With the number of homeless individuals in Lethbridge rising, Streets Alive believes addiction and mental health to be the cause of the problem.

Streets Alive is a local organization with a mission to provide physical, emotional, social, and spiritual support to the poor, empowering them to change their life. 

“Mental health and addiction play a key role in what you see. Oftentimes when people talk about homelessness, they look at trying to solve homelessness, but the actuality is homelessness is a symptom of the cause. The cause would be a mental health and addiction,” said Cameron Kissick, Chief Operations  Officer of Streets Alive Thursday.

Streets Alive has been operating in Lethbridge since 1989. It was started by three women who held a passion for helping the homeless they saw in the parks. Kissick noted the solution he believes would effectively make a difference for the homeless.

“I think we need to aggressively target mental health and addiction in order to really take any forward movement in dealing with the homelessness issue.”

Kissick described the evident decline of mental health increasing with homeless individuals; the increasing damage addiction has done to individuals’ lifestyle with overdosing on opioids at an all-time high, and the lack of proper and needed resources not being provided.

 Kissick said he empathizes with the frustration felt by the community, and he reminds residents that homeless individuals are still people in need of support.

“I can understand a lot of frustration people have if you’re a business owner downtown, and every morning you’ve got debris or people or whatever damage to your property, the frustration kind of builds, where it’s hard to have a fair understanding of what it is. But at the end of the day, there are people attached to the other end. So we need to try to help work with those people and try to get to the point where we can have the best possible outcome for everybody involved.”

According to Made In Canada, Homelessness Statistics In Canada, written by Nicole Blair, updated on June 1, the numbers of homeless individuals within Canada range from 150,000 to 300,000 and is continuing to rise.

Kissick noted the opioid death rate is up with the increase in homelessness and a lot of younger people are experiencing homelessness. 

“We know that the opioid-related deaths are up. Yet our numbers for particular individuals accessing our services is also up. And we are seeing a significant amount of new faces that we hadn’t seen in the past. . . You go outside and look . . .and yeah, you’ll see some older, but you’ll see young, young people, like, under 25 under for sure. There’s a lot of kids.”

A local homeless woman, who wants to be only referred to her first name, Sarah, said one of the hardest parts of being homeless is the daily treatment from other citizens.

“It’s not just ignore and not giving any dignity; they will go the extra mile to make people feel like crap about themselves. When these people are literally the most kindest, most talented, wonderful human beings in the world that I have ever met in my life . . .There’s some that, for some reason, have some sort of inner vengeance against us and need to have the need to just take out all their aggression on us,” shared Sarah.

Sarah shared an experience she had with a friend going into a local mall shopping; there were so many hurtful stares they experienced, causing her friend, who is also homeless, to break down into tears. She urges the community to remember homeless people are humans, too, who need love.

“There’s real humans out there, there’s so many children, you know, and a lot of these children don’t have their parents anymore, unfortunately, and weren’t able to be raised as fortunate as some other people. It’s kind of become a thing.”

Sarah also talked about some of the vulgar and racist comments random people will shout out to the homeless in passing. She noted the gratitude homeless individuals feel towards Streets Alive and the appreciation they feel being not judged by the workers there.

“And that’s why Streets Alive, it’s honestly such a godsend because you feel like a normal human being again.”

Streets Alive welcomes anyone interested in volunteering, and if you are interested in donating to Streets Alive, please visit their website at https://streetsalive.ca/donations-3/.

Sarah said she has witnessed change within the homeless community when people receive the resources needed.

“There is, honestly, a huge, huge, huge change in people when they didn’t have to struggle to get unsick and get fed and clothed and do what they have to do to get their daily things.”

When asked what would help the homeless community to progress in their lives, Sarah said “less stress and more freedom and more things for them to utilize their skills and to grow.”

Sarah said most of the homeless struggle with mental illness including PTSD. She also said there is a need for the community not to judge and to give a chance and understanding to those experiencing homelessness.

“I think they need to realize that giving somebody a chance is what the main thing I think is. Just talk to them, have a conversation with them, just try. It doesn’t take. It won’t hurt you none.”

By Steffanie Costigan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 10, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta

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