Thirty years later, and Streets Alive Mission in Lethbridge is more committed than ever to offering hope to the city’s most vulnerable population.
The organization celebrated its anniversary with a flag-raising ceremony at city hall on Monday.
“I love what I’m doing, I feel called to do what I’m doing, it gets me out of bed every morning, and I still go to bed with dreams about how to be better and do better,” said Julie Kissick, the co-founder of Streets Alive Mission.
Julie Kissick and her partner Ken Kissick founded the organization and says they’ve come a long way since its inception.
“When we opened, there was no drop-in, there was no shelter and we saw all these people who were pretty much living in the parks, sleeping on the benches and trying to stay warm,” she said.
Kissick added that with the rise of the opioid crisis and the issue of ongoing homelessness, the need for their services has only grown.
She went on to say that over the past decade, “the streets have changed dramatically.” She said her organization has seen a noticeable increase in methamphetamine and intravenous drug use.
Kissick feels the reality of living on the streets has gotten significantly tougher, partly due to an increase in addiction, and also other issues in relation to people trying to deal with their illness.
“The biggest thing we bring is hope, and we’re finding there is so much hopelessness on our streets with people who have become impoverished because of drugs or whatever it may be, we just need to offer more hope,” she stated.
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Streets Alive offers various resources, such as shelter, food, clothing and counselling.
As the years have gone by, the mission has been able to build strong relationships with community partners, such as first responders and city council, but that wasn’t always the case.
“At first, I think the relationship was tenuous, we were sort of a new animal on the street and actually, when we opened up, it brought a highlight to homelessness and of course it makes us all very uncomfortable with the addicted and homeless being highly visible. So, at first, we had some challenges,” Kissick said.
“I can’t say enough good things about the police, about EMS, because whenever we have called, they’ve always come immediately and I’ve watched how they’ve treated people — they’ve treated them with a great deal of respect,” she said.
Kissick also said the organization appreciates the support they’ve received from city council.
“We’ve found they believe in what we do, and we believe in them and the big thing is we all want to work together to make our city become better,” she said.
Sometimes the mission develops a familial bond with clients. For example, when some residents do sadly pass away, they may help organize their funeral services and help settle their finances.
Some of the strongest connections they’ve made are with the people they serve.
Allan Smith, a resident and co-ordinator for P.I.N. (People in Need) at the shelter, is recovering from an addiction to alcohol and says working for the mission continues to help him with his own healing process.
“Having the opportunity to volunteer and then be hired by Streets Alive to work part-time, it gives a person that’s got an addiction a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose,” he said.
“With that, you become preoccupied with working and that takes your mind off of a lot of things that were in the past, and we’re not supposed to live in the past, but step forward day by day,” he went on to say.
Smith highly recommends the centre to anyone who is currently struggling with their own addiction, homelessness or whatever issue may be keeping them on the streets.
Smith added that the centre can serve has a great resource for people who have recently come out of treatment and are looking for assistance in carrying on with their sobriety.
The mission said it will continue to focus on recovery with faith in Christianity forming the foundation of its hard work.