Calgary’s Downtown Outreach Addictions Program, otherwise known as the DOAP team, is hoping a holiday concert will help the program through what officials are calling a funding crisis.
The program is facing a budget shortfall of $20,000 per month after the Calgary Homeless Foundation — the DOAP team’s primary funding partner — took an eight per cent cut in provincial funding earlier this year. The DOAP operates out of the Alpha House, which also receives funding from the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
“We have had to eliminate one position that wasn’t doing the front-line work, and we’re actively fundraising every day to keep the van on the road at least until the end of March,” Alpha House executive director Kathy Christiansen said.
The DOAP team has been running in Calgary since 2005 and helps Calgarians dealing with drug and alcohol addiction in the downtown core, the Beltline, and outlying neighbourhoods. Staff and volunteers help people get access to shelter, detox and medical services, as well as programs and resources that are made available to Calgary’s homeless population.
In 2018, the team finished the year with 20,759 transports to the Alpha House. Officials with the team are now concerned that any reduction of service due to further cuts expected in April will result in additional pressure on emergency services.
“The impact will not only be for people who are vulnerable but it will certainly affect the operations of the emergency departments — Calgary police, EMS — it will put additional strain on those particular services,” Christiansen said.
The Alpha House has reached out to multiple levels of government to try and secure sustainable funding but said no meetings have been set up so far.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi addressed the funding concerns on Monday and said the DOAP team falls under provincial funding responsibility.
“It’s an incredibly vital service. It’s critical, particularly for people who live in the Beltline and other neighbourhoods — this is a service that you absolutely must have,” Nenshi said. “But it’s also a service that’s a provincial responsibility and the City of Calgary vastly over-contributes financially to this.”
In an emailed statement on Wednesday, the department of Community and Social Services said it “supports those who are impacted by homelessness in several ways, including by funding community organizations such as the Calgary Homeless Foundation.”
“These organizations make their own decisions about what programs they select to fund depending on community needs and available funding, including the DOAP program.”
Help from a famous volunteer
In an effort to help relieve financial pressure, one of the DOAP team’s more famous volunteers decided to help raise money during the upcoming holiday season.
Actor and musician Tom Jackson, widely known for his roles on North of 60, Star Trek and Law and Order, volunteers with the DOAP team once a week. He began volunteering a year ago and accompanies the street team handing out lunches and offering transports back to the Alpha House.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Well, why do you do this?'” Jackson said. “Because those are my people. I love them.”
Jackson drives one of the DOAP team vans to different locations through the downtown core and one particular alleyway staff refer to as “the gauntlet” — a paved stretch that runs from the east to the west end of the downtown core. Jackson himself has experienced life on the streets and drug addiction.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jackson and his DOAP team partner Jacky Mccutcheon spent 15 minutes meeting with Calgary’s less fortunate in Olympic Plaza.
Jackson said nearly every person he runs into recognizes his work, something he sees as a benefit in the work the DOAP team is trying to do.
“It’s a bonus,” he said. “Wearing this cape called the DOAP team jacket, people really react and feel comfortable and feel safe.”
Later this year, Jackson is putting on his annual Huron Carole concert series, and dedicating the proceeds to the DOAP team.
“You’re going to come and you’re going to listen and you’re going to understand what Christmas is supposed to be about,” Jackson said. “At the same time, you’re going to save lives, whether you like it or not. If you come to this show, you’re going to save lives.”
The third annual Huron Carole is being held at the Bella Theatre at Mount Royal University on Dec. 3.
Tickets are $55 for reserved seating, and $100 for an added meet and greet with Jackson following the show.
“If we fill this hall, could you imagine how many miracles come out of that space?” Jackson said.