Archive | September, 2011

The Lighthouse Changes Lives in Saskatoon

Shannon Boklaschuk from the Saskatoon Express

Don WindelsWith a friendly smile, John welcomes guests into his sparse one-room home at The Lighthouse Supported Living building. He sits in a wheelchair and motions for one of the guests to sit down in a well-worn chair on the other side of the room. John says he is ready to be interviewed about The Lighthouse, located at the corner of Second Avenue South and 20th Street East in downtown Saskatoon, where he has resided for about 2 ½ years. He jokingly notes he is missing some body parts; he says due to an accident, he lost the bottom of both of his legs. But John doesn’t want to get into the details of the past, and instead focuses on the positive. He says The Lighthouse has changed his life. “It allows me to function fairly normally,” he says. Though John readily admits his home is far from luxurious – even calling it “a dive” –it is home. And he appreciates the changes that are occurring around him at The Lighthouse.

“It’s still a sow’s ear, but they’re making progress,” he says. “You can’t fix everything all at once, otherwise nobody would be living here.”

John says when he first came to The Lighthouse after leaving the hospital he didn’t like it, because he had lost a “big chunk” of his independence. Now he’s enjoying living downtown and calls himself “an explorer”; with the use of his scooter, he notes, he was able to attend every free festival this year. He also enjoys looking at the city’s downtown architecture and visiting the farmers’ market. “You can be independent here,” he says. “I got no complaints about this place at all,” he adds.

The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. is a non-profit organization with a vision of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and helping those in need. The Lighthouse includes shelters and suites and provides transitional and long-term housing to clientele facing a variety of challenges, including chronic addiction, mental health issues, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), acquired brain injury, and mental, physical and intellectual disabilities. Don Windels, executive director of The Lighthouse, said the organization’s location is a good fit, because there are a variety of supports downtown available to the tenants, including physicians and psychiatrists. “It’s safe. There’s a lot of services around us,” says Windels.

According to The Lighthouse’s website, its mission is “to assist high needs, at-risk individuals in reaching their potential by providing safe and affordable housing, nutrition, social supports and opportunities through programming designed for personal growth, enabling them to reach higher levels of independence.”

About 22 full- and part-time staff members work at The Lighthouse, where tenants receive three meals and one snack each day. Tenants can also develop skills by helping out at The Lighthouse — in the kitchen, for example — and by attending drug awareness, self-esteem, anger management and other classes offered in the building’s classroom. There are also hopes for a computer lab to soon occupy some space in the facility, so that tenants can look for jobs online and work on their resumes. Windels believes homelessness is on the rise in Saskatoon, due in part to the high cost of rent and an influx of people coming to the city. Many people have expressed a need for more affordable housing in Saskatoon, and that is coming to fruition. All three levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — have contributed to The Lighthouse’s new housing facility, which is being built downtown next to the existing facility.

The new building will include amenities such as one- and two-bedroom suites, a classroom, a multipurpose room and a nurses’ station, and is expected to be complete in May 2012. In addition, The Lighthouse has a fundraising campaign, known as the “with Heart” campaign, to raise money for upgrades to the existing facility and to raise awareness about homelessness in the city. For Windels, the best part of his job is seeing the difference The Lighthouse makes in Saskatoon.

“The most rewarding part is to see lives changed,” he says.

Saskatoon Food Basket Challenge

I hope you’ve been following or at least heard of the Saskatoon Food Basket Challenge. Local ‘celebrities’ ate out of a typical Food Bank Hamper for 1 week (although Food Bank users are only allowed to go once every 2 weeks). They also got 5 pantry items as well as $5. I really encourage you to read more about it here.

One post from Curtis Anderson on day 6 really caught my eye. He describes that past week:

This week has sucked on every imaginable level.  I’ve been hungry nonstop and as a result I’ve been a terrible husband, a distant father, my on air work has been embarrassing, and haven’t had the desire to do anything other than COPE while I waited for the next terrible meal.  On Tuesday, I paid for, out of my pocket, a pizza party for my friends.  On Wednesday, after taping Stripped Down the music show- more pizza, (free, sponsored pizza, this time) but still – I had to say NO….again!  On Friday, we promised our son weeks ago that we would take him to The Lion King in 3D on opening night, so I sat beside him as he ate theatre popcorn for an hour and a half.  This doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the angry, paranoid irrational thoughts that streamlined through my skull hour after hour.   I have the attention span of a toddler.

What have I learned this week?  Hunger makes you resentful and poverty is a giant pit.  Food deprivation makes it impossible to think rationally which in turn, makes it damn near impossible to make any sort of positive changes…. and the worst part of it all is the fact that the smallest risk could be a mistake and sink you even deeper, so it’s honestly safer to just keep trudging forward, wincing on eggshells with every step.

Hunger is bad for your healthy but also bad for your decision making (think of Les Miz). Often at The Lighthouse we talk about our ‘Housing First’ model but we forget a very key component for the people we help is not just the shelter we provide but the 3 square meals a day. I wrote a comment after the post where I stated:

What a powerful message Curtis & a great insight into what people dealing with hunger must go through on a daily basis. It’s so hard to focus on the other things, such as maintaining a job or staying sober, if a person constantly has to worry about their next meal (or, I would add, a warm, safe place to sleep).

Remember Maslow’s Hierarch of Needs? No one can concentrate on upper level needs if they are homeless or hungry.This is where The Lighthouse offers real solutions and opportunities for people to meet their psychological needs and work towards their self-fulfillment because we are able to meet their basis needs on consistently.

Saskatoon Food Bank Challenge

There is going to be a great event at tomorrow at the Saskatoon Indian & Metis Friendship Centre called the Food Basket Challenge Community Forum at 7:00pm, where the participants will be discussing their experiences this past week. I encourage everyone who is concerned with poverty issues in Saskatoon to attend. Click here for more info.