Robert has been HIV positive for 35 years and dependent on the Alberta social/healthcare system for 10-15 years. He was brought up in foster care from the age of eight, following many years of physical and mental abuse. Diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorder, Robert displayed aggressive and threatening behavior when unstable and non-compliant with his medication.
Having a long history of substance abuse including cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol led to his incarceration on a number of occasions for drug related and anti-social offences. Since leaving foster care at age 16, Robert resided in an innumerable assortment of housing projects, which were unsuitable, unsafe, or did not meet his individual psychosocial needs.
Although he continued to insist he was capable of managing independently in mainstream housing he was unable to demonstrate rudimentary skills in cooking, housekeeping, and managing his personal finances. Paradoxically, he has maintained successful and consistent employment in the fast-food industry for several years. He continued to have sporadic contact with his mother and sister (his only extended family), but their complex psychiatric and addiction issues tended to disturb and upset him for many weeks following their visits.
Despite having been referred to a number of specialist and daytime addictions counseling and life skills programs, he was refused based on his past anti-social behavior and criminal convictions. Consequently Robert was lonely, unstable, and unpredictable. Sadly, he refused to engage with his peers and community workers unless it was absolutely necessary.
Prior to his acceptance with SHARP Robert had been associated with the foundation for nearly two years, often joining them for special outings and to celebrate Christmas with the residents of Beswick House. In January 2009, Robert was accepted into the SHARP Foundations’ new independent living program on a trial basis. He joined three other male residents.
From the outset Robert struggled to interact with his fellow housemates and to resist the drugs and alcohol that were readily available in the local community. A vacancy at Beswick House allowed him to be transferred into an environment that could provide him with a higher level of individual care and support. Robert still maintains that he could easily manage independently, but he readily admits that Beswick has given him much needed structure, friendship, and security.
Currently, Robert is learning to be part of a small community, often helping with the cooking, household tasks, and offering assistance to the more disabled residents in the house. His mood is noticeably calmer and he is more confident and socially outgoing. It has been a long journey for Robert and though he will continue to run into obstacles with the patience, commitment, and support of the SHARP Foundation Robert will continue to move forward and experience a genuinely good quality of life.
Fiona was a 24-year-old Aboriginal woman who earned her living on the streets of Calgary, working in the sex trade to finance a significant crack and alcohol addiction. Her parents died of substance abuse related accidents before Fiona reached her teens; consequently, she was brought up by an assortment of relatives on the Eden Valley Reserve outside of High River.
Although she was never formally diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, as a child and young adult her noticeably delayed mental, physical development and poor impulse control suggested brain damage as a result of her mother’s persistent alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
At 15 Fiona abandoned her extended family, limited school education, the spiritual guidance of her native culture and moved to Calgary to live between several homeless shelters in the downtown core. Two years later she required extensive bowel surgery resulting in a permanent colostomy–an outcome she struggled to manage for the rest of her life. In the same year Fiona tested positive for HIV.
As her drug and alcohol abuse increased her mental, physical health, and well being declined significantly; she was regularly picked up by Emergency Medical Services unconscious from the side effects. The contents of her stoma were usually seeping because she had run out of bags, or the stoma was too swollen and infected for the bags to adhere properly. Fiona had served time in the Calgary Remand Centre for a number of drug related and failure to appear charges, along with ongoing warrants issued for her arrest.
In 2007 Fiona was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit after collapsing due to methanol and ethylene glycol poisoning, attributed to drinking large quantities of windscreen washer fluid. After surviving extensive renal dialysis she was left permanently blind at the age of 22. Fiona was discharged into the care of the downtown Homeless Shelter after several weeks of intense treatment, where her substance abuse issues continued to spiral out of control.
Several referrals were made to drug treatment and supported housing programs that would meet her complex health and social needs. Unfortunately the drug treatment programs refused to accept her application, identifying her blindness as something beyond the scope of medically based programs.
The mainstream residential housing programs refused to consider her application until she successfully completed a three-month drug treatment program with stipulations requiring her to remain clean and sober. The SHARP foundation was approached in desperation to assess Fiona for admission to their supported housing program. SHARP accepted Fiona.
Although Fiona continued to push boundaries and challenge the house rules on a regular basis the two years she spent with residents and staff at Beswick House were the happiest and most fulfilling time of her short life.
SHARP’s wholistic harm reduction approach acknowledged Fiona’s situation upon admission and supported her to prioritize her risky behavior, followed by small incremental steps toward healthy living. She was taught by the care staff to manage her stoma independently and to take care of her personal hygiene. The link to her family and aboriginal culture was reestablished and Fiona made several trips to Eden Valley to reunite with her relatives before she died.
Despite her disability Fiona’s favourite outing was a trip to the cinema followed by shopping–complete with a manicure and pedicure. The monthly AISH cheque and Christmas bonus allotted from her Band was no longer handed over to her male protector but saved in a new private bank account. Fiona’s newfound independence allowed her to pursue all the feminine pursuits she had been denied in the past. Her happiness at this new measure of dignity allowed her to bring joy to those around her. She was always the first in line for every resident outing and particularly enjoyed the Christmas festivities in the house.
Fiona’s death from liver failure in 2008 left an enormous void for the residents and staff who had come to love and respect this unique and very special young woman. Although it came late in Fiona’s life, Beswick House offered Fiona more than just a safe and therapeutic environment; it offered her a sense of normality, family, and belonging.
A sister, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend and confidant, strives to overcome life’s trials and tribulations with dignity and grace. Not realizing, she influences the lives of many and brings hope with her gentle smile on her kind and loving face.
There was a time not long ago when rarely and reluctantly “Sister” would leave the house. Socializing was out of the question and living with strangers was simply not an option. A growing sense of helplessness steadily increased, ongoing health concerns challenged her more each day. Then one September day, “Sister’s” inspiring gentleness nearly comes to pass, as suddenly as the diagnosis. Now all that she resisted was placed upon her path.
As “Sister” awoke in the ICU one of her first questions upon receiving the news was, “Sister, where am I going to live?” By the grace of God I gently replied, “My Sister there is a perfect place here in Calgary called, the Beswick House. There is a lovely lady, her name is Frances and she would like you to come and meet you, if and when you like.” As “Sister” absorbed the news she calmly looked at me and said, “Sister, I would like to meet this lady, Frances, from this Beswick House.”
It has since been one year and a remarkable transformation has occurred. Frances and all the staff nurtured “Sister” back to life while supporting her blessed determination to live. Where there was once resistance there is now, openness. Where there was once isolation there is now friendships. Where there was once a feeling of helplessness there is now, hope and faith.
Ultimately only “Sister” could make the choice of where she would live. It is by the grace of God that the quality of life she has achieved is due to the ongoing support of the SHARP Foundation and the Beswick House. “Sister’s” choice set a humble example of true inner strength. Perhaps “Sister’s” success may have come to fruition elsewhere, but it didn’t, it came to life at the Beswick House with the ongoing support from Frances, staff and volunteers.
Today I must acknowledge that the Beswick House and the SHARP Foundation did what I could not. You provided my Sister with a home to grow, and nurtured and supported a “Sister’s” family too. There is much more that could be shared, but please know, your presence in the community is vital both for short and long term care. All that which “Sister” endured, her ongoing success and good health can be maintained as she continues to be an active, positive and genuine member of the Beswick House and the SHARP Foundation community.
It is with tremendous gratefulness that I have my daughter with me today. It is hard to believe it has been one year since my daughter was almost taken from her family.
This past year I have seen my daughter grow stronger each day and be an inspiration of inner strength and perseverance. Her success has most certainly been achieved with the ongoing medical support and unconditional nurturing the Beswick House / SHARP Foundation has made possible due to the gracious donors, staff, volunteers and residents (past and present).
My daughter has always been a kind and gentle person, but very wary of strangers. To see her overcome isolation, meet new friends and be socially active in a safe and healthy environment is a prayer answered. I am very proud and happy for my daughter and continue to pray for her continuing support from the Beswick House /SHARP Foundation.
My sincere gratitude and praise to the SHARP Foundation donors without whom I may not have had this quality time with my precious daughter. For the Beswick House and all who are a part of this wonderful community I send my heartfelt thanks and prayers to each and every one of you.