Keys to Recovery: Unlocking the Potential

Karen Crowther is compassionate, dedicated, fiercely loyal and determined. She gives her whole heart and being to creating success for her organization, her staff, and the people they serve. And in return, her staff, the people they serve and the communities within which they live and work love her back.

Karen is the Executive Director of Keys to Recovery and as Broadcaster, Performer and last night’s Emcee Jonathan Love said at the Keys to Recovery (Keys) Unlocking the Potential fund-raiser C.C. and I attended, “There’s a lot of love in this room. I can feel it.”

It’s true.

There was Love. And… passion, commitment, a fierce conviction that we can make a difference. A deep understanding of what it takes to do that and a belief that everyone deserves a second, third, even fourth chance to change their lives. No one is hopeless.

Keys fills a unique niche in the homeless serving system of care in Calgary. They provide housing with supports to formerly homeless Calgarians who would otherwise be discharged from successful completion of rehab back to the streets.

It can be a vicious cycle.

Imagine. An individual knows what they are doing is not working for them. They want to get clean and sober and make the scary, yet liberating decision, to go to rehab. After treatment, they are sober, have the tools to continue their sobriety but, the one thing that is the same, is the lack of housing that contributed to their homelessness, and their addiction, in the first place.

Without Keys, they would be returning to an emergency shelter, or the street, with little support to maintain their sobriety and thus, change their lives.

Keys provides that support. They wrap a person in compassionate care, providing both housing and structure to support them in their efforts to retain sobriety and create a new life for themselves and their families.

Gabriel Chen, the keynote speaker last night shared a powerful and inspiring message of what is possible if we imagine a different way.

Gabriel knows. He is a lawyer whose client base is entirely made up of individuals experiencing homelessness.

In the first story Gabriel shared, “Mary” found herself homeless and, feeling defeated, gave into the lure of drugs to numb her from the dark reality of the life she was experiencing. Eventually, she knew she had to do something different, went to Rehab and got a place of her own and was working on her sobriety. But she was on her own, struggling every day to make ends meet and to retain her sobriety. One day, she got picked up on a misdemeanor and when the police ran her name through ‘the system’ it was determined she had some outstanding warrants from when she was using drugs and stole some food and got caught. She was sent to the Remand Centre and attempted to call Gabriel. Except, she was only allowed one call a day and the phone at the Remand does not allow the caller to leave messages. It was a week before she reached Gabriel when he happened to be at his desk. By then, she was terrified of losing her apartment and told Gabriel to plead guilty on her behalf.

She lost her apartment anyway, Gabriel shared and because he was brought into the cycle after she’d already represented herself at her bail hearing, he could not change the course of her journey. She ended up with a criminal record which, upon release, impeded her ability to get a job, an apartment, go back to school or to make any constructive changes in her life.

And the cycle continued.

Imagine instead, asked Gabriel, if Mary was supported throughout her journey. That upon exiting rehab and being immediately housed with supports, she chose to work with her Case Manager to clean up the outstanding warrants before they created more trouble in her life.

Imagine if Gabriel was able to stand before the Court to plead on Mary’s behalf, before the judicial process kicked into high gear with its judgements and criminalization of homelessness and addictions.

Imagine if he could have demonstrated to both the Judge and the Prosecutor that Mary was maintaining her sobriety, was going back to school and had support to change the course of her life.

Imagine that the judiciary were aware of Keys and respected and supported the work they were doing in the community to end homelessness.

Imagine if…

Keys to Recovery makes this possible, Gabriel said.

It’s true.


Keys to Recovery plays a vital role in Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness. Every Calgarian has a role to play — the board members of Keys who were all present last night, the volunteers who helped organize the event like my dear friend Wendy C., and the people who came out to support Keys in their inaugural fund-raiser like Diana Krecsy, President & CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, all made a difference.  You can too. Check out the Plan and see where you fit. (Action Step No. 14 is a great one for every Calgarian) Let’s take action! Together. We can end homelessness in Calgary.




Wow! What a miracle!

keys logoIt is 6:58am. I am sitting at my desk, still in my pjs, putting the finishing touches to my blog, getting it ready to publish.

The phone rings. I check caller ID. My youngest daughter’s name appears on the tiny LED screen. Why is she calling me so early?

“Aren’t you coming to the Keys to Recovery Breakfast?” she asks before I even say hello. Befor I even have a chance to ask, “What’s wrong?” (Why else would she call before 7am?)

I almost drop the phone. On no! I have completely forgotten to watch the time. I am due to be speaking at the Keys breakfast at 7:30.

“I’ll be there in 20!” I yell into the phone. I don’t press Publish. I don’t shut my computer down.

I am stripping off my pajamas as I race into the bedroom where Marley the Great Cat is still sleeping on C.C.’s chest. C.C. opens one eye as I fling drawers open, the closet doors and start rifling through its contents looking for something to wear.

“I need your help, please,” I say, pulling on a pair of pants. And I explain what’s happening. I don’t want to have to find a parking spot downtown during rush hour. Is he willing to drive me?

He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t miss a beat. “Of course,” he replies.

It’s a bit of a miracle! Twenty-two minutes after the phone rang, I am walking into the Petroleum Club ready to take on the day.

GRACE- It could have gone two ways. My lateness could have left me feeling anxious, stupid, angry. Or, it could have left me feeling calm, prepared, open.

It was my choice how I chose to respond to the circumstances.

I chose Grace.

I chose to breathe into the anxiety that was mounting as 7:30 approached and C.C. was navigating rush hour traffic.

I chose to remind myself my speech was prepared as I greeted the wonderful Karen Crowther, Executive Director of Keys to Recovery and told her the funny story of my morning’s lapse in time keeping.

I chose to accept myself, exactly where I was at.

It wasn’t about my forgetfulness earlier in the morning. It was all about my being there on time, ready to give my best to inspire the 40 or so guests invited to this special Keys breakfast. That was why Karen had asked me to speak. To inspire the special guests in attendance to get engaged,  interested and involved in supporting the important work Keys does in our community.

To have allowed myself to let anxiety, self-recriminations, or anger interfere with my purpose would have been to make it all about me. It would have been to expect perfection from my human condition, and given that I’d already messed up my timing, that was obviously not on the agenda!

I am grateful. My youngest daughter sits on the board of Keys and, like everyone there, was highly invested in making the event a success. She had the wisdom, and the grace, to give me a call.

C.C., recognizing my flight of panic, stepped in to also ensure I was able to turn up, without anxiety eroding my confidence.

I am blessed. I have a network of people around me, supporting me, cheering me on and shining their light so that I can shine mine.

It isn’t that way for those living in homelessness. Their light is darkened by the realities of living with no fixed address. It is dimmed by the weight of struggling each day just to stay alive. It is shadowed by the addictions, mental health crises and other factors that continually inhibit their ability to take a step away from that place where all they have to carry through the day is the label that they never imagined would be their’s – ‘homeless’.

That’s why Keys to Recovery, and all the other agencies who work together to end homelessness in someone’s life every single day, are so important to our community. It takes a community working together to build a way out of homelessness.

It takes people working together to create a community where no matter their circumstances, those who have fallen on the road of life, have a way to get back home.

And that’s why it’s so important we stand together with Karen Crowther and her amazing team and all the other incredible people who give so much to ensuring those who have not, have someone to stand beside them as they make the journey from the darkness of homelessness into the light of having a home where they belong.

It took a community of caring people to get me to my destination on time yesterday.

It takes a community to end homelessness.

Thank you Karen and all your team. In just one year, 129 people housed. 129 people moving out of homelessness, beyond their addictions into lives that they can once again be proud of.

And thank you Deb for sharing your story, for inspiring all of us to remember that ending homelessness isn’t just about ‘the numbers’. It’s all about the people. It’s all about ensuring that no matter where someone falls, they know there are people walking with them as they find their way back home to that place where they can wake up every morning, look into the mirror with clear eyes and say, Wow! What a miracle!