Adam Melnyk

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych. Photographed at Studio Bell, home of the national music centre.

Age: 36

Job title: Outreach and Housing Location Manager, Calgary Alpha House Society

Why he’s a 2016 Top 40:

Through his work with the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Team, Melnyk uses a harm-reduction approach to help those struggling with homelessness and addiction, reducing the strain on emergency services.

As a teenager in the 1990s, Adam Melnyk’s interest in rap music and hip-hop culture was pretty normal. But the self-described shy, timid teen took it a couple steps further than most casual fans. “When I get into something, I really get into it,” he says.

Part of what he got into – really into – was graffiti, an interest he maintains today. His youthful exploration of street art became the catalyst for his passion to help people. “Looking for graffiti and taking photos led me to places, different parts of the city where people were homeless and that kind of thing,” Melnyk says. “I didn’t know about poverty and homelessness, or about addiction.”

But he learned. Melnyk began volunteering at Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) while attending the University of Calgary, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications, with a minor in urban studies. Today, he puts the knowledge he’s gained over the past two decades to work at Calgary Alpha House Society, a non-profit agency that helps people with addictions.

“It’s all about relationships and getting to know people,” Melnyk says. “I enjoy listening to people and understanding them, getting to where we can work on their needs.”

Melnyk’s accomplishments include managing the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership, or DOAP Team, co-founded by CUPS and Alpha House in 2005. The program sees outreach workers taking to the streets to help people struggling with addiction and homelessness, interacting with hundreds of individuals each month.

The DOAP Team does whatever is necessary to keep people safe, and does it from a non-judgmental perspective. “The biggest thing I believe in is the harm-reduction approach,” Melnyk says. “Not everyone is going to stop using drugs or alcohol. That’s just not the reality.”

The approach works, however. The DOAP Team’s work pays off in significant cost savings for emergency services.

Meanwhile, Melnyk’s fascination with graffiti has continued. His book Visual Orgasm: The Early Years of Canadian Graffiti was published in 2011, and he remains an active promoter and curator of the art form.

And the shy kid is no more.

“Where I am as a person now is so different from where I was when I started volunteering,” he says. “I’ve gotten so much more confident. When I reflect on myself, I think it’s quite funny.” – Miles Durrie

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