Homelessness in the NE Webinar Follow-Up

Answers to questions and more

For those not in the know, The City of Calgary and Alpha House recently hosted a webinar about Homelessness in the NE with the aim of providing a better understanding and awareness of the complex issues surrounding homelessness, poverty, mental health and addictions. While there are no easy solutions, the hope is that gaining a better understanding of these issues will increase empathy towards some of the most vulnerable in our community. 

Many of our city’s panhandlers are dealing with the interaction of a number of complex issues. Even if you don’t give them money, we can acknowledge the person. A simple smile or a “hello” demonstrates a level of dignity and a demonstration of our common humanity…

There were many questions that were asked by participants at the end of the workshop that, due to time constraints, the presenter was not able to answer. In an effort to address some of these questions, Shaundra has compiled the following responses to questions submitted by participants. Please note that all responses are from the perspective of the presenter. We understand that some of these issues are very complicated, and it can be challenging to provide a written response that can capture the complexities of these questions. If you would like to learn more about the work Alpha House is doing, please connect with Shaundra at ShaundraB@alphahousecalgary.com

We also wanted to share with you some of the ways the City is working to address these issues. As the workshop indicated, poverty is a complex issue touching on micro, macro, and systems causes. In order to develop a comprehensive response to poverty and marginalization, the City of Calgary has endorsed a community driven-poverty reduction strategy called ‘Enough for All’. The strategy has an aspirational target of reducing Calgary’s 2015 poverty level by 30 per cent by 2023. Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC) is the steward of this strategy. Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC) is a non-profit organization that works collaboratively with various stakeholders, seeking to engage Calgarians to advocate for long-term strategies that address the root causes of poverty in Calgary. To learn more about VCC and Enough for All, you can visit http://vibrantcalgary.com/. You can also sign up for the VCC newsletter to stay informed on poverty reduction related news and events in the city.

The City is also in the process of convening community partners to develop a Community Action on Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. Outcomes are focused around Increased Safety, Improved Service Access and Navigation, More Public Awareness and Common Language, Reduced Stigma, Resilient People and Communities. The strategy and collaborative implementation plan will be presented to Council by the end of 2020. To learn more and subscribe to updates, click here: https://www.calgary.ca/csps/cns/mental-health-and-addiction.html 

If you have questions or comments about future workshop and engagement ideas, please reach out to the Community Social Workers in your community.

–         Jenna Pothier – Jenna.Pothier@Calgary.ca  – Village Square Community Hub

–         Kiima Bailey – Kiima.Bailey@Calgary.ca  – North of McKnight Community Hub

–         Jessica Wishart – Jessica.Wishart@Calgary.ca  – Pineridge

–         Nicole Neve – Nicole.Neve@Calgary.ca  – Castleridge/Falconridge

For more information about the Community Social Work program, please visit https://www.calgary.ca/csps/cns/strong-neighbourhoods/strong-neighbourhoods.html

Questions & Answers

There were many questions that were asked by participants at the end of the workshop that, due to time constraints, went unanswered by the presenter. In an effort to address some of these questions, Shaundra has compiled the following responses to questions submitted by participants. All responses are from the perspective of the presenter.

To follow up on any of these questions or to learn more about addictions, mental health, homelessness and the work Alpha House is doing to support vulnerable Calgarians, please email Shaundra at ShaundraB@alphahousecalgary.com

Many of our city’s panhandlers are dealing with the interaction of a number
of complex issues. Even if you don’t give them money, we can acknowledge the person. A simple smile or a “hello” demonstrates a level of dignity and a demonstration of our common humanity. You can try to talk with those individuals about what their needs might be and find out if they know about some of the services available in the community – chances are they already know. They might even be connected with a program and just waiting for a space to open up in a Housing Program. Most often, long-term solutions involve government intervention – asking your government officials to fund things like affordable housing, outreach programs, community services…etc or educating yourself about your community and what resources exist already that you can lend support to.

In terms of an individual who is “aggressive” as in they are walking in and
among the cars… if you are not planning on engaging with that person then you can just smile if they near you or pass your window but leave it at that – nothing wrong with that (and be aware of course since they are walking in traffic!). If you want to do more than that but you still are not planning on giving money, you can always just kind of call-out as they pass you and ask how they are doing, maybe make a quip about your dogs not liking strangers if they are barking loud. Makes it a positive, no-big-deal interaction. If they are being more forward and tapping on your car or such (to be clear, I’ve never seen this but in case that is what you mean), a smile and a sort of shrug to say you don’t have anything for them is likely enough engagement for them to reach out to someone else.

In terms of an individual who is “aggressive” and you and they are both on the street where the possibility of violence does exist or you are trying to walk past their spot on the street and they are blocking you from doing that, I would suggest that you try to engage in brief dialogue to establish a sense of rapport but also to establish boundaries for yourself (can even help to distract them so that you can pass easily). If there is a lot of aggression already there, maybe some physically aggressive movements or a lot of shouting or yelling, you can certainly cross to the other side of the street so that you feel more comfortable, that is fine. If you feel okay engaging or you’re trying to get into a building and you need to pass them to get inside, for example, something that might be helpful is a “Hey, how’s it going?” – even if you don’t wait for an answer and you use it as a distraction in order to pass. Feel free to use disengaging language, such as “Hey – I’m so sorry, I’m in a huge rush”….etc. If you can make eye contact when you say it, that is better. Try not to shrink away too much, if you can make yourself a little bigger, stand up taller – that gives its own protection as well – not in a challenging way, just in a confident or assured way. If it isn’t necessarily aggressive in terms of physically but just that they are really persistent with their ask, let them tell their story (if you can) and then if you want to give, do, but if you don’t, you can say that too – e.g. “I can’t help, I’m sorry. I hope you have a good day…etc.” And like any situation where you feel you are at risk of being physically harmed, you can call 9-1-1.

A tent city or even designated places to camp doesn’t address long-term
solutions for homelessness and can also create complex situations in terms of social disorder, safety (for individuals camping and the public) or waste (think of how much garbage a house generates… and houses at least have the means to dispose of it all!). The best solution is housing with supports so that individuals can have a sense of security while they work on other life management.

Regarding drug treatment beds, it is great that the government is investing in
those facilities because there is a demand for more beds. Organizations that work
around mental health and addiction are able to share this information with clients and work with the treatment facilities to refer clients who are interested. Alpha House’s Detox program, for example, will have the opportunity to add this increased capacity to the referral process.

As for the City’s role, one of the core elements of the Community Action on Mental
Health and Addiction strategy, which is currently being developed, is strengthening access and navigation. This includes finding ways to make it easier for Calgarians to get the help they need. This happens in the communities where people live and that’s where we’re focusing.

Individual choice is really important for Alpha House and our work; it’s
important to us that clients determine the pace and trajectory of their journey because they are human and have the right to self-determination like anyone. Unless someone is actively engaging in illegal behavior or deemed a risk to themselves or others from a mental health perspective, they have the same rights as any citizen to be on the street.

To your underlying point though, there is certainly room for conversations around safety and harm and what is in the best interest of the client and the public and how we, as a society, can be responsive to both.

Here is the link to one of the many iterations of the Brain Story training https://www.albertafamilywellness.org/what-we-know/the-brain-story You can also visit www.ticcollective.ca for other resources around being trauma informed.

First, it’s helpful to know what your City Councillor is already doing in your
neighbourhood to increase access to services or to increase services in general.
Second, learning more about what the Community Association offers in your
neighbourhood is really important because a lot of the time they have services people don’t even realize exist or can provide information about services in the area. You can also find out if a City of Calgary Community Social Worker is working in your community and talk to them about what’s available and what concerns you have. Often there are people already doing work around these issues and it is a matter of seeking them out and identifying ways to support, or provide constructive criticism. If you find that there isn’t anything, a good place to start is with your City Councillor to raise your concerns and work with your neighbours to identify what your community needs are.

While the ‘Homelessness in the NE’ workshop was intended to be an introductory opportunity for participants to learn about addictions, mental health and homelessness generally, there were some questions raised at the workshop from participants regarding temporary use of the Clarion Hotel to house clients from Alpha House during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are responses to those questions. Please call Alpha House – Clarion Hotel at 587-437-8798 if you have any follow up questions.

Alpha House’s contract with the Clarion is slated to end at the end of August
2020. We do not have more information at this time as to whether it will continue past this date though we are actively looking for long-term solutions because of the risks of COVID-19 to the population we serve and to the public.

Alpha House is currently working with Ward 10 Councillor’s Office, the
Community Resource Officer (CRO, police), and the MLA for the area to develop a
better communication plan and long-term solution for the Vista Heights/Mayland area. That information will include community members and include opportunities to hear community concerns. We don’t have any more specific dates/info at this time but we are working to create a better forum for discussion.

Alpha House works daily with clients on expectations and behaviours. If we
know of incidents with our clients, we are able to respond to them and address those
issues with the client in question. If it isn’t an Alpha House client, we do not have the
grounds to manage the situation but things like breaking and entering, theft or violence, should be reported to police and the suspect or perpetrator will face consequences.

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