Homeless shelter to provide road to recovery, SACPA hears

The Chancellor of the University of Lethbridge and member of the Blood Tribe’s department of health, believes the Lethbridge shelter, the Alpha House, may soon be able to offer more than just beds for the city’s homeless population.

During a session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs, Charles Weaselhead said he hopes to transform the shelter to become a road to recovery.

“Since Jan. 2 the Blood Tribe has taken over the operations, and I think it warrants a bit of information so that we are all on the same page,” said Weaselhead.

“What we are doing right now is going through incremental steps, to draw out some of the key strengths that we have as a unit. Right now the main focus is transitioning from a general shelter operation, to a more wellness type of operation with multiple units of wraparound services.”

Weaselhead pointed out that of the 220 to 250 homeless people in the city, about 70 per cent of them are Indigenous, and that concerns him.

“In my line of work that saddens me. That is such a burden for our Indigenous population, because not only are they over represented in the shelters, but they are over represented in the court system. They are over represented in unemployment, child welfare, and the list goes on.”

Looking to curb those numbers, the department of health will be looking at more ways to offer solutions to its cliental.

“Shelters, it is almost like a revolving door. They come in, they sleep, they go back out, they come back in, sleep, they go back out. Nothing really happens.

“The department of health, with our resources and mandate to care for our people, we are going to utilize the wraparound services that we have from our community, and hopefully from the city of Lethbridge. If we don’t take care of business, the opioid crisis to homelessness is going to overtake our young people, communities, and our cities.”

Exploring programs like detox, post-treatment, and community integration, the department of health will work with its clients to get them the help they need to get off the streets.

“We are also going to be working with wraparound services, providing mental health workers, case managers. “We have job skill programs, and life skill programs within our tribe. We will continue to provide resources and programming that will help them get back on their feet.”

With two-months under its belt running the shelter, Weaselhead noted the difference they are seeing already and how they hope to build on what the shelter can do.

“What we are trying to introduce is a human aspect to the shelter operation, and to homeless people. We have asked everybody to be patient with us. We have a one-year agreement, if things work out we will be able to go back to the province and rewrite the agreement for an additional year or so forth.”

Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald