October 6, 2018 4:17 pm
Updated: October 6, 2018 8:00 pm

‘No different than living out in the wild’: Calgary’s homeless population benefits from new winter survival kits

WATCH: Outreach workers with the Canadian Mental Health Association are hoping a new initiative will help people living on Calgary's streets better cope with winter months. Local companies are coming together to make winter survival kits that all Calgarians can help provide. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports.

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D.B. Thunderchild knows the pain and trauma of living on the streets in Calgary. He has spent years “sleeping rough,” relying only on sleeping bags to keep warm during Alberta winters.

“It can be pretty brutal,” Thunderchild said. “I’ve had my things taken again and again. A lot of times the homeless are picked on. It can be very grueling some days.”

“Imagine in the wintertime when you don’t have the ability to use your bicycle to pull around your 200-pound bicycle cart with food, blankets and supplies,” he added. “It’s no different than living out in the wild.”

Outreach workers with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) said it can be challenging for people living on the streets with mental health issues to get the help they need. Often, they are faced with the stigma around mental health and addictions.

“I think there’s a lot of fear,” said Kayla Johnson, team lead of community outreach services with CMHA in Calgary. “People don’t understand mental health and don’t understand what individuals are experiencing and what the symptoms are and how to support an individual.”

Now, a Calgary company called Stresscase is hoping to lend support by raising funds to make SOS Kits that will be delivered by outreach workers. They include handmade wool socks, soap, deodorant, lip balm and hand warmers. The products are all made by local companies.

A Calgary company called Stresscase is raising funds to make SOS Kits that will be delivered by outreach workers.

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“When you tell somebody that they matter, it does a little something for them inside,” said Stresscase co-founder Karen Pickles. “It makes them feel like they’re not alone and they’re not isolated.”

Stresscase hopes to fund the SOS Kits through the sale of their Winter Warmth boxes which can be purchased online as gifts. They are described as a sort of self care “spa in a box” that include soap, candles, face oil and a herbal steam treatment. The company said fifty SOS Kits will be donated up front and then one for every 10 Winter Warmth Kits sold after that.

Kayla Johnson (middle), with CMHA Calgary, and Karen Pickes, Stresscase co-founder, and D.B. Thunderchild inspect SOS Kits.

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Those receiving SOS Kits said it’s not just about the stuff in the box but also the idea that people care enough to assemble them.

“When you’re all by yourself, small items like this make a massive difference,” Thunderchild said.

He is now a volunteer working to help people with addictions.

“Getting people off drugs and alcohol is probably the first hurdle in allowing people to succeed and get back up on top. Every day I try to make sure I help someone out like that because that’s what it means to be a good human being,” Thunderchild said.

A Calgary company called Stresscase is raising funds to make SOS Kits that will be delivered by outreach workers.

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CMHA staff said the SOS Kits will provide comfort to people who are trying to regain control of their lives.

“I think the people on the streets of Calgary are going to be exceptionally happy,” Johnson said. “They tend to be a forgotten population. They are ignored and people don’t think of them. They’re used to getting secondhand gifts or donations, so for Stresscase to be able to make these kits specific to the population, I think it’s going to mean a lot to them.”

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