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Closure of daytime Lighthouse programs ‘big setback for the city:’ Weighill

ANDREA HILL, SASKATOON STARPHOENIX
More from Andrea Hill, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

IMG_0904 A funding shortfall has forced Saskatoon’s Lighthouse Supported Living shelter to cancel its daytime program.

People who are homeless, intoxicated or otherwise need a safe place to stay can now only access the centre from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Lighthouse communications director DeeAnn Mercier said “it’s scary to contemplate” what the city’s most vulnerable people will do during the day, especially in current temperatures, and she fears the number of downtown disturbances will rise if people who need to sleep off a rough night have nowhere to go.

Mercier said funding challenges started in November, when the provincial social services ministry, one of the organization’s biggest backers, gave notice it will apply stricter qualifications in deciding who is eligible for funding.

Under its contract with the Lighthouse, the ministry gives the organization an emergency shelter per diem for people who use the shelter. Mercier said the organization was told in November that funding will only be available for people who meet the government’s definition of “homeless.”

IMG_0903However, there’s many reasons why people — even those with fixed addresses — seek shelter at the Lighthouse, she noted.

“It may be that their ex-partner is there, it may be that there’s 20 people there, it may be that they’re not allowed to stay there when they’re intoxicated, it may be that they don’t feel safe there. That, to us, fits the Lighthouse’s definition of homelessness,” Mercier said.

The provincial government’s direction was that people who, for example, are collecting pension cheques or have a source of income are expected to pay to stay at the Lighthouse, Mercier said.

That never happens, because most people showing up at the Lighthouse can’t afford anything, Mercier said. Instead of turning people away, the organization has housed and fed them, albeit with less funding. Mercier estimates that between 40 and 50 per cent of people arriving at the centre are now coming with no funding.

The practice has left the centre in a “very concerning” financial situation, forcing managers to make decisions about cuts. First on the chopping block was 24-hour programming, which started at the centre’s stabilization unit almost a year ago.

“This is a big setback for the city,” said police Chief Clive Weighill. “The Lighthouse is predominantly the main place for people to go who need assistance, and without this open during the daytime, it’s going to leave a big gap of service here in the city.”

A spokesperson for the social services ministry said the province is in the process of providing an additional $150,000 to the Lighthouse within its current contract to help it provide emergency shelter while the health, social services and corrections ministries examine a longer-term, sustainable funding model for its operations.

Mercier said the money will help deal with the shortfall from 2015 but is not enough to keep the centre open 24 hours.

“We’re really hesitant to continue daytime operations if we don’t have sustainable funding for it,” she said.

In an emailed statement, social services spokesman Andrew Dinsmore said eligibility for emergency shelter per diems is based on assessing people’s income and assets from all sources, and their needs.

If a person’s resources are insufficient to meet their daily living needs for basic items such as food, clothing, or shelter, they may be eligible,” he said.

His statement did not indicate how the criteria for an emergency shelter per diem changed in November.

Lighthouse Stabilization and Wellness Centre Officially Opens in Saskatoon

Released on November 20, 2015

An innovative wellness center at The Lighthouse Supported Living (Lighthouse) officially opened today in Saskatoon.  The shelter will provide an alternative for manageably intoxicated individuals who are unable to access other shelter services.Part of the funding is also being used to renovate 59 existing units in the Dubé Lighthouse that provides housing for close to 70 individuals.   The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. operates the Dubé Lighthouse facility.

The total cost of this project is $4 million.  Funding of $1.5 million from the government was provided by the Ministry of Health ($1 million), the Ministry of Justice ($250,000), and the Ministry of Social Services through the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation ($250,000).  The City of Saskatoon contributed $126,000 toward the project and additional funding was provided through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and other fundraising.

IMG_0163“Our government is proud to work with Lighthouse to help vulnerable citizens in this community have improved access to a safe place to live with supports in place if required,” Social Services Minister and Minister responsible for Saskatchewan Housing Corporation Donna Harpauer said.  “This aligns with a number of priorities outlined in our Provincial Housing Strategy, which includes supporting individuals and families in greatest housing need.  These two initiatives are examples of that vision in action.”

“We are pleased to see the completion of the Lighthouse Stabilization and Wellness Centre project in Saskatoon,” Health Minister Dustin Duncan said.  “We are proud to support our community partners like Lighthouse, who are reaching out into communities to help people improve and maintain their health and wellbeing.   This project also supports the recommendations in the Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan, specifically ensuring that individuals with addictions issues have access to timely and appropriate care.”

IMG_0168“Our ministry is proud to partner in upgrading this valuable community facility,” Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell said.  “We know how important it is that places like the Dubé Lighthouse exist to provide shelter and housing for vulnerable individuals who require extra support.”

“We are grateful to the many community members who came together to volunteer and donate toward the ‘Up’ Capital Campaign, Les and Irene Dubé who led with an amazing gift of $1 million, and the Provincial Government for seeing the value in this project,” Lighthouse Executive Director Don Windels said.  “We are thankful the expanded Stabilization Unit will be operational before this winter so we can continue to provide emergency shelter to those in need in our community.”

The project features a stabilization shelter with approximately 38 beds for individuals who are manageably intoxicated.   The second floor provides programming and office space, and the third floor features a wellness center with exercise facilities and atrium.

IMG_0166Since November 2007, 167 affordable rental units have been completed by the province for those considered ‘hard to house’ and facing multiple challenges such as disabilities and addictions in Saskatoon.  Including the Lighthouse, an additional 40 units are currently under construction.

The Lighthouse provides housing for approximately 230 individuals on any given day.   It provides 126 permanent housing units and about 94 emergency shelter spaces for vulnerable individuals, including the working poor, people with physical or intellectual disabilities, and people with addictions.

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A Shelter from the Storm

It’s noon on a Tuesday and the Stabilization Unit is quiet. The dimly lit room is situated with beds on the right, and a long desk for employees near the double doors at the front. A half wall divides the beds from the lounge to the left. Two men are sleeping in beds farthest away from the doors and another is eating at a table in the lounge, watching Netflix on a TV in the corner. Staff members speak in slightly hushed voices and the dim lighting gives a sleepy, relaxed atmosphere to the shadowy green room.

Stabilization 1

This is where people who are intoxicated can come to sleep, eat and sober up. The rules are strict: no drugs or alcohol allowed on the premises, meals are served only during specific times, and clients must keep their personal belongings in a bin and collect them when they leave, even if it’s just for a smoke break.

The phone rings and Whitney Rines answers; It’s the Front Desk with another intoxicated client. Rines explains that afternoons are usually slow in the unit because most clients are out and about during the day. The busy hours are from 4pm to midnight, and the beds fill up quickly.

Staff members work hard to make this a safe environment. “You have to understand that people are drinking or using,” says Rines, “you know things that they say they don’t mean, or things that they do they don’t mean. So I think it’s quite a tolerant environment, but violence is not accepted at all.” Clients are supervised at all times and are escorted in and out of the building by a staff member.

Whitney Rines

Rines has been working at The Lighthouse for the past four years and has been with the Stabilization Unit from its inception two and a half years ago. Since opening in February, 2013, the unit has drastically reduced the number of people held in police custody for intoxication, and helped take the pressure off of emergency rooms.

Last month, the Stabilization Unit housed 724 people and used 930 beds, which averages out to 24 people every day. The bed usage is higher because many clients come to the unit twice a day. The staff estimates they have 80 to 100 regular clients they see on a weekly basis, most of them men of First Nations descent. “A lot of them do stay nightly, a lot of them come twice a day or more and eat every meal here,” says Rines.

Tommy LaPlante sits at the table in the lounge and chats quietly with two men who are eating lunch and watching a movie on Netflix. They seem at ease with him and it becomes clear that he’s there to help them get sober. “Have you ever been to a meeting?” he asks one man casually.

LaPlante is the Case Manager in the Stabilization Unit and it’s his job to help connect clients with services like addictions counselling or applying for housing. “We’re not just a warehouse for people. We are a place where people can come in and change and access supports. And a lot of people don’t realize that there are supports out there,” says LaPlante, who has held this position for the past two months.

On a daily basis, LaPlante will sit down with five to seven people and discuss their addictions. He says that, “a lot of times people are at this pre-contemplation stage where they’re not even thinking about their problem, so if I can be there and just listen and talk and wait for those moments of clarity where they’re tired of being tired and they’re tired of not having a home, then I can really start to help them.”

At the desk, Michelle Belanger is keeping busy organizing files. A big part of her job is also cleaning the showers and washrooms, changing bedding and doing laundry. When new clients come into the Stabilization Unit, Belanger will sit with them and fill out a long intake form, asking questions about alcohol consumption, drug use and other health concerns. She gives the client a pair of sweat pants and t-shirt to wear and washes their clothing while they sleep.Michelle 1

Belanger says she had to grow a thick skin when she first started at The Lighthouse, “I quickly realized not to take anything too personally here. There were times when I’d start crying, but I learned to let it all roll off my back. They don’t mean what they say when they’re intoxicated.” Belanger now has an easy rapport with the clients, who form strong relationships with staff.

As one client gets ready to leave, he jovially bids Belanger and Rines goodbye, “Thank you for lunch ladies, make sure these boys behave. If not you can always duct tape them to the chairs,” he picks up some green tape from the desk. “That’s painter’s tape,” laughs Rines.

Clients are offered meals at specific times and are served cereal or toast for breakfast and sandwiches for supper. The hot lunch today is a burrito with chicken noodle soup and a juice box. There is a toaster, microwave, electric tea kettle and water cooler behind the desk, and clients are offered toast after three hours to help settle their stomach.

As the afternoon wears on, two more men come in to the unit. They lay on beds side by side, and one falls asleep right away. The other is quite visibly intoxicated, and can’t get comfortable. He sits up on the edge of his bed, holds his head in his hands and swears loudly. “He’s grumpy today,” observes Rines.

Finally he decides to get up and go outside for a smoke. Rines immediately gets his backpack for him to take but he refuses, saying, “I’m not taking my backpack outside just to have a smoke. Are you stupid?” As he gets more agitated, Rines continues to calmly explain that it’s the rule. They don’t want clients to forget their belongings and have to throw it out. She ends up carrying the backpack herself as she escorts him outside.

When she gets back she explains, “He couldn’t tell it was me! He said he couldn’t see me in the dim light and didn’t realize it was me. When we got outside he broke down and started crying. He’s just having a bad day.”

The compassion and support of the staff is evident. Their understanding comes from a personal place as some staff members have struggled with addictions and homelessness themselves.

Rines is a nursing student who goes to school full time while working two part time jobs. She worked in Complex Needs, Client Programming and Mobile Outreach before coming to the Stabilization Unit. Rines explains that she feels comfortable here because she grew up in a similar environment. She has two years of school left before she completes her degree, then hopes to find work as a nurse.

Belanger is a single mother of two who has been working at The Lighthouse for eight months. The best part of her job is seeing clients decide to go into treatment to get the help they need. She recently received a thank you note from one person who left for rehab, but Belanger says, “I don’t need any gifts or thank yous, seeing them get better is the only gift I need.” She hopes to make a career in this field and has recently applied to go back to school to become an Addictions Counsellor at SIIT.

LaPlante recently finished the same program and received his Diploma in Addictions Counselling last month. Six years ago he was living at the Salvation Army, struggling with his own addictions. Now he helps some of the people he used to live with. “Years ago when my life was a wreck, I used to drink down by the river with some of these guys. I was in and out of jail and I met a lot of these guys there and a lot of people still remember me from that,” recalls LaPlante, “A lot of them are very happy for me. Especially once I graduated, I got big sweaty hugs from them because they were Michelle and Whitneyproud of me.”

He now uses his experience with homelessness to motivate his clients, “I’ve heard it many times now, ‘Well if you did it, I can do it,’ and that’s just it. And I tell them, ‘Yes!’ I get to tell them now that five years ago I went into treatment. I went to a year-long treatment center and I made all these steps to improve myself.”

Renovations are underway to improve the Stabilization Unit. The plan is to expand the current unit from 20 to 37 beds. The new space on the ground floor of the Wellness and Education Centre will have an entrance at the back of the building, separate from the Front Desk. This will allow clients to discreetly come and go as necessary, without a staff escort. There will also be an intake room where LaPlante can chat with clients privately.

“I tell them they can do it now. I say, ‘What if I told you in five years you can be working at the job that you want to work at, have an education and be at the same place in life that I am?” says Laplante, “It’s a powerful tool, a lot of them do like that.” The new Stabilization Unit is set to open this fall.

Saskatoon Health Region Partners With The Lighthouse And M.D. Ambulance To Improve Health Care In The Community

Saskatoon Health Region’s 14-Day Challenge, which ended yesterday, has resulted in a new six-month pilot project at the Lighthouse Supported Living in partnership with the Region and M.D. Ambulance. The Lighthouse is a community-based organization that provides emergency shelter, supported living and affordable housing to those in need in Saskatoon.

As part of the six-month pilot project, the Lighthouse will:​

  • Dedicate another eight beds to clients with mental health complex needs and expand support to clients 24 hours a day. The increase in beds from 9 to 17 will support people to transition to independent living.
  • Expand the Stabilization Unit to 24 hours. The unit currently provides emergency shelter to clients under the influence of drugs or alcohol from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. The increase in hours is expected to reduce substance misuse and mental health-related admissions to emergency departments, and improve access to addiction support.
  • IMG_9232Expand the Lighthouse Mobile Outreach service from six to 16 hours a day, improving access to services, reducing the use of ambulances and ensuring case managers can spend less time transporting clients and more time assisting them one-on-one. The Mobile Outreach service allows a team of two to provide transportation to homeless or struggling individuals to the Lighthouse or other support services.

Have a paramedic on site 12 hours a day, seven days a week. An embedded paramedic on the Lighthouse’s primary health team will be able to provide emergency assessment and triage, as well as general paramedicine, reducing the need for ambulance and acute care access.

  • Add a care aide, addictions counsellor and increased primary health nurse practitioner hours to the team to improve continuity of care, enhance referral and access to appropriate services and advance coordination of multiple health team members on site.

Overall, the expansion of services is meant to decrease emergency department visits and consults, ambulance and police calls, and inpatient admissions to acute care by ensuring the right care by the right provider at the right time in the right place. For more information on consults, click here​.

“Saskatoon Health Region is making investments at the Lighthouse that will have a significant impact on the quality of life for Lighthouse residents and those using their shelter services,” says Tracy Muggli, Director of Mental Health and Addictions Services, Saskatoon Health Region. “Improving the overall health status and outcomes of Lighthouse residents in an environment they are already accessing will improve the quality of life of some of the most vulnerable, high-needs and at-risk individuals in our community.”

The community paramedicine model is an important piece to ensure clients are provided the right care at the right time in their homes.

“M.D. Ambulance is pleased to have a paramedic embedded with the Lighthouse care team,” says Gerry Schriemer, Chief Operating Officer for M.D. Ambulance. “The paramedic will bring a skill set that will assist the decision-making process to ensure that clients receive the right care utilizing the right resources at the right facilities.”

The pilot project is a result of the Region’s ongoing planning sessions as part of the Lighthouse Integrated Health and Shelter Team.

“We are very thankful for the support of Saskatoon Health Region and M.D. Ambulance, allowing us to work together to help men and women achieve greater health, stability and independence,” says Don Windels, Executive Director of the Lighthouse Supported Living. “Through co-operation in our community we can address gaps in the system and help improve the lives of those in Saskatoon.”

Learn more about the services provided at the Lighthouse Supported Living: www.lighthousesaskatoon.org.

Learn more about the Region’s 14-Day Challenge: www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/news.

Assisted living centre gets tax money for renovation, new unit

Reported by Bryn Levy
First Posted: Apr 11, 2014 4:03pm | Last Updated: Apr 11, 2014 5:00pm

A commitment from the provincial government means a major facelift for the Lighthouse Supported Living facility in downtown Saskatoon.

Health minister Dustin Duncan was on hand to announce $1.5 million in funding from the Government of Saskatchewan.

“It’s just a very worthwhile program and organization that’s been serving the people of Saskatoon for many years,” Duncan said.

The money caps a $4 million fundraising blitz started by the Lighthouse 11 months ago. A portion will go towards renovations to the facility, which provides housing to about 70 people in what was formerly the Capri Hotel.

The Lighthouse’s DeeAnne Mercier said the renovation will bring the building “into this century.”

“We’re going to be taking out the carpeting, re-doing the drywall, re-doing the plumbing, re-doing the bathroom fixtures. Making accessible doorways for people. Just those little things that are so important when you want to provide a safe home for people,” Mercier said.

Another piece of the project will see the construction of a 38-bed stabilisation unit.  The new unit will provide temporary emergency shelter to people who may be too intoxicated to be housed elsewhere.

Tracy Muggli is director of mental health and addictions services for the Saskatoon Health Region. She said the new unit will help reduce costly emergency room visits when the region’s eight bed Brief Detox Unit (BDU) fills up.

“We know that we can provide shelter services for far less. And, it’s a far more appropriate placement for people that are struggling,” she said.

For the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS), the issue of where to house intoxicated people is particularly important.

The service was rocked by three deaths in its holding cells back in 2010, and has been pushing to get out of the business of being the city’s housing of last resort ever since.

“We did have three in-custody deaths within a short period of time. And nobody wants to see that, whether it be in cells, whether it be in a park, or in your own home,” said Inspector Larry Vols, who heads up the SPS Headquarters Division.

Vols said the new unit will be another step in relieving pressure on the holding cells.

“People that need housing, that need other assistance, don’t need to be in our cells. We’re happy to see that there’s money being put aside for them,” he said.