City woman turns family tragedy into a win for the homeless

Last month, extreme cold warnings settled for a week-long visit in Calgary, leaving many people desperate.

Temperatures dipped as low as -32 C with a wind chill value of -43, which is enough to cause hypothermia within five to 10 minutes when exposed.

The homeless population suffers the most during these times and Tressa Lusty, a certified yoga instructor in Calgary, has personally felt the impact after losing family to hypothermia.

Dale Bear Chief, Lusty’s uncle, was found frozen to death in an abandoned van on the Siksika Nation reserve in December, 2016.

“It was really hard and I know my auntie was completely crushed because he was just a phone call away,” said Lusty.

Coats for those in need: Tressa Lusty posed before recent donations she has received to hand out to the homeless.

After being denied a phone call from a local store in the community, Bear Chief, who was homeless and struggling with addiction, found shelter for the night in an abandoned vehicle.

His body was discovered the following morning and the family mourned what they felt was a senseless loss.

“I’m the first generation that didn’t attend a residential school. All my aunts and uncle and grandparents did,” Lusty said.

“He was battling his own addictions and issues in life and my auntie would take care of him when he would come around.”

To Lusty her uncle was a wonderful person despite his struggles.

Inspiration to help the homeless by her family loss, Lusty started a non-profit organization called Sweat4ACause to help warm and clothe those in need.

What started as boot camp classes turned to yoga sessions where every December, Lusty would accept winter clothes or cash donations that she distributed to the Calgary homeless population directly.

“If you go down and hang out at the drop-in and hand out stuff you’ll see how many different nationalities, walks of life and age groups there are,” Lusty said.

“There are even pregnant women that are living on the streets, and it’s so heart-breaking.”

Calgary currently has the largest homeless population in Alberta, despite the fact it has declined 19 per cent since a count was conducted in 2016 by the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Despite her work for the homeless, Lusty rejects the notion that that makes her special.

“I’m no more amazing than the next person,” said Lusty.

“If people can just open their eyes and rid themselves of judgments they would be doing the same thing.

“Imagine how different this world would be.”

Grace Smith, who is currently enrolled at Bow Valley College to become a licensed practical nurse, said the Calgary Drop-In Centre was very busy on Jan. 17, the week of the deep freeze.

“There were 80 individuals who chose to sleep outside in the weather,” said Smith.

“They slept outside as couples because they are separated at night in the drop-in centres.”

A hallway meeting: Two pedestrians interact for a brief moment in downtown Calgary.

Nursing students get hands-on experience and while many homeless people are fully capable individuals trying to transition into a new phase of life, some have disabilities that make it harder to do so.

“A lot of homeless suffer from mental issues, which is why they don’t have homes because it’s hard to manage a job,” said Smith.

On Jan. 13, a PSA was released by the Calgary Drop-In Centre revealing a desperate need for winter clothing.