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.
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.