Pictured: 2 Addiction Support Workers at Alpha House's Transitional Housing program
Alpha House’s Transitional Housing program has been operating in Lethbridge for roughly 1 year. What began as a program to support unhoused individuals who had tested positive for, or were a close contact of, COVID-19 saw further success by providing housing supports to individuals with a history of chronic homelessness.
The program is delivered out of a hotel in Lethbridge, supporting up to 30 clients at a time to provide individualized goal setting and case management. Its previous success as an isolation program saw over 600 clients supported to maintain their isolation periods.
Now, the clients who utilize the program have different goals.
Those may include housing, finding and accessing a family doctor, obtaining prescriptions for needed medications, or applying to addiction treatment centers. Clients have a variety of needs and staff’s work is about engaging with each to understand their personal stories and support them with their unique goals.
The Transitional Housing program provides a bridge between services like the Lethbridge Shelter or Stabilization Centre to long-term housing programs that support clients towards greater stability.
“The history of homelessness and substance use for this group places them at risk for chronic health issues and premature age related disease. But it is incredible to see the improvements to someone’s physical and mental health when they are provided around the clock supports where staff can build rapport and trust on an individual level.”
– Kathy Christiansen, Executive Director Alpha House
Lethbridge’s supportive housing programs sit on a Housing Placement Committee. Groups like Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Lethbridge Police Services (LPS) are also in attendance. This allows each service to advocate for individuals they have interacted with to build a fuller picture of a client’s needs to ensure they are placed into the housing program that makes the most sense.
Oftentimes one of the biggest barriers for services in the homeless-serving sector is the resistance found in the community when the conversation of building supportive housing programs in their neighbourhoods starts. While we can understand that not everyone has the same level of comfort with those we serve, we also know the amount of work that goes into educating community members of the economic, community, and societal benefits of supportive housing programs is extensive.
“Alpha House is committed to responding to community issues, being transparent, and providing ongoing opportunities to connect about concerns but besides the business rounds and follow-ups we did when we first started at the hotel, no one even seems to know we’re operating here.”
– Taylor Holtorf, Team Lead, Transitional Housing, Alpha House
The ultimate question, of course, is whether community members would rather have an individual in a stable setting where their mental health and other basic needs are met OR have that same person unsupported, on the street, confused, with unmet mental health needs doing what they need to do to survive.
For anyone skeptical of the successes of supportive housing, there is no shortage of examples of how they positively impact, not just the individual who benefits from the supports but, public systems and communities as a whole.
Client K was frequently connected with Lethbridge Police Services when he stayed at the Lethbridge Shelter, often acting in such a way that necessitated police response, sometimes as often as once or twice a day. K has been at Alpha House’s Transitional Housing program for 3 weeks and police response has not been necessary even once.
Client B suffered terrible burns to his entire body after an accident in his encampment. While staying at the Lethbridge shelter he was unable to properly take care of his wounds but once admitted to the program, B was able to connect with Home Care and a team of nurses came multiple times per week to change the dressings on his burns. B was discharged from the program into a permanent-supportive housing program where he is continuing his journey towards reconnecting with his children and family.
The real challenge right now is achieving economies of scale. With small programs, which is almost exclusively what currently exists in Lethbridge, the cost per participant, while still less than the cost per individual at an Emergency Shelter, in a hospital bed, or jail cell, is higher than it needs to be.
With Alpha House’s Transitional Housing Program closing today due to a lack of funding, there is now one fewer option for individuals struggling with homelessness and in need of supports to move towards stability. Expansion of these programs or the building of new ones will be crucial to supporting better outcomes for social issues in the city.
Written by Shaundra Bruvall
Communications Manager, Alpha House Society