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Client Story: Kevin O, Professional Bass Player

Kevin O. grew up in Gull Lake, Saskatchewan. As a teenager, he received a six string guitar from his parents for Christmas and immediately fell in love with music. He taught himself to play and eventually switched to the bass when he started his first band called The Grog’s On.

Playing high school dances and selling out shows at the Elk’s Hall eventually led Kevin to become a professional musician. “I’ve toured around from Thunder Bay to Victoria and all points in between,” says Kevin, whose last gig was with Regina-born country singer Sheila Deck.

Unfortunately, life on the road brought out the worst of Kevin’s mental health issues and addiction. “I’ve been drinking since I was 13 and from that point on until recently I was dependent on it just to do anything, I just felt more comfortable if I had a few drinks in me,” says Kevin, “And of course after traveling on the road with a band I mean you live in clubs and bars. I was an alcoholic right from the get-go.”

Kevin struggles with drug and alcohol addictions as well as depression, anxiety and overthinking. “I lay awake at night. I take meds for it, which does help. I’m going to investigate more into that with my psychiatrist,” he says. Hoping that his mental state would improve, Kevin gave up touring over fifteen years ago. But when his anxiety and depression didn’t subside, he had to quit music all together.

For the past year and a half Kevin has been living at The Lighthouse and actively seeking help with his recovery. He started in the men’s shelter, but eventually moved to the Affordable Housing tower. He receives funding from the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program (SAID) which helps pay for his rent. “The suites are quite nice, plenty of room and mine stays relatively cool which I appreciate very much. I’m quite comfortable here,” says Kevin.

He knows that recovery is now his full time job, and his mental health is something he’ll have to deal with for the rest of his life. Kevin attends AA Meetings and a Recovery Group at The Lighthouse, as well as takes part in programs offered by Social Services in the Sturdy Stone Centre downtown.

“It’s just nice to get out every now and again. I have a counselor at Sturdy Stone as well, and there’s counselling here,” he explains. One of the classes focuses on how to deal with concurrent disorders, “That’s been part of my addictions process, you know what came first the chicken or the egg, the disorder or the addictions? It doesn’t matter, the one always leads back to the other.”

The counselling and education Kevin receives helps him to recognize and manage his behaviour before it can affect him negatively. “I recognize now when I start to isolate myself or start to get angry at myself really quickly or I’m not eating properly,” he says. Getting out and socializing helps combat those behaviours, so Kevin keeps his medication at the front desk, giving him a reason to come downstairs every morning.

Jeannie and Kevin

Jeannie and Kevin

Another benefit to living at The Lighthouse is the medical care Kevin has access to. “When I first came here I was pretty close to cirrhosis and I’ve been able to get the medical attention here through Social Services and staying at The Lighthouse,” he says, “I’ve got a lot of stuff done that normally I wouldn’t have bothered with like psychiatric help, a liver specialist, and the physio therapist.”

Now that he has a support system in place, Kevin wants to get back to playing music again. He hasn’t picked up a guitar in a long time because it often triggers his impulse to drink. “When I pick up my guitar or listen to some of my old favourites it’s a big urge to drink again. But I’m working on it and I’m looking to get myself a bass guitar again. There’s a couple musicians here that work at the Lighthouse so it would be fun to jam sometime.”

Kevin feels proud that he’s come so far in only eighteen months. He knows that the road to recovery is a slippery slope and there may be setbacks along the way, but at The Lighthouse he is held accountable for his actions and that helps him to accept responsibility.

“For me it’s been a good place. I’m happy to be here, and I was happy to be in the shelter,” says Kevin, “Things have been going my way, slips and setbacks do happen but they’ve always helped me through it so I’m quite grateful to the staff. A lot of them I consider friends now, both clientele and staff for sure, which is kind of a good feeling. It’s almost like a family now, the whole lot of us.”

One man’s road from homelessness to housing


One man's road from homelessness to housing

James Upper in his lodgings at the Lighthouse on Tuesday.

Photograph by: Greg Pender, The Starphoenix , The Starphoenix

Two weeks ago, James Upper hit rock bottom.

Suddenly evicted by his landlord, he was homeless for the first time in his adult life. He spent nights huddled on park benches, trying to sleep. He was abusing sleeping pills and drinking heavily.

“It’s like your whole world goes black. You can’t plan ahead. It’s like you can’t see anything,” the 60-year-old said.

Upper never thought he would end up on the streets. Moving to Saskatoon two years ago, he had a steady job at a local aviation company. He says he hadn’t had problems with alcohol or drugs since his early 20s.

The downward spiral began when was kicked out of his home after a disagreement with his landlord. Soon after, he underwent heart surgery that involved eight bypasses. He was unable to work. With no job and no place to sleep, he turned to drinking and prescription drugs.

“It was something to turn to when you can’t cope with reality. You create your own reality with the drinking,” he said.

He spent a night in the police detention cells and at the mental health centre at Royal University Hospital. But even with the supports there, he ended up back on the street.

He said the drugs and the drinking only exacerbated his mental health issues.

When he was at his worst, he showed up at the doors of The Lighthouse and was admitted to its brand new stabilization shelter. The shelter offers a safe place for men and women who are drunk or high, but don’t need to be incarcerated, taken to emergency services or watched by a health official at the health region’s Brief and Social Detox Unit. While the Lighthouse had a shelter before, it would not admit people who were under the influence.

Upper, who was in the throes of intoxication but wanted to sober up, was the perfect candidate.

“They ask questions, but they don’t turn you away. They ask questions out of concern. There is no prejudice or criticism,” he said.

8896631After spending a few nights in the shelter and accessing the addictions counselling and services provided by the staff there, Upper was offered an opportunity he’d thought he would never get again: a place to live.

Last weekend, he moved into a new affordable apartment at the Lighthouse.

“I can’t describe the look on his face,” said Holly Lucas, the Lighthouse housing coordinator.

“The words I got to him were ‘Welcome home.’ At that point we all burst into tears.”

Lucas said Upper is the first person to successfully transition from the stabilization unit into the affordable apartments the Lighthouse provides. His place looks like any other bachelor-style apartment. There’s a tidy kitchen, clothes in a closet and a couch where he can watch TV.

Upper says his stay at the shelter and his new home have given him a new perspective on life and the people he used to just pass by on the street.

“You see those people out on the street? I was one of them. I have an empathy I didn’t have before,” he said. “You can get trapped in a cycle if you don’t find a way out of it. This was my way out of it.”

Upper is continuing with counselling through the Lighthouse and hopes to return to work as soon as his doctor says it’s okay. Even though he is slowly getting his life back together, he doesn’t plan to leave his new home anytime soon.

“It’s like heaven. It’s perfect,” he said.


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Moving Up – Stories from the Lighthouse

Moving Up

The Lighthouse is always a very busy place but as we begin to anticipate a new calendar month, the Lighthouse swings into high gear. Rent needs to be paid, some tenants move out, new tenants move in, tenants may switch towers, and new programming classes begin. As we reflect on what happened in August, I wanted to share a quick success story.

The Transitional Housing Floor has been operating on Upper First in the Dube Tower for a little over a year.  Tenants who live on Upper First have a higher level of supports, must plan to attend at least two classes a week, and faithfully take their medication, all with the goal of improving their mental health and helping them retain housing.

Transitional Housing

One of the first tenants who moved onto the floor had been staying in the emergency shelter for many months. They had repeatedly lost housing due to severe mental health issues, including yelling at invisible strangers on street corners. After moving into their newly renovated suite on the Transitional Living Floor, immediate improvements began to be made in the person’s demeanour. A combination of medication, learning coping skills, and routine, allowed them to take control of their life. They joined our work training program and helped clean the women’s emergency shelter.

As the one-year anniversary of their stay neared, a room became available in our affordable housing tower. They transitioned to living much more independently but still being able to access supports if needed and stay within the Lighthouse community. In August, they were hired on at a gas station and received their first pay check in many years. What an amazing transformation!