The inside of the sweat lodge is completely black, except for the crimson glow of stones piled in the centre. A light splashes as the Elder pours water on the stones and steam slowly sinks into her skin. The only indications of the 11 others inside the hut are the deep, steady breaths and the calming words of the Elder.
Suzanne, a tenant with Calgary Alpha House Society, has been attending sweat ceremonies on the Tsuu T’ina reserve at least once a week for four years.
“It’s the best healing ever. There’s something very maternal about it,” she says. The lodge, a dome structure made of branches and covered in blankets, represents the womb of Mother Earth. “When you’re all pent up, it helps to clarify everything.”
When Suzanne’s husband was killed, she turned to drugs to mask the harrowing pain she felt with him no longer by her side. “I didn’t want to feel anything,” she admits. “I was broken.”
For 22 years, Suzanne was held captive by her drug addiction. After losing her house, Suzanne lived on the streets for six years before entering detox at Alpha House. “I had some traumatic experiences,” she says, “but this place is a godsend.”
Suzanne started attending sweat ceremonies on the reserve with Alpha House. She found healing in other Aboriginal traditions as well, like fasting and sun dances.
Alpha House is known for its Aboriginal programming which will be made available to the 30 women in its future RESOLVE project. Using both Housing First and harm reduction models, tenants will receive intensive case management and 24-hour support. The 30-unit apartment building will be close to women’s and health centres as well.
“Having a home is epically important for women, and to be with each other to heal together in a safe place,” Suzanne stresses. “I know so many women who are stuck in purgatory. They have nowhere to go so they put up with abuse and sell themselves just so they can pay for a hotel room for the night.
“It’s incredibly dangerous.”
The mortality rate for women experiencing homelessness is 10 times higher than the general population. And because they represent a smaller portion of the homeless population, their needs are often overlooked.
The Women’s Harm Reduction Facility will meet this need by providing a safe, affordable and caring environment specifically for women, with the supports needed to maintain the housing – this could include a female elder who would work with tenants.
Kathy Christiansen, executive director of Alpha House, has attended many sweat ceremonies with clients. ”Connection to culture is essential,” she says. “It supports ongoing healing, and, therefore, housing sustainability, for many of the women we see in our program.”
Suzanne says that having a home motivates her to stay healthy. “And just to be able to do laundry all night long is beautiful,” she laughs. “It’s the best!”
One day, Suzanne hopes to introduce other women to the healing that sweat ceremonies have provided her. “I want to be an elder. I want to pour water on the rocks,” she says. “For women.”
The Calgary Alpha House Society was established in 1981 as a committed response to a marginalized population of men and women who were addicted to alcohol or other drugs and living vulnerable on the streets of Calgary.
Alpha House’s values and beliefs includes respecting the clients’ right to self-determination as they address the impact of alcoholism and addiction in their lives. The organization strives to develop relationships of trust with clients, working on client-identified objectives from withdrawal management and mental health concerns, to addiction treatment, housing needs and more. The continuum of care model provides services for the challenges and opportunities the client may face.
Alpha House is committed to the well-being of its staff through ongoing training and the promotion of self-care. We provide our staff with cultural and diversity sensitivity training, crisis and trauma informed care training, CPR and other specific training to enhance the compassion and empathy our staff bring to our clients daily.
Calgary Alpha House Society’s History:
Alpha House provides outreach through its Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team. The DOAP Team is a mobile diversion response to street level addiction and public intoxication. It links clients with a broad range of community services across the city. Another outreach team is the Encampment Team. The Encampment Team engages rough sleepers and other clients experiencing homelessness and sleeping outside. The Encampment Team can assess clients with addictions and mental health issues and intervene to address social isolation and marginalization. The Encampment Team and Housing Locators work together to reach rough sleepers and find homes for them in the community.
The 125-person shelter provides a safe and caring environment for men and women with alcohol and other drug dependencies and is available at any time of the day or the night. Clients may be self-referred or referred by addiction services, police, emergency services, hospitals or other agencies. The care, rapport building and support of clients are paramount as addiction withdrawal and mental health issues are stabilized.
The 42-bed detox centre provides for men and women a place to safely withdraw from alcohol and other drugs and transition to treatment. Twelve of these beds are for transitional clients who need a safe place to stay until they find a permanent home and/or are waiting for addiction treatment.
Alpha House has found homes for over 300 clients since the housing program’s inception. It operates and provides case management support through market housing and three housing projects funded through the Calgary Homeless foundation. As a proud partner in the Resolve Campaign a Women’s Project is slated for opening in 2018. The Housing Program is fully accredited and is grounded in the Housing First Model.
Alpha House seeks to promote well-being through community involvement and it’s Volunteer Program. We have an ongoing need for individuals wanting to join our sandwich making group on Thursday afternoon and those who want to serve Sunday lunch to shelter clients. Other individual opportunities include sharing a skill such as arts and crafts and knowledge based presentations related to addiction with our clients. Group activities are also available and include preparing our outreach kits, sandwich making and lunch bagging.
To volunteer with Alpha House, please contact us at [email protected] or 403 237 8341.
Your generosity means so much to us. Giver, receiver and gift…it is all connected. We encourage you to consider Direct Giving, Gift in Kind, Sponsoring A Clothing Drive or Hosting a Fundraising Event. We want to work with you.
For more about how to help Alpha House, contact us at [email protected] or call 403 237 8341.
Your support to Alpha House allows us to sustain and grow our programs to benefit our clients. Donating to the Resolve Campaign will see the fruition of our present capital project for marginalized women in Calgary.