News & Events

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.