News & Events

Meet Harvey

Shaundra Bruvall | September 30, 2021

Harvey has just moved into Alpha House’s Permanent-Supportive Housing Program in Sunnyside; Aurora House. He’s from the Siksika Nation just outside of Calgary and first came to the city at the age of 16. He speaks fondly of his parents and the parts of his childhood spent with them, sharing tales of adventuring across Canada.

At 6 years old, he remembers being removed from home and taken to a Residential School. He was told to speak English but, while his parents spoke both English and Blackfoot, they primarily spoke Blackfoot at home. So English did not come quickly to him. His brothers and sisters attended the same school. Occasionally, he could visit them.

The school, he recalls, was Protestant-denominated, not Catholic. ‘It was 3 miles from home; [I] tried to run away and go back home. My parents were happy when I’d escape, just happy to see me’ he shares. Once, he escaped for a week with three other boys. ‘I kept running, didn’t even stop to use the bathroom or sleep’. But eventually the school would come looking and each time he’d be brought back.

At home in the summer, he would smudge with his family and learn dances like the chicken dance; a dance that celebrates the connection of people and the prairie grouse. He says his Mom would take him foraging to gather mint for tea and mushrooms for soup. ‘Mom took care of us, made sure we had something to eat’. As he reminisces about the mushroom soup, he says he is going to check his cupboards for some after this conversation.

He had a dog named Lucky growing up, a surprise gift brought home by his dad one day. Lucky was Harvey’s constant companion, often accompanying them when his Dad would take him hiking. He moved into Calgary at 16, his siblings and friends had moved so he decided to as well.

He spent some time working for CP Rail ‘lifting railway ties. I was strong,’ he says. And he was married for a while as well. Sandra and Harvey met on a chance encounter roaming around Calgary. ‘I thought she was very pretty’.

Theft at a few shops on the reserve landed Harvey in prison. It was in prison that he first started beading, something he still does today. Prison was ‘hard at the start, beading helped’. He made a few friends that he still occasionally sees.

He spent time after prison hitchhiking across the mountains and sleeping out under the stars with an end goal of reaching his sister in Vancouver. ‘She was surprised to see me walking down the street. What are you doing here?! I got lost I told her. I was off to see the world I told her.’

His sister has now passed on and Harvey says ‘I hope to see her in the next life’. He came back to Calgary to attend the funeral of his nephew and decided to stay in the city. He got connected with Alpha House not long after that.

An Elder visits Harvey in his room at Aurora House once a week. Together they smudge to push away bad spirits and bad emotions. He says he feels strong after the Elder visits and holds his arms up in a strongman pose.

The birds wake him up each morning but he says he likes that; along with starting the day with a cup of Maxwell House coffee. His drum, an important connection to his brother, was stolen from him one day in a park downtown. But he’s been working on beading a necklace lately in lieu of drumming. Another of his creative expressions, a painting, hangs in the staff’s office at another Alpha House building.

 

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. Over 50% of the clients we serve are Indigenous. Today, the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we wear orange, come together to drum and sing, and remember and honor those lost to Residential Schools and the survivors still with us.


Mobilizing Technology to Resolve Complex Social Issues

Shaundra Bruvall | March 24, 2021

HelpSeeker is a registered B-Corp Social Enterprise with a mission to scale systems change to resolve complex social issues. One of their most celebrated new creations The HelpSeeker app is a free network of location-based services, resources, and support you need to help your clients and the community. We had the opportunity to sit down with some of HelpSeeker’s team members to get the scoop on how things are going and what they hope their new initiatives will accomplish.

 

Who is Helpseeker for?

The HelpSeeker navigation tool can be used by anyone who might need to find help, whether for themselves, or on behalf of someone else.  Because HelpSeeker is used by thousands of people seeking help, it is also a great marketing tool for service providers, as it helps to get their information out to more people.

HelpSeeker also offers other digital tools that provide valuable insights for people in decision making roles, who want to understand the needs of their residents better, so that they can make more informed decisions that will lead to better outcomes.

 

Are you marketing the app to the general public?

Yes!  We have two apps: the HelpSeeker app and the Wellbeing Screener, which are free for anyone to use, anywhere across Canada.

HelpSeeker is a navigation tool, where people can search anonymously for supports in their community that can help them address their needs, including help services, helplines, benefits, and social programs available in a community.

HelpSeeker is great for frontline workers and people who have a good sense of what they need help with.  But sometimes it isn’t always clear to someone that the problem is: they may know they aren’t feeling their best, but can’t quite pinpoint what they need help with.  In instances like that, the Wellbeing Screener is a quick way to assess any urgent needs, and start the process of understanding what resources are available nearby, and connect to them directly, or share with a friend or family.

The HelpSeeker App allows you to privately browse thousands of community, provincial and federal health and social services, programs, resources, helplines and benefits for mental health, counselling, parenting, education and training, addictions, domestic violence, affordable housing, shelters, food support services, recreation, and more.

 

There are a lot of social service organizations in Alberta. How has the app changed navigation of those services for people who need them?

The most common cited concern we hear is that people just don’t know where to go for help. Which is too bad, because there are thousands of support services available across Alberta ready and willing to help.

HelpSeeker was created by people with lived experience in social issues, who also worked as frontline workers.  They knew firsthand that trying to find help, whether for yourself or for someone else, is a complicated and overwhelming process.  Their goal in developing HelpSeeker was to simplify the process, so that people could get access to help more quickly.

We appreciate that often people seeking help are those in very vulnerable situations, and we designed HelpSeeker using that lens.  The app is completely anonymous to use, and is free to download.  It can be used on any Smartphone (Apple or Android device) or can be searched using any desktop with internet access, in 23 different languages. 

Navigators can select from over 80 different search tags to search for issues particular to their needs, or they can use our smart search bar, which recognizes informal terms that might be used (ie. if someone types in “I’m hungry”, the smart search would know to find services that offer food).  Based on the search results, navigators can click on the listing to see a short and helpful description about the organization and their services/programs, contact information, hours of operation, whether the person fits the eligibility criteria, whether or not the service or building is wheelchair accessible, and in certain cases, whether the organization has enough the ability to help them right away. From there, they can either call or email the organization directly.

There is also a map that the navigator can see where the organization is located, as well as a directions button that connects to Google maps, so that people can plan their route to get there.

 

What’s the current scope of the app in terms of locations where it is available?

We are currently available in more than 200 Canadian communities, but thanks to a recent investment from CMHC, we will be in every Canadian community within the next 3 years.

 

What are some of the trends you have been able to see through the app’s data and are you / how are you / using that to improve its efficacy?

Having the ability to compare what supports people are searching for with where supports are located is really useful, as it provides a starting point for identifying where possible gaps and/or duplications exist.  The data can also be used to help improve program design, and to help communities develop responses to rapidly changing needs, like what we experienced with COVID.

We’re always taking feedback from service providers and people using the app on ways to improve the user experience. Look for new improvements later this year!

 

COVID Social Issues Infographic – 69,000 hits in Alberta & what people are looking for help on (CNW Group/HelpSeeker Inc)

Have social service organizations been open to the idea of the app?

Yes!  The response from social service organizations has been tremendous, especially as they appreciate the important role they play in the overall systems transformation process, and discover how the app can really help their staff and frontline workers spend more time working one-on-one with their clients, instead of spending time in front of a computer navigating services. Organizational leaders like that they can use the service provider dashboard to get a snapshot of their organization’s overall program capacity, which can help guide decisions for future programming and funding allocations. They also like that people who have used their services can send private feedback directly to their organization, so that they can assess how to improve their service delivery.

 

 What is the biggest roadblock you have faced with the app’s implementation or progress?

Our most exciting challenge is getting the app into the hands of people who need it. We’re continually brainstorming new strategies to do this!  And we are always on the lookout for people that can help us raise awareness in their community.

 

What’s your favourite feature of the app?

It’s hard to narrow it down to just one favourite feature!  I would say that my favourite feature is our smart search bar, which has the ability to recognize everyday, common terms, like “I’m hungry” or “need clothes”, and will show results accordingly.  It’s very cool!  We’re always adding new features, so  stay tuned for more!

 

You can download the HelpSeeker App and the Wellbeing Screener for free wherever you get your apps!


A Letter from our Executive Director

Shaundra Bruvall | November 25, 2020

The Holiday Season is often a time of reflection as we look back on the year that was and anticipate what will be when the calendar turns on January 1st. Without question, 2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year for our city, our country and the world.

At Alpha House, we have done our best to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on the vulnerable people we serve, both in Calgary and in our new stabilization centre and shelter in Lethbridge. We’ve collaborated with partners to find and provide safe shelter that will meet all protocols and guidelines, asked our staff to go above and beyond in caring for clients, and we’ve taken every precaution we can to keep men and women seeking our help, safe.

Despite many new challenges, our priority remains the same as it’s always been: to meet the needs of individuals whose lives are affected by alcohol and other drug dependencies.

 With our resources being stretched thin, this year more than ever, we need your help. Since 2018, Tom Jackson – a beloved Canadian musician, actor and philanthropist and Alpha House volunteer – has dedicated one of his annual “The Huron Carole” concerts to support Alpha House. Last year’s sold-out concert raised funds for our Downtown Outreach Addiction Program, also known as the DOAP Team.

 On Tuesday December 1, the annual Huron Carole concert “Light Inside” is going virtual in support of our DOAP Team, and recovery programs in Calgary and Lethbridge.

As Tom so eloquently says, “Under the cloud of these challenging times, those less fortunate in our world are going to be the ones most impacted by the current economic fall-out from Covid 19. This Christmas season is going to be different from any other. It’s going to require us, as individuals and as a society, to look inside ourselves for a light of optimism. A silver lining. We must treasure that light and hang on to that silver lining with all our might.”

It is our request and hope that you will join us for this treasured holiday tradition celebrating the music and meaning of the season. Tickets are just $15 or $30 (includes a VIP pre-show experience with Tom).

We understand that this is an incredibly difficult time for our community. If you are able, please join us for an evening that is sure to lift your spirits and that will give hope to other Calgarians as we all reach for the light inside.

Tickets are available here.

You may also donate to Alpha House online.

With thanks,

Kathy


A Message of Gratitude and Hope

Shaundra Bruvall | December 23, 2019

The Holiday Season is a time of reflection and gratitude. As I think back on 2019, I am inspired by the resilience of the individuals we serve every single day, the dedication of our staff who selflessly go above and beyond to provide compassionate care, and the outpouring of support we receive from the Calgary community.

This year was one of growth, challenges, rewards and renewal at Alpha House. We saw programs, like our Needle Response Team and DOAP, expand to meet new needs emerging in our community. We also faced funding cuts and financial challenges that could impact our ability to continue to provide much-needed services like DOAP in the future. All of the programs within our Continuum of Care remained busy, meeting the needs of vulnerable Calgarians and helping to improve their quality of life. We  also started to work in Lethbridge, sharing our experience and knowledge as the community opens its first stabilization centre.


As we’ve shared our highlights and challenges with Calgarians – through our social media, presentations, community meetings and media stories – we’ve received an outpouring of support from individuals, artists, groups, corporations and government. People are hosting fundraisers, advocating for support, and donating their time, talent and funds. It’s an encouragement to the entire Alpha House team, as well as the men and women we serve.

Thank you for supporting our work, for caring so deeply for vulnerable Calgarians and for giving hope to those who need it most in our community.

On behalf of Alpha House Calgary, have a wonderful Holiday Season.

Kathy Christensen

Executive Director


Q and A with Alex of the DOAP Transit Team

Shaundra Bruvall | June 7, 2019

Alex Harris, a member of Alpha House’s Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Transit team, and his partner, Peace Officer Kitty Aalders, received The 2019 Life Saving Award at the Calgary Police Service 2019 Chief’s Awards Gala this June.

As one of the Calgary Police Chiefs Awards of Exceptional Recognition, the Life Saving Award recognizes “an act beyond that which would reasonably be expected and in which the person saves or attempts to save the life of another.” The DOAP Transit team provides a new avenue for vulnerable individuals to connect with addiction services and other social supports. We sat down with Alex to chat about the award, the DOAP Transit team, and how relationship building is crucial to meeting clients where they’re at.

     

Alex, congratulations on receiving the Life Saving Award at the Calgary Police Service Awards Gala! That’s very inspiring!

Thank you very much!

Can you tell us more about the situation you were in and how you and Kitty were able to prevent a tragedy?

We [Alex and Peace Officer, Kitty] were at Victoria Park Stampede Station. We were doing a sweep of the station at the end of the day and we noticed a female that we’d previously seen down at Centre Street station. This lady was acting a bit erratically, and we saw her make her way down the stairs where there was an elderly female and her partner, walking on the platform. There was a train inbound heading into downtown that was probably about 500 ft. away, I don’t know exactly how far but the lady that we’d seen acting erratically ended up shoving her [the elderly lady] onto the tracks. She landed there and was not moving.

So my partner- I was kind of hesitant being that I’m technically a civilian– I wasn’t sure if I should go to the person or if I should go help my partner. I went and helped my partner first, and then other backup arrived. And I hopped down on the tracks and held c-spine for the lady until EMS and the Fire Department arrived.

 

So the train was able to stop well in time or did it feel like a close call?

Well, at the station when you hear ‘the next train is arriving, stand behind the yellow line -‘ that had already gone off. It was probably still 100 ft. out, but it did have to break pretty aggressively.

 

What was going through your head at the time?

It was definitely a shock.

 

Adrenaline rush?

Yeah! It was only our second week of doing this full time- so it was kind of like getting thrown into it right away. It was definitely an adrenaline rush and there was a lot going on but I wouldn’t say it was something that I didn’t expect could possibly happen in this job.

 

What does it mean to you to be receiving this award?

I’m definitely flattered that someone would think to nominate us and then to eventually actually receive it. I’m a little bit humbled by it but to me I was just doing what I think anybody would have done. I think I was just doing my job and so was my partner. At the same time, I’m very appreciative that someone would take the time to nominate us and that means a lot to me at the end of the day.

How are you liking your job with the DOAP Transit team so far?

I love it! Yeah, it’s great. I worked part time on weekends on the main DOAP team when I first started here [Alpha House] and that was great too, but I like this role in the sense that I’m able to do a lot of case management work with the clients and I’m able to spend a bit more time with them to try to reach some positive outcomes, if they want to go down that route.

What would you classify as a successful day / successful client interaction?

I think just whatever the client wants – if the client wants someone to talk to or somebody to listen to them, I think if we can be that person, that’s a success to me. I also think it’s a success when you’re able to build rapport with somebody who you’ve been trying to build rapport with, and it’s taking forever, and they’ve been kind of closed off, that’s a success to me as well. I don’t always think it’s necessarily fair to call success just getting somebody housed. I think it’s that relationship building and just being able to treat someone with dignity and respect and being that person on the streets for them.

Is there anything about your work you wish people knew more about or asked about more often?

I guess for people to understand a little bit more about what we’re actually doing. I think sometimes it’s hard for people to understand that it’s different from the main [DOAP] team – [the public] is so used to the main vans going around but with transit it can be more proactive work as opposed to reactive work.

We’re spending a lot more time with clients trying to get them connected to resources. The main vans do that but it’s a different dynamic with transit so it’s good for Calgarians to understand a little bit more that we’re doing work in different ways with clients, not so much focused on transport and taking calls – we’re connecting clients to the resources they might need, housing, healthcare, ID programs, on a more day-to-day basis.

What are the long term goals of the DOAP Transit team?

One of our biggest goals is working with high users of the system. We want to try to alleviate the stress of individuals who are constantly on the transit system, getting tickets, getting arrested. We want to try to work with those people to figure out a way to alleviate some of that stress on the overall system, and on officers, and on other resources.

So I think if we can try to focus on those individuals to get them connected to the right resources, obviously not everybody is going to choose to do that or want to do that, but if we can try to start building a rapport with that person we can try to alleviate some of the stressors, and hopefully turn it into less of a criminal matter-justice matter- and make it more of a social issue as Alpha House is trying to do with all of its programs.

Would you find collaboration with the peace officers and bylaw has been really good then, in terms of that relationship?

Yeah for the most part! I think there is still education that needs to be done in those areas. You know, it’s a different mindset at the end of the day and they’re always going to have a different mindset given that they are law enforcement but I think overall Calgary Transit has moved into a positive direction on social issues. They’re doing a lot of great things on their end in terms of moving towards more of a social approach to working with this population and making it less of a criminal matter, which is awesome. But there’s still that education piece around addiction that everybody always needs a reminder on but it’s definitely been working well.

The Calgary Police Service 2019 Chief’s Awards Gala took place Thursday, June 6, 2019, to honour citizens along with sworn and civilian members of the Service who performed exemplary acts of courage and commitment to their community. In total, Chief Constable Steve Barlow presented awards to 14 citizens and 35 officers.

The Alpha House DOAP Transit team can be seen around the CTrain and LRT stations. If CTrain riders see someone who may need assistance, they are encouraged to use a Calgary Transit Help Phone or dial 403-262-1000 (option 1). If an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.




Housing Clients Seasonal Gifting Call Out

Shaundra Bruvall | November 23, 2017

Your help is needed! We’re collecting Seasonal Holiday gifts for men and women in our housing program. Wish list includes: socks, winter gear, home items, pictures, toiletries, make-up and gift cards. Recommended spend of $10 per gift. Our goal is to collect 125 gifts by December 8th in time for our housing Christmas party.

Donations of unwrapped gifts can be dropped off at 203-15th Ave SE. If you’re dropping off, feel free to call ahead so that someone  assist you with your donation: 403-234-7388.

Thank you!

–Housing Team

 

 


New Calgary addiction program to bridge psychology and substance abuse

Shaundra Bruvall | October 1, 2015

She’s been battling her addiction to narcotics for the last three years but isn’t ready to seek treatment, fearing she’ll lose her kids.

A.M. — who requested to have her name withheld — is among many women in Calgary who are addicted to prescription drugs, but are too afraid to seek help and too busy for three-month group therapy sessions, according to Melissa Molloy, who’s with program development at the Recovery Acres Society’s 1835 house.

As a result, the clinic plans to roll out the Women’s Co-occuring Disorder Outpatient Program to treat women who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse.

The program will be the first of its kind in the city, where both psychology and substance abuse specialists will be readily available to patients, said Dr. John Streukens, who helped the society develop its two-week intensive treatment program.

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