News & Events

Memorial Wall

Shaundra Bruvall | August 31, 2023

We’re standing in Alpha House’s Cultural Room, a relatively new space we created for client programming. The wall at the entrance of the space has recently been prepped and primed for today’s project and Brandon and Dave, from the Dream Centre’s Woodshop Program are looking forward to getting started. This project has been several months in the making.

Alpha House has commissioned the Dream Centre’s Woodshop Program to create a memorial wall for those lives that have been lost to addiction. Brandon has been with the woodshop for 2 years; Dave: 1 month but it’s a project meaningful to people on both sides.

“This one is a little bit different than the normal projects. I always wanted to do something like this with the dream centre but that hasn’t worked out yet.”

Brandon says he’s enjoyed working on the project; he went through the Dream Centre’s Addiction Treatment program over 3 years ago so it mattered to him to make sure the design was done right. “When I originally did the quote it was with cheaper wood, but as we started mapping it out, we decided to use something that had more weight and substance to it cause of what the project was about.”

The design was important to Alpha House too. We provided foundational imagery for Brandon and his team – we wanted the butterfly represented, a long standing image Alpha House has aligned with, because it symbolizes not only the fact that we all go through change in our lives, but also that we can experience periods of darkness and still come out the other side to something beautiful. The tree felt like the best way to represent that we are all connected to eachother and to the land; the leaves a way to remember each name.

Brandon and his team added their own elements as well. “We had Alpha House’s example to go off of and we incorporated the butterfly as well, but we also wanted to have unique elements.” The idea to use different woods for the leaves (including ash and oak) was a way of creating individuality while still having unity. “We also added a round over to each of the leaves – which we hadn’t originally planned to do – but it added more substance and made a really nice effect overall.”

It feels especially meaningful to have these considerations and personal touches as part of the design for a project memorializing a life. No plan ever goes exactly the way you think, Brandon adds, but there were processes that came about during the creation of the design that added more meaning, which was particular important for everyone involved.

“You’re trying to represent people. Once you really start thinking about it – it’s not like it’s an accent wall in someone’s house.
Once you realize what it’s about you put more thought and heart into it”

Finishing in time for International Overdose Awareness Day wasn’t planned, but this too adds a poetry to the project we couldn’t have predicted. Alpha House has been caring for those with addictions since 1981; the memorial wall was a passion project of ours and we are so grateful to have had the opportunity to bring it together in this way. In an ideal world, we would never have to add another name but until public policy catches up to the realities of addiction, we will hold space in our hearts, our memories, and now here.


International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia

Shaundra Bruvall | May 17, 2023

Standing Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

By Dawn Lemieux

 

Canada is becoming increasingly diverse. According to Statistics Canada, one million Canadians identify as belonging to the 2SLGBTQ+ community (2022). While Canada has made moves toward equality, such as same-sex marriage and new protections for gender identity and expression written into the Canadian Human Rights Act, we still have a long way to go in combatting the homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia that is prevalent in society, schools, and other institutions.

 

Statistically, 2SLGBTQ+ people experience real danger on a daily basis since they are more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted or to sustain injuries as a result of aggression than those who are not 2SLGBTQ+. Alarmingly, 59% of 2SLGBTQ+ people in Canada have been physically or sexually assaulted since age 15, a drastically larger proportion than their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts (Statistics Canada, 2022). Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia can also take on more subtle forms of discrimination, including microaggressions and online harassment. Folx with intersecting identities, particularly those from racialized groups, can face double or triple forms of discrimination. One of the most vulnerable groups in our society are 2SLGBTQ+ youth who make up between 25% and 40% of unhoused youth in Canada (Statistic Canada, 2022). Whether overt or subtle, all forms of discrimination have negative and lasting implications on an individual’s mental health and well-being. When a person’s mental health and wellness declines, they are more likely to turn to alcohol and other substances to cope with feelings of stress, anger, loneliness, and sadness.

 

May 17th marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. On this day, people around the world band together to celebrate diversity, disrupt hate, and stand against injustice toward 2SLGBTQ+ people. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and to live a life free of fear. What next steps can you take to help create a safer, more inclusive society?

 

  • Commit to developing a critical consciousness. Begin by reflecting on your own positionality in relation to dominant culture and the power and privilege that comes from your identity markers. An essential part of becoming more critically conscious is understanding that everyone has prejudices or biases due to the stereotypes they’ve absorbed during their upbringing and through consuming media. These prejudices are not always conscious, and it takes real work to unpack them in order to identify misconceptions about folx from the 2SLGBTQ+ community. You can also commit to learning more about the International Day of Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia and 2SLGBTQ+ identities by browsing the resources on https://may17.org. Learn more about queer topics by exploring books, shows and documentaries, and podcasts by people from the community. Consider grabbing a friend or two to attend Calgary’s queer film festival in June, hosted by the Calgary Queer Art Society.

 

  • Break free of your comfort zone. In an increasingly divided society, it can be tempting to stay quiet and take a neutral stance when complex issues come up in conversation or when you witness an act of discrimination. Remember that standing against injustice is almost never a comfortable experience. Bravely challenge hate-filled comments by reorienting them to focus on equality and equity. Staying silent is what allows injustice to continue.

 

  • Break down binaries and use inclusive language. It often seems that we live in a ‘two-choice’ society, where binaries such as hot/cold, up/down, Black/White, male/female, and gay/straight are the norm. Embrace fluidity by bending, blurring, or breaking society’s binary codes and welcoming words, actions, and people who do not fit neatly into categories. Language matters! A simple way to use inclusive language and help others feel safe and validated is by respecting their pronouns. Do not feel overwhelmed by the terminology related to gender identity and sexual orientation. If you aren’t sure about a person’s pronouns – just ask. A thoughtful way to go about this is to share your pronouns first. Do not use the term ‘preferred pronouns’, as it suggests that using a person’s pronouns is optional. If you make a mistake with a pronoun, apologize quickly, and move on.

 

  • Celebrate the heroes of equality-seeking groups and observe days of awareness. Take time to learn about and acknowledge 2SLGBTQ+ leaders and heroes of past and present, such as Harvey Milk, and pay tribute to the important days of awareness for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, including the International Day of Trans Visibility (March 31st) and the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (May 17th).
  • Consider donating to 2SLGBTQ+ organizations and charities. Calgary’s End of the Rainbow Foundation is one organization that creates sponsorship circles, hosts support groups, and provides education to help 2SLGBTQ+ people settle into their homes and communities. Donations to the End of the Rainbow Foundation directly assist 2SLGBTQ+ people, including refugees, in emergency scenarios to obtain safety and support. Check out https://endoftherainbow.ca for more information.

 

When we embody love and acceptance, we can disrupt the intolerance, discrimination, and violence directed toward 2SLGBTQ+ people in our local and global communities. We all have a role to play in creating safe and caring communities for everyone.

 

 

References:

Statistics Canada. (2022). Standing against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. Ottawa, On. https://www.statcan.gc.ca/o1/en/plus/1294-standing-against-homophobia-transphobia-and-biphobia

 

 


World Social Work Day 2023

Shaundra Bruvall | March 21, 2023

World Social Work Day takes place on 21 March 2023. This year’s theme is ‘Respecting diversity through joint social action,’ recognizing that change happens locally through our diverse leaderful communities. #WSWD2023 provides an opportunity to acknowledge how communities can make powerful actions that lead to inclusive social transformation.

At Alpha House, many of our staff are social workers by trade. We asked them their thoughts on:
“Why Social Work?”
“What do you do to prevent burnout?”
“What is a Social Worker to you?
“What do you love about being a Social Worker?”

Women Experiencing Homelessness

Shaundra Bruvall | March 8, 2023

First observed in 1911, International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, recognizes challenges faced by women and girls globally, and raises awareness about the discrimination women still face to this day.

Homelessness is an experience any race, gender, or nationality can go through and it creates specific vulnerabilities for anyone who finds themselves in such a situation. It is also true that people experience homelessness differently and that women are among the most vulnerable subpopulations of unhoused individuals. The oppression women face is multifaceted and complex and is firmly ingrained in the society in which we live both culturally and systemically. As a result, women experience the discrimination, challenges, and dangers of being unhoused in specific and, often, more extreme ways.

Homelessness is not always visible; hidden homelessness is the term often applied to a subset of the population whose current housing situation is not stable i.e. when an individual has temporary housing but lacks safety, security and any assurance of long-term stability within their housing. Women are among the largest group captured in the term “hidden homelessness,” which often encompasses a significant number of women victimized by domestic violence. The reason it is categorized as hidden is because those experiencing this form of homelessness are less likely to access social services and housing resources, less likely to get support when they do access services, and less likely to be fully represented in studies, policy, and social services. Women make up the majority of victims of toxic partner relationships, where they are reliant on an abusive partner for basic needs such as housing and food. Abusers will use violence and manipulation in an attempt to control women by isolating them, limiting their income, and cutting them off from their support systems. Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women.

Challenges and Dangers

Women experiencing homelessness are more likely to become pregnant than women with stable housing, due to multiple factors such as sexual assault, lack of social supports, and a lack of safe spaces. Substance use – a trauma response often used as a coping mechanism – and lack of a nutritious diet – a stark reality for those living on the street – can lead to severe health complications for pregnant women, putting the health and safety of both the mother and baby at risk. Being the primary caregiver for their children makes accessing shelter and other housing services even more difficult and, in fact, many domestic violence and women’s shelters are forced to turn people away due to capacity and funding constraints.

Menstruation, and the lack of feminine hygiene supplies is another persistent and difficult challenge to overcome for vulnerable women, compounded by obstacles those on the street face related to access to hygiene, clean clothing, and supplies, further contributing to the trauma created by trying to survive and meet basic needs.

The City has partnered with the Calgary Public Library and Youth Central’s Mayor’s Youth Council, launched the Free. Period. Program. A program that offers free pads and tampons in select city and library facilities. You can view an updated list of locations here.

Human trafficking is a significant danger for women living on the streets. Human traffickers prey on individuals experiencing homelessness and other marginalized populations. There are multiple factors that make this population a target for human traffickers including substance use, lack of a support system, and the human desire for what seems like opportunity for stability and safety. Victims of trafficking are most often left financially destitute, isolated and without housing, where they are susceptible to further exploitation.

Overall, women are subject to higher rates of abuse, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Abuse is further exacerbated for Indigenous women, who are three times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. The violence that women face is systemic, with most vulnerable women experiencing violence and/or assault in their childhoods or adult lives prior to homelessness. Recall that domestic violence is the leading cause for homelessness among women.

Long-term housing with trauma-informed supports, access to healthcare, and employment opportunities are critical resources desperately needed to improve the situation of women and girls globally.

 

Supporting Vulnerable Women

Alpha House operates Permanent-Supportive Housing (PSH) programs for individuals transitioning from chronic homelessness towards housing stability; two of our buildings are specifically dedicated to housing vulnerable women. The programs provide 24/7 wrap-around supports, with staff trained to support individuals with active substance use, navigate the unique circumstances of transitioning from homelessness to long-term housing. Our women-only buildings provide increased safety for women to live at home without fear of violence and offer both a trauma and gender-informed care lens that seeks to reduce traumatization and recognize the specific situations and past traumas these women have faced. Access to safe spaces is critical to supporting those we serve in a trauma-informed way.

Alberta Women’s Shelters are facing increased demand and are struggling to meet the need. For more information on how you can support local women’s shelters, connect with The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS)

 

(https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2011001/article/11439-eng.pdf)

https://tgpdenver.org/file_download/inline/d5103ee6-5609-4f38-80b8-5aa0faa7c213