Shaundra Bruvall | April 29, 2021
‘I’m a strong lady; that sticks in my head,’ says Gail as she shares her story and what life is like at Providence House in Crescent Heights. She’s not quite 60, although you wouldn’t know it. She goes walking with friends as often as she can and takes pride in keeping her apartment clean and tidy. She’s dressed nicely for our conversation, with sparkly purple nail polish, a black top, and matching jewelry. She speaks about her life growing up, her kids, her husband, her experiences being homeless and her time now at Providence House, where Alpha House provides 24/7 wrap-around supports. Resilient and wise, she’s shy at first but quickly opens up and is happy to share her story and her years of wisdom.
The youngest of seven girls, she has six brothers as well and speaks fondly of her parents. Growing up in Cardston, Alberta she thanks her parents for being strict as she was growing up. She first met her future husband Francis in Siksika. She describes him as the classic tall, dark, and handsome. Her parents were smitten as well and urged Gail to marry him. They spent 32 years together living on the Siksika Reserve east of Calgary. ‘My husband taught me a lot and I am thankful my dad accepted him.’ ‘I lived a happy life’. Francis worked in agriculture, and Gail worked as a cleaner for a while but dedicated most of her time to raising their children.
‘I did a lot of cooking. I’d make bannock and have a family recipe.’ She says she even made bannock tacos two weeks ago. An avid gardener as well, her favourite plant to grow was always rhubarb because of the jam she’d make afterwards.
A mother of three, her son turned 31 in March but she still fondly calls him her baby boy. Her daughter is older and she speaks about how proud she is for how well her daughter is doing. Her oldest son Matthew, sadly has passed away.
When her husband died, he left everything including the house to her. Two weeks after he passed her in-laws showed up and ‘things got out of hand. I ended up in hospital…. after I was released I didn’t know where to go or what to do’. Gail ended up on the streets.
Living on the streets, she met another man. They were together 4 years and the way he treated her was the opposite of what things were like with her husband. ‘I was on the street for those 4 years. I can tolerate so much; I got tired. I started getting sick. I ended up in hospital’. It was in hospital that she was connected with the YWCA; the original service providers of Providence House, an affordable housing building owned by charitable real estate developer, HomeSpace. Alpha House took over service provision for the building in October 2020.
‘I don’t have to go wandering off living here’ she says, ‘I don’t take my apartment for granted.’ She speaks warmly of the staff, ‘Alpha treat me well, I call them family, and I get along with the women here. We talk to each other, this is why I like this place.’
With COVID-19 the common areas for the building are closed off, but Gail has still been able to see her children outside. Her daughter was able to come by and drop off Christmas dinner. ‘COVID is hard for everybody,’ she says. She often visits with family and friends in the community, going for walks and staying as active as possible.
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.