Tag Archives: Chris Powell

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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Lighthouse Stabilization Shelter Helping Those In Need

The first month of the new Stabilization Shelter in the Lighthouse has proved the absolute need for emergency housing for those who are intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. People who have not committed a criminal act but are being held in police detention due to being intoxicated has gone down 30% since the Stabilization Shelter at the Lighthouse opened.

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This morning some key stats from the two year pilot project of providing a Primary Care Paramedic in Saskatoon Police Services cells reiterated the need for the community to come together to help those who are struggling in our community with addictions and mental health issues.

Some of those stats the Action Accord released today include examining the period from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013:

During the two year period, 3,984 people were held in police service detention solely due to being intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. On average that is 5.5 people per day and represents 19.8 per cent of all people in detention.

During the same period, 2,670 people were turned away from the Brief Detoxification Unit because it was full. This equates to 3.7 people per day.

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The Stabilization Shelter at the Lighthouse is composed of 20 army cots which can be reconfigured based on how many people check in to sleep for the night. On average there are 10-12 people staying in the shelter but that number has been as high as 15. More people are expected to use the facility as the weather cools and more people become aware that they can come to the Lighthouse for a safe, warm sleep while they may be under the influence.

When individuals arrive they are triaged to make sure they are stable enough to spend the night in the shelter. If they require medical supervision they are referred to Brief and Social Detox or the Emergency. Violent or unruly behaviour is not tolerated at all, and if people are combative the police are called.

Generally people come in, take off their outer layer of clothes and go to sleep fairly quickly. Staff at the Lighthouse wash their clothes while they are sleeping so that they have something fresh to put on in the morning. Toast, coffee, and juice or water is served in the morning to help settle the stomach and provide some nourishment.

As people leave for the day they have the opportunity to talk to one of our councillors on staff. Long-term stable housing is the focus for all those we serve, as well as proper health care or rehabilitation services, and employment opportunities or any other issues that may be affecting them. The Lighthouse has a volunteer which co-ordinates an AA meeting every Monday night at 8:00pm.

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By providing a broad spectrum of housing the Lighthouse is able to meet the needs of the more vulnerable and at-risk individuals in our community. The Stabilization Shelter is an opportunity for individuals to learn about opportunities which will enable better lifestyle choices and hopefully inspire long-term changes.

Thanks to the Saskatoon Health Region and the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership for their support of this project which is impacting the lives of so many in our community.

Move In Day

Chris Powell sorting out move in informationFrank moving into the new buildingPeople moving in to The Lighthouse

On September 1st, 30 suites were available at The Lighthouse’s affordable housing apartments were available for occupancy and people moved in.  While the entire building won’t be finished until October 1st, it was a big day in both the east and the Empire Hotel Tower.  We had 8 people move from our supported living suites which meant that 8 people from the shelter were able to move to their own homes that day as well.  In all, the project will enable over 30 people who were homeless, living in shelters or on the streets to have a place to call home.  

Thank you to our partners in this project, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation, the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and the City of Saskatoon for making this day happen.

Computer Lab

One of the goals of some staff at The Lighthouse was to set up a computer lab for residents to be able to use, get online, play some solitaire, and do some work on.  The first computer we set up was a Pentium 4 with 1 gig of RAM running Windows XP.  We used Ninite to download all freeware applications which meant that our software was both legal and free.  We installed Windows Family Safety to be able to both filter and give access to needed sites.

The results were mixed.  While many residents loved it, the USB wifi dongle was stolen, the speakers were taken and someone went out of their way to disable the internet and damage to OS.  It ended up being frustrating to our residents and to the staff.

The idea of reinstalling Windows XP was not something that any of us were looking forward to.  The process of putting a Windows XP disk into the machine isn’t that bad but downloading hundreds of Windows downloads takes days to download, install, restart and repeat many, many times.

As another option we looked at Linux.  The first Linux install we tried was Joli OS, which is a small lightweight OS designed for netbooks and older hardware (of which our P4 qualified).  Chris Powell installed the OS on a laptop and it worked great.  It is actually quite similar to iOS which means that it is different enough from Windows that users won’t get confused.  It is quite quick and has a large app store where you can download software.

Screenshot of Jolie OS 1.2

It has different user accounts and while still buggy, it does allow Lighthouse residents to access stuff online, view YouTube videos, use Open Office, VLC, Skype, and a lot of other apps.  We will be rolling out more computers and laptops on it in the next couple of months and will posting about how they work out.  Now I need to go and find some speakers.

Looking for housing?

If you are looking for supported living suites, our rental application form is now online and easy to fill out.  All of our application forms go to our housing manager, Chris Powell who evaluates each of them based on need and suitability.  We have also posted The Lighthouse house rules online as well.

Supported Living Application Form

If you have any questions, email housing@lighthousesaskatoon.org or call 306.653.0538.  You can still drop by at anytime and fill out an application form in person the old fashioned way (with pen and paper).