Shelter & support
Alpha House a real home for women in need of safety, stability
Story written by Aaron Epp Featured in the Winnipeg Free Press December 26th, 2020
JENNIFER remembers taking her two children and leaving her abusive husband in the middle of the night, with only the clothes on their backs and a couple of blankets.
Jennifer (a pseudonym), who was living in rural Manitoba at the time, escaped to a shelter in Winkler.
“I didn’t have any money and I had to leave my job — he was working in the same place I was working,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do, and there in that shelter they told me about Alpha House.”
Located in Winnipeg, Alpha House provides counselling, support and safe, affordable housing to women who have left abusive relationships, and their children. The program typically lasts one year, though clients have the option of staying longer if necessary.
“When I arrived at Alpha House, and they opened their arms and received us and talked to me, I knew I was in a safe place,” Jennifer says.
Alpha House was formed in 1989 by a group of women who were concerned with the lack of support and long-term housing for women who were committed to leaving an abusive relationship. The group founded Alpha House to fulfill this need.
The non-profit formally opened its doors to the first family in 1994.
Alpha House is dedicated to providing a safe environment where clients are celebrated for their bravery, says Cherie Hennessey, the organization’s executive director.
“It takes tremendous courage to come to Alpha House and it is very rewarding and humbling to be part of their healing journey,” she says. “Each and every one of our clients deserves recognition for their accomplishments, big or small.”
Each client has their own fullyfurnished apartment. Upon moving in, they are greeted with a welcome package that includes bedding, towels, toiletries, food, toys for the children and a small gift for the mother.
Through a full-time program of counselling, workshops, family activities and support sessions, clients learn healthy coping strategies, rebuild their self-worth and develop practical skills.
Alpha House’s counsellors work diligently to provide the clients with the best services possible to help them achieve their desired goals.
“The families we work with come with complex needs,” Hennessey says. “We provide families with individualized treatment plans to help them to succeed and to be able to thrive when they move back into the community.”
Staff members do whatever they can to ensure that clients feel safe. That includes helping them navigate the legal system and potential custody proceedings.
In addition to the practical support and counselling, clients have the opportunity to take part in weekly yoga classes, monthly massages, nutrition, cooking and budgeting workshops, and many self-care activities throughout their stay.
There are seven families in the program at any one time, and they celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and participate in fun activities together like outings to the beach.
“We’re not as big as some other programs, so the families all get to know each other very well,” Hennessey says. “There’s a real sense of community.”
That sense of community has been impacted by COVID-19, as Alpha House staff have had to adjust programming and social activities to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
“The staff have done an amazing job… ensuring that we continue to provide the families with the necessary supports and counselling services they need,” Hennessey says. “The pandemic has created additional anxiety and stress on our families, and having the continuity in their support from Alpha House has been vital to their progress and stability.”
Judy Morfitt, an Alpha House board member since May 2018, says that often people who are in abusive relationships stay because they are manipulated into believing the abuse is their fault.
Morfitt, a semi-retired marketing and communications consultant, was in an abusive relationship for 13 years.
“People think that if the house was cleaner, if the children were quieter, if I was thinner, if I worked harder” the abuse wouldn’t happen, Morfitt says. “Untangling all of that after the person gets the courage to leave the relationship takes a long time, and that’s what our program starts to do.”
Alpha House has helped 271 families since opening its doors. Seeing clients move on is meaningful for Morfitt.
“When you see them graduate from the program, and stand up on their own two feet and face the world confidently again, that’s what I enjoy seeing,” she says.
Hennessey agrees. Seeing clients come to believe in themselves, build self-reliance, achieve their goals and create stronger relationships with their children are highlights of her work.
“There are days when it can be discouraging, but those success stories — those moments when a former client reaches out and shares how well they’re doing — that’s what keeps me going,” Hennessey says.
Jennifer is one of those success stories. Since leaving Alpha House, she’s graduated from college and re-joined the workforce. She describes herself as free and happy.
“I’m thankful for Alpha House and I’m thankful for the people there,” she says. “If I didn’t go to Alpha House, I don’t know if I would be alive today.”
Half of Alpha House’s annual funding comes from donations.
Anyone wishing to donate can do so online at alphahouseproject.ca/donate or by sending a cheque to Alpha House Project, P.O. Box 37015, RPO St. Vital Centre, Winnipeg, MB, R2M 5R3.