Shannon Boklaschuk from the Saskatoon Express
With 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.