'I'm fed up': Seniors living near Calgary detox shelter complain of harassment from its clients

Some say patrons of the nearby detox and shelter facility often accost or harass them. The seniors want city council to get involved so a solution can be found that keeps people safe and still allows people to get addictions treatment.

Incidents around Alpha House causing concern for residents of Alex Walker Tower

A Calgary police officer helps an intoxicated man make his way to Alpha House in downtown Calgary in 2017. (Bryan Labby/CBC News )

Seniors living in Alex Walker Tower love to take strolls and sit on the benches outside their apartment building. 

But there's a tinge of fear when they venture outside — especially after the sun sets. 

Some residents say patrons of Alpha House, a nearby detox and shelter facility, often accost or harass them. 

One was hit in the face so hard his glasses broke. Two residents said their cars have been broken into repeatedly. Another looked out his window and saw an intoxicated man beating his head against the fence in the parking lot. Some older women said they don't feel safe walking the one block to pick up their medication. 

The seniors at this facility say they want city council involved to help reach a solution that keeps people safe and still allows people to get addictions treatment. A group of 20 huddled in the social room of the apartment building on Tuesday, waiting for a meeting with Coun. Jeromy Farkas.

Stanley Muir has been attacked twice. 

"I'm fed up and I want the city to do something about it," he said, adding he's offered to walk his neighbours to the store because they're "afraid to go out at night."

Not all the incidents can be attributed to Alpha House clients with certainty, but the seniors said they've seen many of the individuals enter the facility.

"We have a process for addressing community concerns and take them very seriously," Kathy Christiansen, the executive director of Alpha House, said in a statement.  

She added their log books show no trace of complaints to the facility from Alex Walker Tower and the property managers there assured her "the individual concerns are not representative of the larger community living at this property."

The DOAP Team has city funding to help people get to places like Alpha House. (Alpha House Society )

The seniors said sometimes they don't report incidents because they're unsure of who to call or think they're being a nuisance for law enforcement.

Muir said he took his concerns to Alpha House several months ago. 

"They gave me their rhetoric in terms of their PR position, but nothing else in any of the things that I addressed in terms of security," he said. Alpha House said the executives of the housing company and the shelter are in regular contact. 

Getting the city involved

"Oh, there he is," one woman exclaimed as their guest from city council arrived. The group clamoured to tell him their stories.  While he couldn't promise change in the short term, Farkas had one piece of advice for them.

"Make sure that you report everything. If you see something suspicious please let the police know because every single piece of information that's provided can help," he said.

"Safety and crime prevention are a community conversation. We'll have to work together, it's not just any one level of government or any one condo building or any one business. We all have to come to the table," Farkas said. 

He added the bulk of calls to his office are about mental health or addiction related topics in his ward, especially since the economic downturn. 

As part of the Calgary Police Commission, Farkas said he's become more aware of how drug trafficking, violence and addiction issues are all fuelled by high unemployment rates. 

It's coupled with potential cuts to the city's policing as the dearth of provincial funding to municipalities trickles down to street level.  

The seniors want to see more officers patrolling the neighbourhood on foot but it's unlikely to happen. 

A hit to policing

The police service lost $13 million in funding from the province and has lost $12.5 million from the city since 2017.

Farkas says the path forward will include some tough conversations about the city budget but also at the provincial level.

"When you take a look at police officers as social workers, it's a very expensive model. We can't police our way out of this situation," he said.

"We need to be more proactive and it means that no one level of government can put their hands up and say 'It's not my jurisdiction,' because at this point it's everybody's jurisdiction."

A man lies in the shade of the Alpha House headquarters in the summer of 2017. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

Alpha House is funded by a mixture of organizations and levels of government. 

The councillor didn't commit to any results, but pledged to follow up with the seniors at another meeting that would include Alpha House, the city and the province. 

Until things change, Muir says he'll continue offering his help to the more timid seniors in his building. But being a security guard for his neighbours takes its toll. 

"[Safety] shouldn't be something that you privately have to contract out," he said, shaking his head.


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