that cover a range of professions under the ‘work remotely’ filter.

We as a society are more divided than ever before in a world that demands collective action to address modern social issues such as food insecurity, homelessness, and discrimination. Supporting your community through donating your expertise is a powerful way to make an impact and contribute to positive social change firsthand. Pro bono work bridges the gap between businesses and non-profits by addressing the resource, capacity, and skills constraints that many non-profits face. By coming together as a community, we can work towards breaking the cycle of homelessness, getting people the help that they need, and building a more sustainable future.