By Lévi Soulodre
Saskatoon, SK — Homeless activist Mark Horvath’s recent visit to Saskatoon has shone a spotlight on the growing issue in our city, a condition which now affects a wider range of people.
And community organizations have their hands full helping individuals get off the street.
“[Homelessness] is happening to the working poor,” states DeeAnn Mercier from The Lighthouse Supported Living, a community organization for people who require living assistance, located at the site of the former Capri Hotel.
“Many people just can’t afford the high rental prices here in Saskatoon,” she explains, “so they’ll come here looking for a place to stay.”
“Generally the shelter is full, but not so much in summer,” she says, noting that on average about 15 percent of a city’s population lives below the poverty line and/or is homeless. “People are more willing to sleep outdoors, or stay at a friend’s.”
“The criteria to live here is that you want to, and you want to make changes in your life,” Mercier continues, adding that many face difficult issues, such as mental illnesses or hoarding tendencies.
Reuben Blum, a Lighthouse resident who’s been living in an apartment space for three years and volunteers in the kitchen, knows exactly how one can go from employed to homeless: welding out of high school in Edmonton he experienced his own downward spiral with alcohol, which eventually found him on Saskatoon’s streets.
“I was bouncing from place to place, moved about 12 times and had about 13 different jobs … I couldn’t keep a job partially because I wasn’t in good living conditions,” Blum elaborates. While Blum stayed at the Salvation Army in the past, a chance opening found him a home at the Lighthouse.
“The day they told me [I couldn’t stay at the Salvation Army anymore] I got accepted here, and I was really happy because otherwise I was going to be homeless.”
“Part of it too is having drinking or drug problems,” he continues.
“That’s what helped me screw up… That’s why some people live on the street; there’s nobody to tell them they can’t drink or do drugs… it’s a bad cycle.”
Blum no longer drinks, saying that it makes him sick to his stomach.
“Having an actual place to call home helps,” he explains. “Then I feel better, and don’t want to mess it up… being homeless feels crappy.”
Mercier is hopeful the Lighthouse can create a detox space once the renovations are complete, for emergency situations where people can have access to a safe space to work off drugs or alcohol. Mercier explains that homelessness has much to do with the cost of living and vacancy rates in general.
“It’s hard to find a place, and when they do, it’s often out of their budget,” she says. “It’s a two-fold thing… and often if you don’t have a place to stay, you end up losing your job… so we try and help by allowing people to use our phone as their home phone line, use our address… until they find greater stability, whether it’s in one of our rooms or in finding another place to live.”
Blum notes that organizations such as the Lighthouse are beneficial and necessary.
“I’ve learned it’s a lot harder to build your life back up then it is tear it down,” he says. “I’ve been doing a lot better since I moved into [the Lighthouse].”