June 14th, 2024

Alpha House working to help clients out of the cold

By Lethbridge Herald on January 20, 2022.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Shaundra Bruvall, communications manager for Alpha House Society, poses outside of the Lethbridge Stabilization Centre and Shelter Wednesday. Bruvall discussed the programs that Alpha House runs in the city.

Al Beeber – Lethbridge Herald

It started here with one small room at the Lethbridge homeless shelter in the fall of 2019 and since then Calgary-based Alpha House Society has expanded its operations to offer a range of services.

Its Lethbridge facility, now known as the Lethbridge Stabilization Centre and Shelter at 802 2 Ave. N., does much more than provide a safe place for homeless people to spend the night.

Shaundra Bruvall, communications manager for the society, gave The Herald insight into Alpha House operations here this week.

In addition to the 88-bed shelter, Alpha House also operates COVID-19 isolation and transitional housing programs in a Lethbridge hotel and a stabilization centre which is part of the main shelter facility.

Alpha House began with a 15-room intox centre for people under the influence and quickly expanded it to 30 beds. In April of 2020, just when COVID-19 began hitting the world in full force, it took over operations of the entire 2 Ave. facility.

In the 2020-21 year, the Lethbridge programs served 1,179 different clients, says an Alpha House report. Calgary’s facility, in contrast, served 5,372 clients. Indigenous clients, the report states, represent more than 60 per cent of those who visit the Lethbridge facility.

There were 49,076 shelter entries in 2020-21 here with an average utilization rate at 127 per cent.

Calgary’s facility had 42,049 shelter entries in 2020-21 and a 107 per cent average shelter utilization rate. In that city, 3,818 unique clients utilized the shelter’s services.

A recovery coach program here which began in January 2021 supported 23 people in its first three months of operation. This is a client-centred service which is focused on helping participants reach and maintain their recovery goals. Those goals can include housing, mental health, physical health and cultural connections.

The stabilization centre here has a 98 per cent average occupancy with the most reported substances used being alcohol, followed by opioids and methamphetamines.

“Our Lethbridge stabilization program built staff and resource capacity as a new program to the community and supported clients with a safe place to be connected to long-term treatment and housing programs,” says the report.

Bruvall said Wednesday while the shelter has 88 beds, it never turns away clients in extreme weather conditions.

The focus of the stabilization centre at the shelter, she said, is to have a continuum of care so that they can, where ever they need support, they’re able to access those (social services) supports.

“We often see somebody with their first engagement with Alpha House will be the shelter and from that point, we want to connect them to kind of whatever that they need. So either medical supports, maybe mental supports. Stabilization is a big one because it’s where they are able to improve their health. If they have been struggling with substance use, they’re able to take a break from that use and ideally, if that’s their choice, they’re moving on to a longer term treatment program,” Bruvall added.

People will use the stabilization centre for different reasons including to take a break from substance use, improve their health or to get into a longer-term treatment program.

“Maybe housing is their goal so there’s a variety of reasons someone might go there but the idea is, of course, to always be moving folks to stability,” Bruvall said.

The COVID-19 isolation program has operated since Nov. 2020 for unhoused people with no place to isolate if they caught the virus or if they were in contact with someone who had COVID.

“Partly it was to reduce the pressure on the shelter and so we were able to move some folks into the isolation unit and that program has been really successful” with more than 500 people utilizing it, she said.

At the same site as the COVID isolation unit is now a transitional housing program which can house 30 people with the goal hopefully of moving them to something more long-term.

Bruvall said certain rules are in place for the safety of clients and staff at the shelter.

“We are the lowest barrier option for folks who are struggling with addiction and we work really hard to remove as many barriers as we can to people accessing our services. But when someone does come into the shelter, we do a pat-down, we do check in clients’ belongings so when you’re actually on the shelter floor, we typically don’t allow clients to have their belongings just with them.”

One reason is due to space and the other is safety.

Belongings are checked, tagged and put into storage before returning them to clients.

The shelter is also operating a vaccination clinic for those interested in getting their COVID-19 shots, she said.

The intake process includes collecting data so Alpha House knows who is staying at the shelter and if they have any underlying health concerns that would make staff want to check a client more frequently than they normally would, Bruvall said.

“If someone has been using, we want to know that so when we’re doing breathing rounds we’re making sure we’re checking on those folks,” she added.

“Our focus, and certainly Alpha House’s mandate, is around that addiction piece, to support individuals whose lives have been impacted by alcohol or drug dependency. So that is a focus of the work; we are working a lot with individuals that are struggling with addiction,” she said.

This is why the stabilization fits well at the shelter as an option, she added.

“We like having them in the same building because it’s that ease of access. It’s easier to transition somebody who accesses the shelter who is interested in stabilization. We’re able to kind of move them over to that program,” she added.

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