Pages spent years in Calgary’s homeless shelters. A chance meeting with someone who worked with one of the agencies that helps people in the inner city get back on their feet led to another person at another agency who gave him a hand up. Soon, he was volunteering to help others, part of the intricate, sometimes haphazard chain of compassion that hoists lives upward.
“These people changed my life,” Pages says. “They saw something in me at the time. It eventually got me into affordable housing, which is so important. If wasn’t for affordable housing, I would still be homeless or even dead. Who knows?”
The affordable housing process in Calgary aims to provide access to safe and stable housing while creating inclusive communities. Nowadays, Pages uses his apartment in Bankview as a home base to do extensive volunteer work with the homeless community; he was named the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s Volunteer of the Year in 2017.
The City of Calgary is working in collaboration with its wholly owned subsidiary, Calgary Housing Company, along with non-profit agencies, federal and provincial governments, and private-sector developers, to address the housing issue. But, with one in five Calgary households struggling to pay for housing costs (according to the City’s Office of Land Servicing and Housing), the need for affordable housing is growing.
After 15 years of working with vulnerable populations, Milaney sees barriers to progress for the homeless that are invisible to many. “Homelessness is a complex issue. Many are in this situation because of forces that were out of their control,” she says. “There’s the idea that, if you’re struggling, you’re not trying hard enough. But people can carry challenges such as childhood trauma into adulthood, and it’s not something you can see.”
Dr. Kerri Treherne, MD, medical lead at the Alex Community Health Centre, who did her residency at UCalgary, has attended to hundreds of people considered to be part of vulnerable populations, including teenagers in crisis, some of whom have dealt with early childhood trauma. She’s a tireless advocate for building strong communities, which she believes leads to better health. The Alex provides a wide range of health services to vulnerable populations.
“Kerri really helped me when I was a teenager,” says Carla, who asked to use an alias for this story. “I was going in and out of homelessness and in the throes of alcohol addiction. Kerri and the Alex connected me to counselling and other resources that really helped me get on track.”
Carla, who is now in her early 30s, works at a social agency in the city, using her experience to help others who face misfortune. She’d gone to the Alex for help because her mother, who was bipolar, was a client there.
“The Alex is a very forward-thinking organization, and the people there make it a very accepting place, which is so important. They do not judge,” Carla says. “I came to realize later that early childhood trauma may have been a part of the reason I responded to life the way I did.”
Dr. Keith Dobson, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology who leads UCalgary’s Research Depression Laboratory, is working on research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that has included data from the Primary Care Networks in Calgary. An open trial of an intervention program for adults with high ACE traits has shown improvements in terms of anxiety and depression outcomes, he says.
A Syrian refugee, a once-homeless person now living in affordable housing, and a teenager who was helped by a frontline physician — UCalgary programs, initiatives and people have influenced each of them, and they, in turn, are giving back to the community.
Research may start in a campus office high on a hill, but the gains built with collaboration and compassion in the city are rooted in the grit of its citizens.