‘I broke the cycle’: Recovery homes in Alberta making a difference

For Edie Severight, the Red Woman House was a major turning point in her healing journey.

When the home opened its doors in July 2020, it was the first house dedicated to Indigenous women recovering from addictions in Calgary.

“It was like a fresh start,” Severight said while sitting at the kitchen table of Red Woman House.

She hadn’t visited the home since she left six months ago.

“Just being able to connect with other Indigenous women, all with the same mindset. We’re all fighting for our lives. I know I certainly was.”

Now there are five of the homes, part of the Oxford House Foundation across Alberta for Indigenous women and men.

Executive director of Oxford House, Earl Thiessen is from Loon Lake Saskatchewan. He attended Oxford House before opening homes dedicated to Indigenous people.

“Seeing the lives of people transform. I’ve been witnessing it for 12 years. I’ve been witnessing it in myself,” he told APTN.

“I broke the cycle in my family in addiction and all types of traumas.”

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Red woman house first recovery centre for Indigenous women opens in Calgary 

Severight is another success story.

The Sixties Scoop survivor moved in to the homes with the intent of staying for one month. Six months later, she was ready to move out on her own.

Severight has now been hired as a board member for Oxford House.

“My addiction brought me to a very dark hole, very lonely dark hole. It just seems so far away. I’m so grateful for this house,” she said.  “I know I would not be here if I didn’t have this opportunity. Having the connection with elders, being able to attend ceremony that Oxford would give us the opportunity to go to.”

What sets Red Woman House apart from other temporary shelters is there’s no time limit as to how long a resident can stay. With only five residents at a time, there’s a sense of family and residents can make the space their own and the house is located far away from trigger areas like downtown Calgary.

Oxford House only asks to follow a curfew, attend weekly house meetings, and stay sober.

Healing should be a top topic in federal election

Theissen, who has struggled with addictions in the past, said Indigenous healing should be a main topic when it comes to the federal election.

“I don’t believe a person can fully heal without the proper supports in place,” said Theissen. “Coming down to housing, coming down to funding for cultural supports; focusing on recovery and Indigenous healing for me is priority.”

Recovery homes from Oxford House are the only kind in the country. While provincial funding has helped in Alberta, Thiessen said the foundation needs the help of Ottawa to make them accessible nationally.

“It’s time to be accountable for what you’re promising and to follow through with those promises. Our people need a lot of healing especially with the residential schools and children being found, it’s crushing people. We were suffocating before, now it’s amplified. We to step up and pay attention to how we’re helping people heal.”

Severight said housing is necessary to heal from intergenerational trauma.

“It’s absolutely crucial to have a place here you can plant yourself and feel safe. There’s not enough. I think there’s a lot of hurting people out there who need these houses.”

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