Pat grew up in Toronto and graduated from the Canadian College of Business and Computers in 2002. She worked in customer service and IT before deciding it was time for a change.
“Toronto is one of those cities where basically you love it or you hate it. With Toronto it was ok but it was time to do something different,” says Pat. She moved west, finishing her GED in Alberta and eventually making her way out to B.C.
It was in Victoria that Pat fell on hard times and was unable to find work. She decided to come to Saskatoon at the end of May. “I have family out here, but I don’t rely on my family. I need to get things together for myself,” she explained.
When she arrived, Pat only had enough money to stay in a hotel for a few nights. She heard of The Lighthouse, phoned to enquire about their services and ended up in contact with Touni Vardeh-Esakian, one of the Case Managers.
Touni helps clients at The Lighthouse find housing and he quickly met with Pat to discuss her housing needs and budget. Although she’s on an unemployment allowance program, it doesn’t supply Pat with the funds needed for a damage deposit or provide a letter of guarantee to a landlord. She ended up staying in the women’s shelter for a few nights while Touni helped her find a place she could afford.
Pat is now living in a house on Avenue V. She has her own room and shares the bathroom, kitchen and living room with three other roommates. When she moved in, Touni found her a bed and bought her some groceries to get started.
“I went to the Employment Centre and I’ve since been able to apply for some work online. I just finished orientation with Labour Ready, so now as of tomorrow I’m going to go look for work in the morning,” says Pat, who hopes that her IT background will give her an advantage.
She’s grateful for Touni’s support in a tough situation. “He was able to help me here in the city when I didn’t know many people to help me out,” says Pat, “With the Lighthouse I was able to be in a place where I didn’t have to struggle.”
The Lighthouse Supported Living Annual General Meeting is tomorrow, March 29th at 7:00pm in the Lighthouse dining room. 304 2nd Ave S, entrance is on 20th St. We will share about the work done by the Lighthouse including expansion of services and uplifting stories of lives changed in 2015. All are welcome to attend.
More than 30 homeless people in Saskatoon have warm new winter coats, thanks to a small group of young aboriginal people.
“I felt really good. I knew these people, I work with these people every day, and to see the looks on their faces and their gratitude, it was an awesome, awesome feeling,” said Dawn Mentuck, a stabilization unit support worker at The Lighthouse, Saskatoon’s downtown shelter.
This is the third year the group has set out to help people in need over the holidays, Mentuck said. They include Matreaca Munro, Myrna Durocher, Tricia Gardypie, Julia Mudrey, Lanny McDonald and Rylan Smallchild.
Mentuck often sees people in extreme need come through the Lighthouse doors.
“Some of them don’t have any kind of income — they’re not on social services, they don’t have an address where they can stay, so there’s a lot of people that use the shelter and detox and use the outreach van, and these were the kind of people we were aiming for.”
While the city has programs to help, such as free meals at the Friendship Inn, homeless people have trouble finding places to pick out clothing they need, she said.
The group raised $1,638 at a steak night earlier this month, which bought 26 men’s coats, 11 women’s coats, and a gift card for a woman with three children whose house had burned down.
They gave away most of the coats on Sunday, with a few left in the outreach van to hand out.
“The reaction was so awesome. Most of the time they would give us big hugs and smiles and big thank-yous — just awesome expressions of gratitude,” Mentuck said.
The group dreams of opening another shelter in Saskatoon based on First Nations culture, offering access to elders, drumming, singing and ceremonies, she said.
As a non-profit organization, The Lighthouse relies on a team of dedicated volunteers to help with client programming, prepping food and serving meals. The task of recruiting people and organizing the program falls to Volunteer Coordinator Grace Rath.
Volunteer Coordinator Grace Rath
Originally from Ottawa, Rath started at The Lighthouse as a volunteer. She moved to Saskatoon after friends she met while travelling convinced her to give the prairie city a try. “I like that it’s a smaller city and I like the community feel of it,” says Rath, “It’s a pretty friendly city. I immediately met lots of people and just found a great community, it felt like home really fast.”
While studying Sociology at the U of S, Rath saw a poster on the bus advertising for volunteers. “I’d walk downtown to work every day and I’d walk past people panhandling and I didn’t have any money to give them. I didn’t know how to help, so I started volunteering at The Lighthouse,” recalls Rath.
She spent the winter helping prep and serve dinner once a week and then got a summer job in the kitchen. The best part for Rath was getting to know the clients, “You see the same people come through the serving line every evening, so they’d get to know me and I’d get to know them.”
As she neared the end of her degree, a position opened up and the Kitchen Manager encouraged her to apply for it. She’s now been the Volunteer Coordinator for a year and a half. “One thing I learned in school is how important people’s history is,” says Rath, “I learned that in Sociology and also in the history classes I took, that sometimes it can be generations of hurt that someone’s dealing with, not just their own. So it’s a pretty heavy burden to carry. It’s hard to let that go.”
The Lighthouse combats this cycle by organizing various programs to help clients socialize and heal. Rath relies on around fifty regular volunteers to help with meals and fun activities.
Monday evening is Games Night and Rath sets up a Wii in the dining room for clients to play. There are also donated board games and packs of cards. “One of the shelter clients taught me how to play Crib when I first started. That’s probably one of the most valuable skills I’ve learned here because it’s the best game and everyone loves playing it,” says Rath.
Grace & Will
Regular volunteer Will Pulyk’s favorite night is Coffee House on Fridays. “I usually help out serving coffee and dessert and I find it’s just very satisfying and fun,” says Pulyk, who started volunteering in April. “Last Friday we had Worms and Dirt, the chocolate pudding with gummi worms, and making people smile was very satisfying,” he says.
Coffee House also recruits volunteers to provide entertainment, encouraging folk singers or bands to share their music with clients. Sometimes Rath shows movies, and during the hockey season she always screens the play-offs.
Rath estimates that she works with over a hundred volunteers throughout the year, some are regulars like Pulyk, many come with church groups and a few are students who volunteer as a class requirement.
“I have lots of different reasons why I volunteer, I guess the simplest one is I’ve lived in a few major cities, but I’ve never really felt connected to them,” explains Pulyk, “Now I live on an acreage and I still have that disconnect. I thought that this was a good way to combat that, and I think it’s important to do something positive with the free time that you have.”
Apart from the fun activities, Rath schedules volunteers in the kitchens. There are two meal programs at The Lighthouse; one feeds only people living or staying here. Kitchen Manager Jan Thiessen relies on volunteers to help her prep and serve three meals, plus a snack to around 150 clients every day.
The Cameco Community Kitchen opened last December and is run solely by Rath and her team of volunteers. Operating on Monday and Friday evenings, this program is open to anyone in the community who needs a meal.
Cameco Community Kitchen Volunteers
Rath tries to schedule groups of volunteers to come in for the Community Kitchen. “Some groups do provide the food and come and cook it and that’s really great, it helps with our budget. But if there isn’t a group to provide the food or cook it, then I’ll just make it that day and have volunteers come in and serve it,” she says.
Some of the groups are from churches or community societies, and a few are corporate teams. Rath says it’s exciting to see different organizations in the city get involved, “Cameco and Bessborough employees come to volunteer. They have team days where a group of them will run a Bingo Night or work in the kitchen.”
According to Rath, the best part of her job is when volunteers approach her with their own unique ideas. Last winter, a church group wanted give the Community Kitchen clients a formal dining experience. “Normally it’s served cafeteria style, where everyone comes through and gets their own food,” says Rath, “but these ladies came in and decorated the room, they had someone playing some background music and they put down table cloths, flowers and place settings.”
The volunteers came out dressed like waiters and served the main course with a special dessert right at the table, refilling everyone’s coffee and water glasses throughout the meal. “It was just so beautiful and a special thing to do for us. The clients loved it and it was so busy that night, everyone came,” says Rath.
Volunteers providing music at Coffee House
The program is currently looking for volunteers with an artistic background for a weekly Art Group on Saturday afternoons. “That’s another good one to sit and chat with people. Usually we just sit and color and talk. We had a volunteer who came and did a couple classes of creative writing, so that was awesome,” says Rath. She adds that anyone who wants to come in and teach a few classes in drawing, painting, crafting or drama would be welcomed, “We’re always open to whatever people want to do.”
For Pulyk, it’s the community feeling that keeps him coming back to volunteer, “Even in the short time that I’ve been here, one of my favorite parts is seeing new people that have come to The Lighthouse make friends. Now they have people to fall back on and that’s a really wonderful thing to see.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.”