This is the second time Donna has stayed at the Lighthouse since I started working here one year ago. The first time she stayed in the shelter she was often under the influence which resulted in her not being able to stay with us.
Donna has since cleaned up and is moving on to the next steps in her life. She is a very caring mother and new grandmother and is trying to be a better role model.
Donna states that she wishes there was a limited for how many women can stay in the shelter. There is a limit – 25 women – but this August is the first time we have gotten close to being that full, so it feels very different than it has in the past. It is a dormitory-style room, so that’s a lot of different personalities sleeping in a room together.
The Lighthouse is actually one of three women’s shelters in the city, including the YWCA and Mumford House. I know they are very full as well.
Why are the shelters so full these days? Before I started working here I would have assumed that emergency shelter’s empty out in summer time. That has not been the case this summer at all, as we have had higher numbers since June. People need to stay here for many different reasons, so as of yet we have no way to pinpoint exactly why we have a higher volume of clients. I know the vacancy rate is very low in Saskatoon and this may account for some of the pressure of shelters. Jordon, our General Manager, wrote more about this in a previous post.
Please consider donating to a community organization that helps women in need in Saskatoon. We always appreciate shampoo, conditioner, soap, feminine hygiene products, new underwear and socks. If you would like to volunteer at the Lighthouse, you can fill out an application here.
Recently, I had the opportunity to tour Saskatoon’s Lighthouse Supported Living Centre, in the heart of our downtown on the corner of 20th Street and Second Avenue. You know the one — the place a whole bunch of people wish didn’t exist.
After my tour, walking down the cracked steps and back into the sunlight, two distinct feelings washed over me: Hope and Hopelessness.
Let’s start with Hopelessness because it’s the more logical feeling when exiting a facility filled with our community’s most vulnerable citizens. Addictions, lifetimes of abuse and exploitation, chronic homelessness, mental illness, disease and plain old-fashioned bad luck tend to plague those who call the Lighthouse home. Yes, these are often the same people bothering you for change downtown, drifting up and down Second Avenue.
The Lighthouse, formerly the Capri Hotel, is not a glamorous place. In various stages of renovation and disrepair, projects move slowly, teasing staff and clients alike with their potential as grant funds trickle in at a glacier’s pace. The men and women’s emergency overnight shelters, housed in what appears to be the hotel pool’s locker rooms, are lined with neatly made beds. General manager Jordon Cooper, a man who has devoted his life to the lives of others, shares the story of one woman using the sparse shelter for herself and her two daughters — it’s the only thing holding her family together.
Rental income from a full slate of tenants keeps the Lighthouse’s operating costs afloat. Everyone has a roof over their head, which is the main priority, but the old hotel hallways are dank, yellowed and depressing. Layers of rotten carpet shift spongy under your feet, while the occasional tenant slips ghostlike out of their tiny apartment, heading downstairs for a smoke and a reprieve from their four walls.
The lobby is a hub of organized chaos. The old Capri bar sits adjacent to the counter, still authentic with its original wood panelling and retro stippled ceiling. A few couches scatter the room, where clients sleeping curled around backpacks with their backs to the world. A female tenant sits on an old chair next to the doors, eagerly watching the vending machine being replenished. She complains when she hears there won’t be sandwiches for lunch, but brightens at the prospect of lasagna for supper. A stocky man, with wild hair and a face both blank and furious, asks the busy receptionist for a glass of water so he can take his pill. Clients drift in and out of stairwells and the rather precarious looking elevator, busy going nowhere.
It was a tiny snapshot of what’s going on in that building across from the theatre. Now let’s get to the Hope, shall we?
Hope springs at the Lighthouse, driven by a small but tight team of people, including Jordon and communications director DeeAnn Mercier, who guided me through the tour. At any given moment, you’ll find DeeAnn, Jordon and the team switching hats seamlessly from counsellor, educator, to punching bag, advocate, landlord, to first responder, to savior. They make hundreds of decisions per day. Decisions that radically impact the lives of their clients, yet they manage to radiate stoicism and compassion.
Pockets of newness, such as the recently opened floor for Saskatoon Health Region patients suffering from mental illness, reflect the promise of Hope for the entire facility. The brand new residential tower stands bright and tall next to the grimy exterior of the old hotel. Above all, there are plans — so many plans — for programming and facilities to make the lives of Lighthouse residents better. From indoor gardens to detox centres, DeeAnn and Jordon refuse to see any space as anything other than a place for great things to come.
An occasional story floats to the surface of a resident who overcame impossible odds. It’s these stories that help keep Lighthouse staff going forward — and must keep the Lighthouse doing the same.
Lillian moved into a suite at the Lighthouse just under two years ago after having a brief stay in our women’s shelter. She has a fun-loving, warm personality and is very caring of others. We wanted to give Lillian the care she need as well. Unfortunately Lillian is not so steady on her feet anymore and has trouble swallowing sometimes.
Lillian’s family tries to give her assistance in keeping her apartment clean but they have health issues of their own and are not able to help as much as they would like. We helped her receive home care, which aided in helping her take baths and keep her room clean but it became apparent that she needed more support than we could provide.
She was approved to be on the wait list for the next available care home bed but where she really wanted to go was Sunnyside, as she had some friends staying there and it was easily accessible by transit so her family could visit.
This week Lillian found out she was accepted to move into Sunnyside. After a whirlwind pack of her room her we headed out.
A group from the Canadian Federation of University Women collects used carry-on luggage for use by our clients.
Often when our clients move out we are amazed at the amount of stuff they have collected. Living in poverty and moving around a lot can sometime lead to tenants accumulating a lot of clothes, trinkets, household supplies and other items. Sometimes it is more cost effective to get new clothing than to pay to go to a laundry mat (although we do offer free laundry at the Lighthouse).
Many of our clients arrive and leave with their worldly possessions in black garbage bags as that is all they have
The day Lillian moved was extremely windy. She was nervous when we arrived and wanted a quick smoke but it was almost impossible to light her cigarette in the wind.[/caption]
Everyone at Sunnyside immediately made Lillian feel welcome. They asked about her favourite foods and what activities she liked.
Lillian’s new room
First Meal At Her New Place
The Care Director, Lillian’s new roommate, and Lillian