News & Events

New Mural for Detox Gathering Room

Shaundra Bruvall | June 10, 2022

Q&A:

Trevor G. on Inspiration and the Connection Between Art & Spirit

Sound Artist, Illustrator, Painter, and client of  Alpha House Society’s Detox Program, Trevor G. spoke with us about his spiritual connection to art and recovery, and the inspiration behind the mural he created for Calgary Alpha House’s new Detox Gathering Room.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you originally from?
I was born & raised in Lethbridge. I spent most of my adult life…not in Calgary. I was in Vancouver, then lived in the UK for a bit – in Scotland – I travelled a lot in my 20’s and then I moved to Calgary when I was 32 to try to get sober. I spent 2 years sober, and then the last few years I’ve been in and out of here a lot. I’ve been here a lot. My binder’s like a phone book.

How did you get into art?
Art? Ohh…Well, I’ve always been into art. I was really into children’s books and comics when I was a kid, so I kind of got into drawing that way. My dad used to be an accountant, so he used to come home with that paper that was all attached and….well it was the kind of paper for those old dot matrix printers. He’d bring home stacks of that paper and that got me started drawing. I started making other kinds of art after high school, and now that’s what I’ve been principally doing for my entire life.

Do you have a favourite medium?
I do a lot of sound art. I play in a band that does really arty sort of music. I also work in film, like stop motion. But drawing and painting seems to be where I’ve earned most of the money that I’ve made by creating.

What would you say inspired you to create this specific mural for Alpha House?
The inspiration for this was actually something that Diane (Alpha House’s Detox Manager) gave me – the Seven Sacred Teachings. Each of the teachings is represented by a different animal, and then one footprint.

How is art helping you in your sobriety?
I find it’s a spiritual exercise a lot of the time because I don’t plan at all when I make things. I’d like to take credit for a lot of the stuff that I do, but I feel that it would be a bit of a misstep to do so because so much of it has to do with just putting colours or things onto something and then letting it make itself. There really are no accidents in that sense. I find it meditative, and I find that it connects me. I do consider it a form of prayer or meditation – more so than talking to the sky.

Is the spiritual element of creating art something that inspired your connection to the Seven Sacred Teachings portrayed in this mural?
Yeah, because what inspired my connection to Indigenous Spirituality was when I started coming here to Alpha House. I only ever come here to detox when things get pretty bad drinking wise. I would come here for detox, and it was through the sweat lodges and a lot of the cultural things that happen here that I was able to connect with it. It finds me when I’m at my worst both emotionally and spiritually and so I’m very spiritually thirsty when I come into recovery. Alpha House has always been there for me when I’m at my neediest and Indigenous Spirituality has always been the thing that has been there when I was hungry for it.

Also, as I’m doing the art, I always like to be informed about what I’m painting, so looking into the Sacred Teachings brings me closer…it just makes a lot of sense for me.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add or elaborate on in regard to the project?
To me, it’s an honour to be able to do this because Alpha House has been pretty instrumental every time I’ve begun recovery. This is where I come to clean up before I go into treatment or go back to my apartment. It’s been there when I’ve needed it the most, so this is a swell way to be able to give back. This place does really great stuff and there are lots of people who start here. Some people I’ve met here are now years into their recovery, so I see it as a privilege to create something that is going to be in a room that is going to be used for Alpha House things.

 

*Interview conducted by Jessica Irving.


Housing Outreach

Shaundra Bruvall | March 17, 2022

Housing Outreach

Alpha House’s newest program is no longer a pilot project. Thanks to funding through the Calgary Homeless Foundation, our Housing Outreach Program has become an ongoing part of Alpha House’s services.

Comprised of two outreach resource workers, the Housing Outreach Program is focused on diverting people away from the homeless-serving sector by providing immediate, temporary supports to prevent entry into homelessness.

In an ideal world, of course, everyone would be diverted from the homeless-serving sector through prevention of the factors that lead to homelessness. In reality, many of the people that Alpha House serves, particularly in our Housing Programs (both Community Housing and Place-Based Supportive Housing), will require some measure of support for the remainder of their lives. These supports are critical for quality of life and are a more dignified, cost-effective response to homelessness than shelters, hospital beds, courtrooms, or jail cells. The purpose of the Housing Outreach Program is to capture infrequent shelter users or individuals who can return to stability quickly with short-term assistance.

The team (currently composed of Alpha House staff members Christina G and Damon R, pictured above) works with roughly 30 clients a month (between 3-4/week) and provides support with Alberta Works applications, ID obtainment, bank account setup, food bank hamper referrals, resource and service connections for medical, employment, and pet supports, affordable housing locating, and damage deposit/first month’s rent provision (among other supports).

“It is really cool to watch someone continue on an upward path after you’ve helped them. They just needed that little bit of support to move forward.”

– Damon

Individually, each of these supports might seem minimal but sometimes even a small bit of help can be a lifeline for someone who is struggling. We are excited to have this program available for individuals who need a little extra support to get back on their feet.

One example of a client the team was able to support back into stability was a guy whose apartment had recently flooded. He had lost all of his possessions in the flood including all of his work gear. As he worked in construction, this was a detrimental loss. He was unable to take on new jobs, had nowhere to live, and no possessions. A series of misfortunes and this individual was suddenly set on an extremely difficult path.

Christina and Damon were able to get this client setup with work gear, a new place to live, and a few belongings to help get him settled into his new home.

“Sometimes you end up in a really tough situation for whatever reason(s) and you end up stuck because there are so many barriers. It can be really difficult for one person to navigate that and sometimes having that advocacy piece [the housing outreach program] makes all the difference.”

– Christina

Referrals for the Housing Outreach Program come from Alpha House’s other outreach programs: DOAP (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership) and Encampment as well as our Detox program. But referrals can also come from our partners like the Sheldon Chumir, the Mustard Seed’s Outreach team, The Alex’s Outreach Team, word of mouth, Calgary Bylaw, and Calgary Transit.

Unsurprisingly, a lack of affordable housing remains a huge barrier, which is why relationships with property owners is an important part of this work to ensure clients have options. If we make a good connection and house someone with a certain property owner, they are more likely to connect with us when they have another opening or if other property owners they know have openings.

If you are or know of a property owner who would like to partner with Alpha House, please get in touch with our Housing Outreach program at HousingOutreach@alphahousecalgary.com

 

 


A Look Back – 40 Years of Service

Shaundra Bruvall | February 8, 2022

Look to this day. For it is life,

The very life of life.

In its brief course lie all

The realities and verities of existence,

The bliss of growth

The splendor of action. The glory of power-

For yesterday is but a dream. And tomorrow

Is only a vision. But today, well lived,

Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

 

Sanskrit proverb by Kalidasa, poet and playwright

5th Century ad from the opening of Twenty-Four Hours a Day first published 1954 Hazelden

 

Perhaps those that worked to have Calgary Alpha House Society incorporated and its building remodeled in preparation for opening, were familiar with this poem from the East Indian poet Kalidasa. Perhaps the Justice and Solicitor General, Neil Crawford, who supported the project under Premier Lougheed, was also aware of the simple elegance of this prayer like poem. What seems to have been present beyond the economic bust and boom of Calgary at the time was the intention to address the need for doorways to recovery for those with alcohol and other drug dependencies and the safe and caring environments to make hope a reality.

Alpha House is marking its 40th year of operation in the community of Victoria Park; we officially opened in January of 1982. Born out of innovation, Alpha Centre (as it was then called) opened a shelter and detox together, connected by a shared building and staff, and the common goal of recovery. It opened partly as a way to address the loss of life and limb in Calgary’s cold winters due to frost bite, to ease the strain of policing for those publicly intoxicated, and to help as an AADAC-funded (Alberta Alcohol Drug Abuse Commission, 1951) agency to address the alcohol and drug addiction-impacted migrating population coming to Calgary for oil and gas work.

The origin of the name Alpha House consensus wise is unknown. Alpha and Omega as a reference to Revelation 22:13 wasn’t by all accounts the reason for the name Alpha House, any more being Alpha male or female was the reason.  Alpha meaning ‘the beginning of something’ or the ‘first in a series’, has stuck over the years. First steps, small or big towards a better life for marginalized people and collectively for the betterment of all of Calgary was perhaps the unwritten mission statement at the time. However, one board member from 1985 that I Interviewed in 2009, Stuart Hutton, had a different take. Stuart took the name ‘Alpha’ not as representative of the Greek alphabet or as defined as the beginning of something, nor as a stock market risk adjustment (which is one interpretation). Instead he took the meaning of ‘Alpha’ from astronomy; a name given to the brightest star in the constellation.

He explained at length how the Southern Cross was the brightest constellation visible from earth and, in a rare moment of sentiment, Stuart stated that the entrants (as clients were referred to then) were the brightest stars that often didn’t know it themselves but with care would come to their full understanding and brightness with a little bit of help. House was added, he said, ‘because we wanted people to feel at home’.

I appreciate Stuart’s definition and generosity towards me. As he told it, ‘in the early days at Alpha House the focus was on finding the right staff ‘, who could check their moral assumptions at the door and offer kindness for the women and men that rang the bell to come in and for whom the staff were hired to serve.

Unsurprisingly, Stuart and the Board of 1985 along with the Director W.J. Henry and his staff developed the concept of four teams made up of a Shift Supervisor, Senior Recovery Aide, and a Recovery Aide on rotation, to meet client needs. This opened the door to allow staff to directly impact operations and put the client first in the decisions made about programing. This approach became a benchmark. It also saw the creation of a Client Care Coordinator position in 1985.

Regardless of its origins, the name came to mean treating entrants with the respect they deserved as human beings. This too remains a benchmark.

Our history was marked by humble beginnings and by the determination to meet people where they were at. Without judgement, and with care and safety, Alpha House moved forward.

On Jan 1, 1982, the day Calgary Alpha House Society opened its doors, the AA Mediation for the Day from the little black book ‘Twenty-Four Hours a Day’ may have given inspiration to those founders of Alpha House. I like to think it may provide inspiration for many of us at Alpha House to this day.

“In the new year I will live one day at a time. I will make each day one of preparation for better things a-head, I will not dwell on the past or the future, only on the present. I will bury every fear of the future, all thought of unkindness and bitterness, all my dislikes, my resentments, my sense of failure, my disappointments in others and in myself, my gloom and my despondency. I will leave all these things buried and go forward in this new year, into a new life.”

Some of the story threads may have been lost over the years’ but from what I have learned from those I was able to meet from Alpha House’s beginnings, many of the men and women from AA and AADAC greatly supported the emergence of Alpha House. They welcomed the potential for positive individual change and recovery. Another benchmark.

 

Peace,

David

David plans to write a series of blogs to celebrate Alpha House’s 40 years of Community Service.


A Day with Our DOAP Transit Team

Shaundra Bruvall | November 16, 2021

A Day with Our DOAP Transit Team

The DOAP Transit (Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership Transit) team is a partnership between Alpha House Society and Calgary Transit (Public Safety and Enforcement). A DOAP Outreach worker is paired with a Peace Officer from the Community Outreach Team as part of a mobile outreach program dedicated to Calgary’s transit platforms, including c-train lines and bus routes. Seth, a DOAP Outreach Worker, has worked with Alpha House for a year and a half. Kitty, a Peace Officer, was a police officer in the Netherlands for over a decade before immigrating to Canada with her husband.

The team start their day at the Calgary Transit/Bylaw headquarters where Kitty is stationed. Seth picks her up in one of the DOAP Transit vans. Each van is equipped with bagged lunches, first aid supplies, harm reduction supplies, and provides passenger transports (capacity COVID-19 dependent). Much like Alpha House’s other outreach teams, Calgary’s vulnerable population know when they see an Alpha House van, they can ask for help.

The team heads over to Forest Lawn. They’re meeting Jack* and Jill*, a couple the team recently found housing for. Supports provided by the DOAP Transit Team don’t end when someone is housed; they continue to work to ensure that the transition into housing is smooth and, most importantly, that housing stability can be maintained over the long-term. Jack and Jill’s first rent payment date is fast approaching and the couple still haven’t been able to get the proper ID needed to open a bank account. Without a bank account the couple will be unable to pay rent and will loose their hard fought for home.

Kitty and Seth drive the couple to their methadone appointment. While the team was able to get Jack and Jill access to a pharmacy and a methadone prescription, they have hit a roadblock in getting the prescription transferred to a pharmacy within walking distance of their house. In the interim, Seth and Kitty are able to check in and make sure appointments are not missed. This a valuable part of ensuring a smooth hand-off in the transition to independence.

They tell Jack and Jill they have been able to locate a resource center not far from where the couple lives. The center is stocked with computers and printers, where they should be able to access the online forms needed to sort out their ID. Jill shares that when they were homeless their belongings were often stolen. Because of frequency of theft while they were living on the streets, hanging on to a phone or identification was extremely difficult for the couple. Couples also face longer waits for housing as most supportive housing facilities in Calgary are segregated by gender. This means couples end up on a long waitlist for community housing vacancies.

After dropping Jack and Jill off, the team heads over to Sunalta Station. They park the van behind the station so they can check the back alleys to see if there is anyone in need of assistance. Kitty does a sweep of the station upon entry. She checks behind ticket machines, in the corners and on the support beams to see if there is anyone sleeping. She says she once found someone sleeping on one of the window frames 100 feet in the air.

Keeping an eye out on the platforms, she spots someone across the station smoking inside. She calls over and motions for him to put out his cigarette. He obliges and appears to leave the station. A man arrives at the station without a mask and approaches Seth to ask if he has an extra one. Seth takes him back to the van to get him a clean face mask.

Once on the train the team does a quick scan of who is onboard and if anyone looks in need of assistance. The team immediately spot a pair they are familiar with and head over. The woman is clutching a bag and keeps dropping her clothes. The team asks if they need any support. They say they’re on the way to a shelter right now and thank the team for their interest.

As the train pulls into each station the team keep an eye out for anyone in need of assistance on the platforms. Kitty motions for us to get off the train and we immediately see why. Two men are in a train shelter and are about to begin smoking a pipe. Kitty explains they can’t do that on transit property. The men put the pipe away and move off. This is not the best outcome but the team sees they have a naloxone kit with them. It is moments like this that offer a great example of the importance of supervised consumption sites. Using alone is dangerous, using in public presents other dangers. Supervised consumption sites allow individuals to use in a safe environment while being connected to supports that can help move them towards stability.

A call comes with a report of someone using on a transit platform. When Kitty and Seth arrive at the station, they find a man holding up a woman who can barely stand. It is clear she has been using and from her body language they suspect the woman is on the verge of overdosing, but she declines the offer of Naloxone. Kitty and Seth stay to monitor the situation. A transit van waits by the platform to provide back up, if needed. After several minutes, the woman is steadied by her companion and they head off together. Kitty shares that she has interacted with this woman many times over the past three years, trying to support her housing and recovery goals. She has so far been unable to support her into long-term stability, but Kitty still looks for ways to help her when and where she can.

Throughout this interaction, a man has been shouting in the background, trying to get the team’s attention. Assessing that he is unconnected to the situation at hand, the team ask him to wait. He gets on the train and Kitty sees him approach a mother with her baby. Kitty intervenes before he is able to engage with the mother to make sure she’s doing okay and stays with her until the man moves off the train.

The team heads back to Sunalta station. Behind the station there is a couple waiting by the DOAP Transit van. They ask for a bagged lunch. Seth grabs two for them. The couple share a bit of their experience. In order to stay together they tend to camp in a park but it causes intense problems for John’s* back. Most days Sarah* needs to lift John out of their tent because his back is so bad. They are on the wait list for housing, but don’t have any idea when they’ll reach the top. They are both on methadone but it doesn’t do as much for John’s back pain as other substances they previously used.

The needs of Calgary’s vulnerable population on the train line are complex, and supporting people’s transition into stability requires a varied and dedicated response. The DOAP Transit program includes 3 other pairs like Kitty and Seth. The team consistently goes above and beyond in their work to reduce unnecessary or inappropriate use of transit services and their work helps to address unmet needs and improve the circumstances of vulnerable Calgarian’s.

 

*The names of clients in this story have been omitted or changed to protect their privacy


About Alpha House – For Election Candidates

Shaundra Bruvall | September 15, 2021

WELCOME

Thank you for your interest in Alpha House and our work with vulnerable individuals in southern Alberta. We are a trusted non-profit agency that provides safe and caring environments for individuals whose lives are affected by alcohol and other substance dependencies. We currently operate in Calgary and Lethbridge.

Originally established in 1981, Alpha House has a long history of innovating and evolving to meet the changing needs of our clients, the communities where we operate, and the increasing complexities of homelessness and drug use.

Today, we partner with all levels of government, community first responders, and other agencies to help address key social issues such as the opioid crisis, the growing need for supportive housing for vulnerable Albertans, mental health and addiction services, and evidence-based, harm reduction policies such as safe consumption sites.

 

THE FACTS

Permanent-Supportive Housing (PSH)

  • PSH reduces the use of publicly funded crisis services, including jails, hospitalizations, and emergency departments
  • A study of HF programs in Alberta published in 2020 reported cost savings of $1.17 to $2.84 for every dollar invested in housing first

Opioid Crisis

  • A study of 7 SCS programs in Canada found evidence of cost savings through Reduced disease transmission
  • Prevention of overdose deaths (reduced cost of EMS/medical system)

 

HOW OUR PROGRAMS HELP ALBERTANS

Our programs and services make up a continuum of care, which clients can enter at any point, based on their needs. Our services include:

 

SHELTER

Short-term, crisis-oriented emergency shelter 24/7 for Albertans under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

*CALGARY AND LETHBRIDGE

 

DETOX/STABILIZATION/TRANSITIONAL HOUSING

Residential care for clients to safely withdrawal from drugs in a socially or medically supportive environment and a temporary residential care program for clients to transition safely into housing or drug treatment facilities/programs.

*CALGARY AND LETHBRIDGE

 

HOUSING

Community and permanent-supportive housing programs to ensure housing stability and individualized supports for over 300 individuals.

*CALGARY

 

OUTREACH

Mobile response teams for individuals on the streets or in camps to meet clients where they are at and provide immediate supports ultimately reducing the impact of  intoxication  and homelessness on the broader community and public systems.

*CALGARY

DOWNTOWN OUTREACH ADDICTIONS PARTNERSHIP (DOAP) TEAM

provides roughly 20,000 transports per year to Shelter, Housing, and Medical services.

ENCAMPMENT TEAM

works 7 days a week connecting with rough sleepers. At any given time, the team is supporting ~200 individuals

NEEDLE RESPONSE TEAM

collected  73,155  needle  debris  in  the  2020-2021  fiscal  year.

 

OUR STRATEGIC PRIORITIES AND RESPONSES

The needs of those we serve and the communities we are part of are constantly changing. New, unique responses are required more urgently as a result of an increasingly toxic drug supply, increased uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the housing crisis across Canada. Alpha House continues to evolve our programs and partnerships to help meet these needs, including:

  • Expanding of our Encampment and DOAP Transit teams to increase services to vulnerable clients
  • Building stronger partnerships with Calgary Police Services, Calgary Community Standards (Bylaw), and Calgary Transit as well as first responders for increased community-based supports including the introduction of the new DOAP Indigenous Team in October 2021
  • Advocating for more permanent-supportive housing, increased harm-reduction supports such as naloxone and Engaging Vulnerable Persons training for community members, increased access to stabilization and detox facilities and engagement with businesses around responsible, compassionate action for individuals experiencing homelessness

 

WORKING TOGETHER WITH GOVERNMENT AND COMMUNITY

Our work is a direct intersection of homelessness and addiction and mental health. It requires a robust and compassionate community response with extensive supports and programs. Many of the people we serve have experienced significant trauma throughout their life and the resulting coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drug use often lead to increased instability and a greater need for wrap around supports.

Alpha House operates from a Housing First perspective meaning individuals are better able to work on other aspects of their lives if they have shelter security and a place to call home.

Based on over three decades of frontline experience, we know that the best response to helping vulnerable adults is to bring together the collaborative resources, expertise and support from local residents and businesses, as well as key partners and all levels of government. Through a unified, holistic approach, we can support vulnerable Albertans to meet them where they are at and help them find greater stability and wellness in their lives.

To learn more about our work and the latest Alpha House news, follow us on social media.

Facebook alphahousecalgary  

Twitter   alphahouseyyc      

Instagram     alphahouseyyc 

 


Alpha House’s 2nd Annual Golf Tournament Fundraiser

Shaundra Bruvall | August 3, 2021

INDIGENOUS PROGRAMMING TO BENEFIT FROM GOLF TOURNAMENT

Tom Jackson spearheads Alpha House fundraiser

 

CALGARY, AB – On Monday, August 16, Alpha House will hold its Second Annual Golf Tournament at Bearspaw Golf Club in support of its Indigenous Programming in Calgary and Lethbridge.

 

Alpha House provides safe and caring environments for individuals whose lives are affected by alcohol and other drug dependencies. The non-profit, charitable agency is commited to help heal the systemic, inter-generational and historical trauma among Indigenous people that has occurred as a result of residential schools.

 

More than ever, the honoring of cultural traditions and the provision of cultural connection – like Alpha House’s Ceremonial Sweat Lodges and Indigenous Outreach – is crucial to the health and well-being of its Indigenous clients.

 

The tournament is spearheaded by Tom Jackson, a musician, TV personality, activist, producer, long-time volunteer and supporter of Alpha House. Tom holds the strong belief that Alpha House is doing important work to help those with alcohol and other drug dependencies, especially among the Indigenous community.

 

“This work can save lives, and we have an opportunity to play a part,” commented Jackson. “Through this tournament, we can enjoy an afternoon of camaraderie and meaningful connections, while knowing the funds raised will make a difference to Alpha House clients.”

 

“Cultural connection is essential to the healing journey, especially in the context of the past year and a half,” says Kathy Christiansen, Executive Director of Alpha House. “Now more than ever, funds are needed to help support our work. Donations ensure the sustainability of programs that can be life-saving for people made vulnerable by poverty and addiction.”

The 2nd Annual Alpha House Golf Tournament takes place on August 16, and is made possible through the generosity of Title Sponsor IG Wealth Management. Registration for individuals or foursomes can be completed here.

 

About Alpha House

The Calgary Alpha House Society was established in 1981 as a committed response to a marginalized population of individuals who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs and living vulnerable on the streets of Calgary and Lethbridge. Alpha House currently runs four programs: Shelter, Outreach (DOAP/Encampment), Detox, and Housing. Learn more at alphahousecalgary.com.

For more information:
Bonnie Elgie, Publicist
p: 403.630.6164
e: bonnie@bonnieelgie-pr.com


Housing First; What Comes Second?

Shaundra Bruvall | June 16, 2021

In the homeless-serving sector, we operate on a principle of Housing First. Housing First means providing affordable, supportive housing to individuals/families experiencing homelessness as quickly as possible without expecting them to meet certain requirements (such as ‘sobriety’) before being allowed a home. In our experience, housing gives people the opportunity to work on other aspects of their lives without being constantly displaced. But housing is not the only solution or supports that people need. We sat down with some of Alpha House’s Community Housing Caseworkers to hear their thoughts on what comes next after ‘Housing First.’

 

We know about some of the barriers individuals face when trying to transition from homelessness to housing – lack of income, issues with obtaining ID/bank accounts, unmet medical needs etc. What are some of the barriers you see when it comes to someone newly housed remaining housed?

Most newly housed folks need to learn/relearn basic household and hygiene skills. Emergency Shelters do not always have the capacity to allow clients to learn how to perform these tasks so it can be a struggle when someone is newly housed.

Many folks also struggle with feeling as though they don’t fit into their new community, they may feel they are being targeted due to their appearance or behaviors and rarely feel comfortable asking for support from neighborhood support systems. It often takes months or years for a client to build a sense of community and belonging. This can lead to struggling with boundaries around things like guest management with clients inviting their (still unhoused) friends to stay, as that group of people is where they feel most comfortable.

 

What do Alpha House’s caseworkers do to reduce these barriers for clients?

From the perspective of learning/relearning basic household and hygiene skills, caseworkers are able to assist with basic chores, provide insight and information, and work off their rapport with clients to support skill building and overall confidence.

For community integration, caseworkers are able to do tours of the community, provide lists of community supports and events, and provide encouragement and supports to help clients reintegrate within their community.

The importance of having someone you trust cannot be overstated here. Rapport with clients is critical to supporting their needs and helping them gain confidence and feel more comfortable.

 

How big of a part does a neighbourhood/community play in helping individuals stay housed? Are there things we can do better as a community to prevent re-entry into homelessness?

The neighbourhood and community play a big part in a client’s successful housing. When clients feel like they are part of a community, we often see greater success in housing stability. We all play a part in our communities to help people feel welcome and that is no different when it comes to those we house. Simple things like smiling and saying hello or introducing yourself make a huge difference. More involved engagement like having a coffee with the individual and taking the time to get to know them is very beneficial to the success of housing programs. Those we serve have often been experiencing homelessness for a long period of time and feel alienated from society, so reintegration and kindness are key.

If our clients feel welcomed and understood by their neighbors, they are more likely to integrate quickly and to show a sense of pride in their housing, which promotes hope and is crucial to long-term housing stability and overall wellbeing.

As a community, we can help prevent re-entry into homelessness by understanding that everyone deserves a chance and has a unique story. Greet your neighbours regardless of their past or appearance.

Society as a whole could be more open to seeing unhoused individuals as people that are worthy of interaction and compassion.

Anecdote: I live in the deep SW and one day stopped to fill up with gas, an Alpha House client was in the parking lot asking for money to get on the bus. When he asked me, I showed him my employee ID badge and he immediately held out his hand to show me a possible broken hand with cuts all over it. He only needed to get on the bus to go get medical attention and had no money to do so. Everyone else that he approached walked away from him as fast as possible when he really just needed help and support.

 

Can you share some thoughts on the importance of landlord relationships when it comes to housing stability for clients? How do you go about building those relationships and reducing stigma that can come with housing previously homeless individuals?

Landlord relations are incredibly important as not all individuals have an easy or seamless transition to independent housing.  With a patient and understanding landlord/lady, it is easier for individuals to be successful in their housing. One critical piece is establishing a landlord-tenant relationship where the landlord addresses concerns they are having with a client themselves in a direct and gentle approach. If a landlord/lady requests Alpha House discuss all concerns with a client it does not build a client’s capacity to have these discussions and overall, it reduces their accountability. All of our clients are their own lease holders and need to attend the lease signing with the landlord; we also encourage clients to call their landlord for small fixes and concerns just like a non-program tenant would. This builds capacity and self-advocacy as well as relationships. Forming a relationship helps the property owner see a client as a person who deserves housing, and not just someone who used to be homeless or has an addiction.

 

What about neighbour relations? How do you encourage clients to integrate into their community?

In inner city areas it is easier to integrate and not feel so targeted as opposed to in suburban communities.  Alpha House never wants to make a client feel bad about their appearance or experience so when working with clients we tend to focus more on being a good neighbor and what that means. We talk about not having a lot of guests over at any one time, using appropriate garbage cans, keeping the apartment a good level of cleanliness etc. Overall, integration into community is not something that can be easily achieved without society as a whole becoming more open minded towards our clients.

 

Where are there gaps (both in the homeless-serving sector and overall as a society) when it comes to housing stability? What things are we missing as a collective group to prevent someone losing their housing or to be more inclusive and well rounded in general?

To help the client succeed and maintain housing stability, communication is key. When housing someone from homelessness into housing, the transition period is very hard for the client. We often see clients who sleep on their balconies, or have their bed in the living room. As a collective, we all need to be patient and communicate the struggles that the client is facing at the time and work together to ensure adequate supports are provided.

Additionally, the Homeless Serving sector could do a better job at educating society about the variety of reasons individuals become homeless. So many non-aware people assume that it is just based on drugs and alcohol, rather than seeing the trauma that so often leads to substance use as a coping mechanism.

 

We typically see studies that show prevention is more cost effective than reactionary programs – this is true in terms of crime prevention, injury prevention etc. Besides the humanitarian reasons to provide affordable housing to all and prevent homelessness, what do you see as the economic benefits of housing stability? (i.e. client interacts with police less often, fewer medical issues, less substance use etc.)

We often see a reduction in overall emergency services use, such as CPS and EMS interactions, as clients are housed and able to attend general medical appointments on a regular basis and address underlying health concerns.

Often times we see a reduction is substance use as a result of decompression. When clients are homeless their bodies go into a fight or flight mode. When they are housed we often see them decompress and they are able to relax, not having to constantly be looking over their shoulders.

We also often see mental health concerns stabilize as individuals are able to take care of themselves, stick to a medication regime, get better sleep and eat better, which all contributes to a positive state of mental health

 

Alpha House operates from a Housing First perspective meaning individuals are better able to work on other aspects of their lives if they have shelter security and a place to call home. In the context of “housing first, what’s second?” – what would you say comes second after housing?

Some of the most common ‘seconds’ we see are mental health, overcoming trauma, reconnecting with family or dealing with physical health concerns.

In addition to the above pieces, community reintegration and purpose, along with a sense of dignity and self-worth for the client are important. We help clients set goals and support their plans for the future. Having something to work towards and having hope for the future is critical.

Overall, we know that support needs to come second; it is about supporting clients in whatever way they need so they can find stability.

 

What types of philosophies do you follow as caseworkers to support your clients? Do you have any rules of thumb or best practices?

  1. Be honest to yourself and to the client
  2. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. We work with people and not just numbers. Client choice is also very important. Every client has their own unique story, with underlying trauma as a big factor in why they were homeless. We support clients, no matter the choices that they make. As long as they are safe, and given the tools to remain safe in their homes.
  3. Harm reduction principals and to meet a client where they are at. We cannot move faster than them and for individuals who have been homeless or institutionalized most of their lives, it takes longer to feel comfortable being housed than someone who has been only episodically homeless.
  4. Celebrate the small successes with your clients and encourage self-sufficiency

 


A Day with Our Encampment Team

Shaundra Bruvall | June 9, 2021

A Day with Alpha House’s Encampment Team

Two members of the Encampment Team, Cody and Brianna, stand beside their van in Stanley Park.

Today, Alpha House’s Encampment Team begin their day in Stanley Park. They have received a call from Calgary Community Standards’ Peace Officers (A.K.A Bylaw) about someone “camping” in the trees. The Encampment Team are a mobile response unit supporting “rough sleepers” with service navigation for shelter, housing, medical, or mental health programs in the city. Rough sleepers are individuals who sleep or camp in places not meant for human habitation and they do not typically use Emergency Shelters.

The program works alongside authorities like Bylaw; a crucial partnership that plays a major role in the team’s ability to support clients. While rough sleeping and camping are not encouraged by the City of Calgary, the Encampment Team’s relationship with Bylaw helps reduce displacement for those camping. When managing a community tip-off about a camp, Bylaw will share location information with the team to give them an opportunity to work with the individual(s). Constant relocation is both harmful to the wellbeing of the rough sleeper and counterproductive to supporting someone into housing or other social services. Finding a new campsite can be challenging and can cause delays for service accessibility.

Cody and Brianna form one of two Alpha House Encampment Teams. This isn’t their first time trying to make contact with the person camping in Stanley Park. They head into the trees and find a tent on the side of the hill, hidden from view of the road.

“Hello this is Alpha House, is anyone home?” Cody calls out. He waits a minute for a response. There is silence. He asks, ‘Do you need a lunch?’ Still no response. They wait another minute before concluding the individual is not around and move on to their next call. Sometimes the team will need to visit a site multiple times before making contact with someone. It’s hard to predict the hours someone will be around given the circumstances.

A client calls while the team moves on to their next stop of the day.

The supportive/affordable housing system in Calgary can be finicky to navigate. Part of the process includes frequent check-ins. This particular client has called to check in and to request some bus tickets to get to an appointment. The in-person interaction is brief but compassionate and respectful. Despite a non-descript parking lot as its location, this meeting is an important engagement in the team’s relationship with the client. Trust takes time to build.  This interaction, as with all client interactions, is recorded by the team. The client’s consistent engagement means one less barrier for housing.

A check in can be as simple as a client calling to say hello and to note their continued interest/unchanged circumstance but it can also include updates on client needs or reports of a camp relocation. The more engagement, the less the likelihood of a delay when a housing unit becomes vacant. Units rarely sit empty for long as the demand for affordable and supportive housing in Calgary greatly outstrips the supply.

Alpha House is one of many organizations who provide supportive housing in Calgary. The Coordinated Access Assessment program provides oversite and management for Calgary’s affordable housing system and is run by the Calgary Homeless Foundation – working in collaboration with a number of housing providers to support clients toward housing that best fits their needs. Best-fit considerations can include the need for medical or old-age care, mental and physical health challenges, and even a client’s connection to a certain community.

The team’s next stop is Bowness. Their goal is to check in on J, who is camping at the bottom of a very steep, forested hill. His camp is well hidden and difficult to access. From the top of the hill Cody calls out and J answers back to say he’ll come up. J has a cell phone provided by Alpha House, but it has run out of minutes and J hasn’t been able to check in recently. He says he has some bottles he’s going to take to a depot today to buy some minutes for his phone. He has a teenage son that is just learning to drive and J wants to use his phone to get updates on how his son is doing. J also has a caseworker he’s been unable to reach because of this.

Cody calls J’s case worker for him. J has been approved for housing and is waiting for the unit to become available. After speaking with the caseworker, Cody shares the good news that J’s new apartment will be ready the following Monday. J only needs to wait for a few more nights before he’ll be able to move in. Before leaving, Brianna gives J a lunch and asks if J’s friend is still camping down the hill. J says he is and accepts a second lunch to pass along. He thanks the team and expresses how excited he is to move into his home.

Still in Bowness, the team meet with G. You would only be able to find G’s camp if you already knew it was there. Hidden in thick foliage, G has further camouflaged it with green tarps that act as wind breaks and walls. He has also constructed a work bench for himself and he tells the team he has just put up a second tent to use as a closet for his clothes. His main shelter is a sturdy tent. He has put down foam mats as floor tiles. The camp is one of the more elaborate setups the team have seen.

G has been trying to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the team have come to check in and inquire about his progress. He places a few hurried phone calls trying to track down invoices as proof of income. G works as a general contractor but lack of income due to COVID-19 meant a loss of housing in May of 2020. He is on a waitlist but hopes that CERB will give him the money he needs for a damage deposit and first months rent.

The team stops for lunch around midday. This afternoon they have booked in a client to do a Needs and Services Questionnaire (NSQ). NSQs are one of the requirements to access the affordable housing system in the city. The Encampment Team are one of only a handful of groups that can do NSQs. After their meeting, they’ll be back in the van to speak with more clients.

Every day is busy for the Encampment Team. A rough estimate of clients connected with the team at any given time is about 250 and the need for the Encampment Team continues to grow.

Cody and Brianna both say the best part of the job is watching clients progress to housing and how rewarding it is to have a role in supporting that transition, particularly when they get to be with a client on move-in day and experience that individual’s excitement and relief.

Individuals sleeping rough face significant barriers when it comes to housing. Even before the process of NSQs and wait lists, they face constant displacement, cold nights in a city well-known for its frigid winters, food insecurity, the threat of tickets for violating certain bylaw (which they may weigh against the dangers of not being able to use a fire to keep warm at night or eating cold food perennially). The list goes on.

The Encampment Program is able to respond in real-time to client needs to ultimately remove some of these barriers and transition individuals into stable housing. Alpha House is excited about new developments with its Encampment Team and our ongoing partnership with CCS and we encourage you to keep your eye on our social media and blog for updates!


Across the Prairies – From Assiniboine to Calgary

Shaundra Bruvall | April 14, 2021

Leonard has been a resident of The Clayton on Bowness Road for almost a year now. Originally from a Hutterite colony in Southern Saskatchewan, he lived in a variety of towns and cities across the prairies before a series of difficult circumstances led him to homelessness in Calgary, AB. He lived on the streets of Calgary for 9 years. Winters were spent in shelters and in the summer he would camp with his friends in Marlborough Park. Last year, a bout of pneumonia left him hospitalised. However, in a positive turn of events, the hospital helped him get in touch with Alpha House who worked with Leonard to find a home that suited him best. ‘When I saw the room (at the Clayton) I asked if I could move in right away, and they said okay. So I moved in that day’.

Hailing from a Hutterite colony near Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, Leonard left at 18 to find work outside the colony. He has thought about going back over the years but he describes colony life as being dictated by rules and he had a dream of seeing the world. When he first left the colony, CBC news did a televised interview with him. He spoke then of his ambitions to find work and of struggles with loneliness and learning what felt, at times like a different culture. When he did find work in construction his boss speaks highly of Leonard, saying he’s keen and happy to work. This was in Swift Current. However after asking his neighbour to turn down a stereo early in the morning, he was confronted in his apartment by that same neighbour armed with a bat and crowbar. He decided to leave town after this and was forced to quit his job.

He relocated to Saskatoon where he got a job working at a carpet store. His older brother who had also left the colony was living there. He was a successful writer and publisher, releasing books on Hutterite food and culture including The Hutterite Treasury of Recipes. His brother would often test out the recipes and ask Leonard to try them. He recounts one time when they were eating sauerkraut for six months because his brother had made so much!

Eventually, Saskatoon didn’t work out either. He describes ending up in a bad way, mostly due to a dealer ‘who was available all the time. You’d call him up anytime and he’d be there in 30 minutes. He’d float you $200 worth of drugs. So I paid him off and left town to start over’.

He travelled then to Winnipeg where he built on his experience working at a carpet store to become the manager of a carpet warehouse. In Winnipeg he had a daughter, who is 13 now. ‘She’s home schooled right now because of COVID.’ They speak over Facebook when they can.

After getting back in touch with his first girlfriend, he relocated from Winnipeg to Calgary. He found a basement suit in Calgary but then ended up without a home after his relationship didn’t work out. Him and some friends would camp out in and around Marlborough Park. ‘We’d lean boards against a wall and stick a tarp over’. In the winters when it got cold he’d go to various shelters. But he expressed some hesitancy about using them. ‘I’m not a big guy. The walk to the shelter can be scary’. He mentions staying at the shelter Alpha House runs downtown and that he appreciated their harm reduction approach.

A year after he ended up on the streets, his brother passed away. Leonard speaks fondly of his brother but says ‘his death hit me really hard. My dad passed away around then too.’ It was 2011 that he ended up on the streets, but his main point from the year is that the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup. His favourite hockey player is Patrice Bergeron; their captain. He watches Boston play whenever he gets the chance.

When he talks about growing up on the colony, he mentions the stigma he felt when he’d travel into town. He speaks about running into gangs of teenage boys when he’d visit the mall in Moosejaw. He was afraid to tell people he was a Hutterite for a long time after that. But over the last 15 years he says ‘I’m not afraid to tell people anymore. I’m just a human.’ He has 8 brothers and 4 sisters, most of whom live on colonies. He’s been back to visit but because of religious custom he can never move back permanently.

He likes his room at the Clayton, and even has a pet fish named Leonard Jr. He’s been able to access a pharmacy for smoking cessation aids, which he gets every month. He’s got a TV set as well where he can watch his favourite show Big Brother. ‘I applied for this season but didn’t get accepted’ he relates. Leonard also loves watching Survivor and Britain’s Got Talent. His favourite song is You are the Reason by Britain’s Got Talent Star Calum Scott.

The Clayton is run by Calgary Alpha House Society and was built by HomeSpace in 2019; a 30-unit permanent-supportive housing program with 24/7 wrap-around supports. The building is one of a handful of affordable housing options in Calgary designed for people who have experienced chronic homelessness.


How an Unhoused Veteran Found His Home

Shaundra Bruvall | April 7, 2021

Frank is a resident of Madison Place. An apartment building managed by Alpha House Society for previously unhoused Veterans of the Armed Forces, Air Force, Police and Fire Departments. Clients at Madison Place work with on-site staff to manage past or current addictions, improve their health, and engage with the community. Frank is one of the longest residents of Madison Place, which has been operating in Calgary’s Beltline since 2012. His cat, Buddha, lives with him and his wife, Amanda, lives only a few blocks away. Buddha spends most of our interview sleeping; at 21 years old he is well looked after and spends most of his time dozing in the sun next to Frank.

Originally from Eastport, Newfoundland, Frank was born the middle child in a family of 12.  His mother ‘never stopped,’ he says, and passed away only a few years ago at the age of 92. His father worked cutting railroad ties in Nerranova, ‘Back in Newfoundland, we were poor people,’ he says. ‘So I joined to help my family out’.

When Frank enlisted, it was ‘August 1966, I still remember it was August’. He was stationed first out of Murphy Barracks in Ontario and was a paratrooper – ‘a jumper,’ he says. And then a sniper. Smiling, he quips that when he first joined his Newfie accent was too thick for his sergeant to understand. ‘I used to get away with murder’ because of it, he says. ‘I loved being in the Army’.

Frank travelled to Greece, Cyprus, Germany and many other countries before eventually being stationed in Currie Barracks in Calgary. When he left the Army in 1983, he decided to settle in Calgary, because he liked the look of the place and made it home.

He left the army because of drinking, he says ‘Drinks were free on the barracks and you get bored. They sent me for treatment for it once. Any part of the Forces there is a lot of drinking.’ After leaving the army, Frank started working as a painter, which he did until he was 64, only retiring because of health concerns with his leg.

Frank eventually ended up living on the street with his wife Amanda. He was living under the bridge near the Elbow River Casino, but he doesn’t speak ill of those experiences. ‘I don’t like being confined’ he says ‘I like being outside, all times of year. It’s cold by the river but I enjoyed it. I’d go into the casino to shave, it’s open 24 hours a day. Cops would visit, bring coffee and sandwiches. When they found out I was a veteran though they got mad.’ Over Christmas, he and Amanda had been gifted a hotel room for a week when the two cops he had become familiar with helped get a place to live with Alpha House.

He didn’t want to move without his wife though, so Alpha House helped get her a place at a housing program with the YWCA a few blocks away. Because of house rules around the COVID-19 pandemic, Amanda can’t visit Frank. But he’s able to go over to her place two days a week and they meet up outside. He has two daughters and a son back in Newfoundland. He speaks to them on the phone often and last saw them two years ago at his brother’s funeral. The Veterans Association and Alpha House helped him with his flights, and looked after Buddha while he was away.

‘The staff here are excellent’ Frank says. Because of health concerns with his leg he’s in a mobility scooter but staff here have worked with the Veteran’s Association to make sure Frank is well looked after and his scooter is in good working order. Before Christmas, he spent 28 days in hospital but Frank is tough and describes his health issues as more of an inconvenience than a concern.

Frank is active in the community. Outside the building next to the Canadian flag there’s a dog bowl that is kept filled so locals walking their dogs can take a break. In the summer time, Alpha House Staff at Madison Place host frequent BBQs with clients and the community. Frank says he spends a lot of time outside talking to people experiencing homelessness and doing what he can to help whether it be listening to their stories or giving them a meal. He frequents the Kirby Centre and the Legion, which in non-COVID-19 times provides low cost and free programing to seniors. Frank loves living in the Beltline in the summertime because of all the events happening from the public pianos to concerts in Olympic Plaza.

He’s due to get his vaccine before too long and is looking forward to when life starts getting back to normal. He misses being able to have his wife over and to visit with his friends still living on the streets. He’s getting sick of TV but enjoys a few shows like Schitt’s Creek. He describes the community in the building as being very supportive and all great guys. ‘Life is what you make it. I enjoy every day I’m alive,’ says Frank.

 

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For more information please contact:

Shaundra Bruvall

Communications and Fundraising Coordinator

ShaundraB@alphahousecalgary.com

403-237-8341

 

Or

 

Allison Leonhardt

Community Engagement Coordinator

Allisonl@alphahousecalgary.com

587-832-2839

 

 

Calgary Alpha House Society was established in 1981 as a committed response to a marginalized population of men and women who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs and living vulnerable on the streets of Calgary.