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Lighthouse program provides mental health support

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A room in Complex Needs

It’s been over three years since the Complex Needs Wing at The Lighthouse opened its doors to clients with mental health issues. The program has just added eight beds to the recently renovated Dubé Tower as part of the six month pilot project with the Health Region. New rooms are a welcome addition to those who need a safe place to stay in the city.

Mental illness is often an underlying cause of chronic homelessness, as many are faced with, “difficulty of various kinds in keeping their housing. Some end up getting kicked out of their accommodations due to their illness or addiction, or their needs are in excess of what their approved care home can provide,” says Dennis Bueckert, Director of Client Services.

The one year program is meant for individuals with a significant mental health issue and, “there can also be an addictions component to it in some cases. About two thirds of the folks up there have a combination of the two,” says Bueckert.

The unit is intended to be a transitional program to get people on the path to greater independence and long term housing. It operates with support from Saskatoon Health Region’s Mental Health and Addictions Services. Case Manager Kemi Bashorun explains, “The aim of the program is to help with the health, stability and independence of individual clients who are suffering from mental illness and addictions.”

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Case Manager Kemi Bashorun

The process of admission begins with a referral from someone working with the potential client, such as their psychiatrist, community health nurse or social worker. Once the client’s needs are assessed and found appropriate for the program, an interview is organized between the client, their care worker, a Health Region representative and a member of the Lighthouse staff.

Bashorun emphasizes that they only accept people who are serious about committing to the program. “We don’t want someone who has been forced into the program. Don’t forget we give them autonomy to make choices and decisions. So they have to be able to say ‘Ok, I think that program will be suitable for me,” says Bashorun.

Successful clients are invited to move into their own private room in the Complex Needs Wing. Each room has its own bed, dresser and bathroom with a shower. Some people bring their own TVs or other furniture, and many go a long way in decorating their room. Meals are provided in the dining hall, and clients are encouraged to socialize with other residents.

A requirement of the service is taking part in daily activities. The Lighthouse offers various programs such as Games Night, People Skills and Recovery Group for those struggling with addictions. Clients may choose to be involved in programs at other organizations, “some of them, they go to Clothing Depot to volunteer, it’s so they have something to engage in,” says Bashorun.

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The Complex Needs office

The Complex Needs office is on the first floor of the Dubé Supported Living Tower. It’s a small room with a horse stall door so staff can supervise clients taking their medication and interact with them throughout the day. Part of the treatment plan is for staff to be able to monitor their medication compliance. They make sure clients are taking their medication as prescribed and observe the effects. If staff see a deterioration in their mental state, they will liaise with their nurse or psychiatrist to alter the dosage or type of medication.

Clients are also encouraged to meet with a case manager regularly and discuss their progress. It gives them an opportunity to propose other forms of treatment, discuss resources or suggest adjustments to their medication that may be needed. According to Bashorun, the aim is to, “help stabilize them and help to promote independence. So what we’re trying to avoid is for them to relapse and have to go back to the hospital.”

A vital component to the program is establishing a relationship based on trust. Lighthouse staff engage with clients on a daily basis, “so they’ll know that we’re here to listen, we know where they’re coming from and empathize with them,” says Bashorun.

Jamie Johnson has been living in The Complex Needs Wing since last winter. She’s ten months clean of all substances and credits The Lighthouse with her sobriety. “They’re treating me really well,” says Johnson, “they look after my meds. I’m schizo affective and bi-polar, so I’m on medication for my mind and I’m on methadone for treating my drug habit.”

All rooms have a private bathroom with a shower

All rooms have a private bathroom with a shower

Once a client has completed nine months of the program, their case manager begins to prepare them to transition back into the community. They collaborate with their care worker to find them appropriate housing. Some clients move in with roommates or go to group homes, but many don’t want to leave.

“They really like it here, this is their home. They’re very stable and the option of leaving at the end of twelve months is difficult for them,” says Bashorun, “So we’re not really pushing them, but at the same time it’s like a baby step.” In those cases, staff work to place clients in the Supported Living Suites at The Lighthouse. Those rooms offer more independence without taking them away from their environment.

The Complex Needs Wing recently expanded from nine to seventeen rooms. Occupancy rates are high, running between 80-95%. Two case managers and four staff provide support for these clients.

Support Worker Adriana Krebsz is finishing her last shift in The Complex Needs Wing before moving to her new house and a job with the Health Region. “I was really happy here. When I was hired I planned to stay long, but we found a house we liked in Wynyard,” says Krebsz. Originally from Romania, Krebsz is a social worker and nurse with experience working with the elderly. “I’ll miss you,” says Bashorun, giving her a big hug.

Krebsz and Bashorun

Adriana and Kemi

Bashorun also moved to Canada with her family, and has been working at The Lighthouse for the past year and a half. Born in the UK, she grew up in Nigeria but returned to England for university. She worked as a dual diagnostic nurse in several different environments. “I’ve worked in in-patient psychiatry, and as an emergency nurse. I’ve worked in rehab centers, community drug and alcohol settings, and my last work was in prison corrections in London,” says Bashorun.

“The thing about The Lighthouse is this is a family kind of setting. So it’s not a tense environment, even though your work is so tense,” Bashorun says, “Even if you go out, the impression that you get from the community is, ‘Oh Lighthouse! How do you cope?’ Sometimes I just laugh and say, ‘You know what? We have people here that really need help and it’s somebody’s job to be there for them.”

Case Manager and Care Aide team up to help clients

Over the last two months, Case Manager Touni Vardeh-Esakian has helped to house over twenty clients from The Lighthouse emergency shelter. He goes about it the old fashioned way: looking for ads on Kijiji, calling landlords and helping clients fill out application forms.

The biggest challenge in finding housing is convincing landlords to give his clients a chance. “Homeless has a different meaning to lots of people who’ve never been homeless before,” says Vardeh-Esakian, “I try to explain to them that they’re just normal people who’ve had something go wrong in their lives, they’re here temporarily and we’re trying to get them back into the community.”

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Sheila & Touni in the Lighthouse dining room

Vardeh-Esakian also helps clients navigate Social Services, look for jobs, replace lost IDs, and attend court hearings. “I’m there for support,” he says, “Also, I’m there just to talk, because people have a lot of stress in their life, and sometimes they just want to sit down and let it all out.”

Sheila Poorman was recently hired as a full time Care Aide, a new position created as part of the six month pilot project. She started at The Lighthouse as a custodian, but once she met the residents, they opened up to her and she quickly realized that she wanted to work in client care.

“I come from a background of addictions, so I know what the clients are going through and I have an understanding of their situation,” says Poorman, who moved to the Stabilization Unit and started to build relationships with her clients. Working in Stabilization reminded her of her mother, and how her addiction eventually took her life.

As a Care Aide, she now helps residents with activities, such as reminding them of doctor’s appointments, helping them with laundry and changing one client’s medical socks every day.

Since the pilot project launched, Poorman and Vardeh-Esakian have teamed up to help each other. “We support each other if one of us needs help, if one can’t handle it. We’re always there for each other, it’s like a marriage,” jokes Vardeh-Esakian. The duo have set out to help residents manage their rooms and promote healthy lifestyles. As Poorman explains, “a problem with most of the clients is that they’re hoarders, and it causes health issues for themselves and any other tenants.”

People hoard, “because they’re missing something in their life and they’re trying to compensate for it,” says Poorman, “So if it’s something they lost, like a family member, you know that’s something that was meaningful to them. So they take all these little possessions that they find and they keep them and they don’t want to lose them.”

It’s slow and patient work for Poorman and Vardeh-Esakian as they try to help one client at a time. Poorman admits, “Even for us it’s very difficult to get their permission and have them feel comfortable for us to go in. We need to have a really close relationship to touch their clothes or go in their personal belongings. We can’t just go in and start throwing stuff out, they have to trust us.”

Touni & Sheila 2Once they get into a room, they’ll go through their possessions one by one, asking what can be thrown away and what can stay. The work consists of, “mainly going through their clothing, making sure they have dressers to put them in, a laundry hamper, and a garbage can. We try to get them in a routine of doing their laundry and setting a time of when they would clean their room,” explains Poorman.

Since this is a new service being offered, it takes some time for residents to get used to the idea of someone to help clean their room. Sometimes Poorman will help clients move from one apartment to another, and get rid of unwanted things in the process.

“I had one client who, after we went in and helped him, he put it upon himself to say, ‘I want to get rid of more stuff,’ says Poorman, “And that’s the point where we want to see the clients, to take the initiative to say, ‘Ok, I want to get rid of stuff’ on their own. At least they have the mindset of ‘I’m doing this’, instead of us doing it to them.”

Vardeh-Esakian is going to school as well as working at The Lighthouse. He’s set to graduate with his Bachelor of Social Work next year and plans to stay on as a Case Manager. “You do get attached to these clients because you work with them every day,” he says, “You see them breakfast, lunch and supper. You see them cry, you see them intoxicated, you see them on their worst days and on their happiest days.”

Both Poorman and Vardeh-Esakian are parents, and their children demonstrate the same care and compassion to clients as they do. “I bring my kids here to volunteer. They come to the main kitchen and they love it. My eldest daughter, she comes here and she really likes it,” says Vardeh-Esakian.

Poorman and her two daughters used to cruise 20th St. and offer rides to people before The Lighthouse Mobile Outreach program launched. “My daughter would say, ‘Mom, let’s go see if they’re ok.’ So we would, and some of them needed a ride,” recalls Poorman, “And that was when in my heart I felt I needed to help these people a little bit more, and not just by giving them a ride.”

“I think they feel safe when they see the Lighthouse van, when they see us around, because they know that we’re there for them,” explains Poorman. “We understand them,” adds Vardeh-Esakian. Poorman nods in agreement, “We’ll treat them with respect,” she says, “And it’s a good lesson for my daughters to understand that homelessness isn’t an ugly thing.”

Cynthia Block & Mike Bone – Donor Story

Thank you to Cynthia Block, Mike Bone and family for their generous support of the Lighthouse Up Capital Campaign!

Cynthia serves on the board Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association, and as such, has a keen interested in appropriate housing for those with Acquired Brain Injuries. Unfortunately, there are higher rates of ABI’s among those experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing than the general population. A study published in 2008 found that more than half of the people who are homeless in Toronto have an ABI. The Lighthouse Dube Tower has numerous tenants with ABIs who are able to live as independently as they wish due to the supports provided.

Block-Bone Family Photo

We believe truly great communities take action to support their most vulnerable, not just because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it makes sense for our collective well-being.  We all benefit when those around us receive the help they need. We’re proud to support the Lighthouse. Thank you for being there for all of our sakes!

– Cynthia Block

Thank you to Cynthia and Mike for your tremendous gift to the Lighthouse. When a community comes together great things happen! If you would like to make a donation call DeeAnn at 306-653-0538 or donate online here.

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!