Category Archives: work

Night nurseries: Sweden’s round-the-clock childcare

This is an interesting solution to childcare as we move to a 24 hour society

Sweden has long had a glowing reputation for its generous childcare facilities and is regularly ranked as one of the best places to raise a family.

Each child is guaranteed a place at a public preschool and no parent is charged more than three per cent of their salary, with fees capped at SEK 1260 ($197, £132) a month for the country’s highest earners.

All other costs are covered by the state, which spends SEK 56.6bn ($8.9bn, £5.0bn) a year subsidising preschool services, more than its annual defence budget.

Most public nurseries offer care from around 06:00 to 18:00. But with the numbers of parents working flexible or unconventional hours going up, local councils are increasingly providing overnight and weekend services.

In south-east Sweden, the small, former industrial city of Norrkoping is among those already leading the way in out-of-hours care. There are four council-run nurseries open overnight here, the first of which launched 20 years ago.

“At first it was very hard to take my kids to sleep somewhere else and my heart was aching,” says mother Maria Klytseroff, 39, a part-time care assistant for people with learning difficulties.

Her children spend about two or three nights a week at one of the preschools, which is more like a homely apartment than an education centre.

“I am a single mum and I wanted to go back to my job, which is at night,” explains Maria.

“The children soon got used to it, they have friends and they adore the workers who look after them.”

Eighteen children are registered at the nursery.

The toddlers arrive in time to eat dinner, clean their teeth and then enjoy a bedtime story with a member of staff.

Two-year-old Leon is dressed in blue striped pyjamas and cuddles several teddy bears as he curls up beneath a duvet covered in cartoon characters.

You can argue all you want about whether or not this is right but a change in the economy means more of us work different shifts and not everyone has family they can depend on.  It does allow people who would otherwise be out of the workforce be able to participate.  Time will tell what the impact is going to be on the children.

Give the Gift of Hope This Christmas

Backpack for the homelessIn case you are wondering how you can make a difference this Christmas, click here and see how you can partner with The Lighthouse and help those that are homeless and in our supported living facility this holiday season.

Each December, staff go all out and ask each of our residents what they want for Christmas.  For many of them it is the first time they have ever been asked.  We then go out in a blaze of Christmas shopping and purchase gifts for everyone that wants them.  After a flurry of wrapping paper, Scotch tape, and bows, the gifts are given out on Christmas morning.

Partnering with The Lighthouse on this project allows you to make a big difference in not only making someone’s Christmas but also providing them with things that they need to make the transition from homelessness to their new home.

Time to Unplug?

Cost Of Daily Interruptions Infographic

The interruptions that come in from Twitter, Facebook, and text messages at work pretty much makes having a meeting or even a conversation impossible some days.  I think we lose half of our working days some day to social media which is really appalling.  With texting making it easy for anyone to get you at anytime, it is almost as if work plays second fiddle to personal correspondence in many places.  It’s no wonder why some organizations pay for voice but don’t give out data plans on their company phones; employees don’t know how to police them.

What’s next is next

When I resigned from the Salvation Army, I didn’t really have a plan or a job to go to so I’ll let you read into that all you want.  It was a pretty sudden decision but it was time to move to something else.  After years of being on call 24.7, I wasn’t sleeping well and it had started to take a toll on my body.  Stress was a major contributor to my heart “event” and part of the tension I had in my shoulders which is what partially lead to my rotator cuff issues (it’s healed now).  I have lost 30 pounds since I was hospitalized but as my doctor said, the stress still needed to be dealt with.  As he said, “my body was demanding a change of pace”.

When I resigned, I immediately updated my LinkedIn profile and sent out some resumes that day as to be honest, the idea of being unemployed doesn’t appeal to me.  I heard from a couple of headhunting recruitment firms that had some clients they were working with but I didn’t know what to think about those job descriptions.  I have had a job that I cared passionately about for so long that the idea of collecting a pay check for the purpose of collecting a pay check kind of freaked me out.  Well that might be too strong, if I got the kind of compensation package Urban Meyer got to coach OSU, I might sell out as well.  Especially if Notre Dame offers me their head coaching job. 

We did get some offers overseas that kind of came out of the blue.  The idea of living and working in England and Europe excited me, it would have been taking the job for the experience, it wasn’t anything that evoked any great passion out of me.  With the looming recession in Europe, I envisioned being made redundant (laid off) in 6 months anyways.  It may have been different if I was single or Wendy and I didn’t have any kids but it’s a big deal to move there just because I want to experience a part of Europe.  While the romantic in me loves the ideas of weekends in Paris or Berlin, the practical part of me says that at my payscale, it wasn’t likely to happen.  Because I always prided myself in thinking globally, I have wanted to live globally.  At the same time I do love this city of ours and I like to call Saskatoon (and Arlington Beach on summer weekends) home.

I then had to figure out what I wanted to do.  I know what I need to do to live on and Wendy and I don’t have much debt (mortgage, small car payment).  While Wendy wants to do a bunch of work to the cabin, the bill for that will be in the hundreds of dollars this summer, not thousands.  On top of that, Wendy cut back on a lot of her job responsibilities at Safeway this year.  She wasn’t getting paid for them and it was taking away from she liked about her job.  On top of that Oliver is at an age where being at the sitter a bit isn’t that bad for him and he really enjoys being there which has meant that Wendy can get much earlier shifts.  Both of these factors contributed to Wendy enjoying work a lot more and as she says, she enjoys work more now than she has at any time over the last 15 years.  While her depression is always there, things are better and it gave me some flexibility on what i wanted to do with my life.

So what do I want to do?  Initially I was so tired that I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I still wasn’t sleeping right but over the last week I have just relaxed and felt more alive physically, emotionally, and spiritually than I have in a long time.  I did realize that I still want to do something that I care about and I want it to be local.  I also realized there are relatively few things that get me excited.  I get friends who are working in churches and want to talk about ancient/future worship or some great new idea in technology and communication and I can barely generate an opinion.  It’s not that for some that stuff isn’t important but for me, it’s not how I am wired.  On the other hand I am not driven by money.  I wish I was sometimes and I have been derided for my lack of greed but I am driven by helping people.  It left me in a place where I want to spend more time on stuff I care about and less time on stuff that is important to other people.

So what does it all mean.  It means that on Thursday I’ll post where I landed and some other projects that I am working on.

Unemployed

Today was my last day at The Salvation Army Community Services.  It was a good run but like all things come to an end.  I am still going to be involved in homeless issues here or where ever we end up and I am still writing about urban issues in The StarPhoenix.  I am not sure what I am going to do with my life now.  I spent 11 years as a pastor in Spiritwood (while working at Lakeview Church during some of the same years) and I have worked for The Salvation Army for the last six years so unemployment is a rare occurrence for me.  I think I have been unemployed for a week in my entire life. 

I am not sure what I am going to do now and am open to suggestions.  If you are wondering what I am good at, I updated my LinkedIn profile (I think I finally figured out what LinkedIn is for) but you can always email me at jordoncooper@gmail.com.  Walking out of a job without a plan is crazy course of action but I am really looking forward to what is ahead and where ever it takes me.

Looking at harm reduction from a Christian perspective

So Calgary has stopped giving out free crack pipes as part of it’s harm reduction strategy.

Free crack pipeSince 2008, Alberta Health Services had been giving out crack-pipe kits as part of the Safeworks program, an effort to reduce transmittable diseases. The kits contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece and cleaning tool and were handed out in an AHS van.

More than 14,500 crack pipes were given out as of June 2011.

However, AHS has discontinued the Safeworks crack-pipe program as of Tuesday, citing the “potential for a legal challenge with respect to distribution.”

Tim Richter, Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO, said the program was an effective first step in engaging hardcore, street-involved crack addicts.

“We’re disappointed the program has been cancelled in the fashion it was,” Richter said. “Harm reduction and giving these crack pipes out was good, smart public health.

“It seems like a knee-jerk reaction on fairly simplistic moralistic ground.”

Some groups, including the Calgary Police Association, recently expressed concerns with the Safeworks program prior to its cancellation. CPA president John Dooks said it set a dangerous precedent.

“It’s implying you can use elicit drugs or unlawful drugs in a safe manner,” Dooks said. “The message should be there is no safe way to use drugs,”

I grew up and still am an evangelical Christian.  My grandmother was president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Saskatchewan and I work for the Salvation Army which coined the phrase “demon rum”.  Being against harm reduction and all for abstinence is in my DNA.   I hate what the drugs do to people.  I see it every day but for that very reason, I am for harm reduction.  Here’s why.  By the virtue that people are coming for free crack pipes, they are doing two things.  Realizing that things are out of control and putting themselves in contact with the very people that can help them.  That’s why Insite works.  Insite isn’t for just any heroin addict.  It’s for the addicts that realize that they need help and can’t continue on the path that they are on.  Insite isn’t a destination, it’s the start of the journey.  The same is with grabbing a crack pipe from a street worker, they are admitting that something is wrong and taking a small step in the right direction.

In Saskatoon there is still some debate about needle distribution, a debate I can’t understand, even from a Christian perspective.  You have drug users using dirty needles, passing them around, getting high.  Statistics tell us that they are at a very high risk of contracting HIV or Hep C, both are costly diseases to fight and we know many users don’t fight it.  As a friend who runs another agency once told me, up to half of our mutual clients have untreated HIV/Aids on any given night.  The more I think about it, the more I agree with her.  As a Christian who wants the best for them, by taking the needles/crack pipes away, we are just complicating things.  I am increasing the risk of a disease that will hinder them rest of their lives or shorten it drastically.  A lack of harm reduction options increases healthcare costs in addition to lost potential due to a shortness of life or a diminished capacity for life.  

The main reason to do so doesn’t seem to be a legal reason or even a moralistic one, it seems to be driven out of societies dislike and discomfort with addicts and their lifestyles and a desire to punish them.  If I can nuance Tim Richter’s stance, this isn’t about a moral stand, it’s a puritan stand, one that says that people that do wrong must be punished.

In my years of working at the Salvation Army, I have known one guy that enjoyed being an addict.  The rest hate it and want out but can’t do it yet.  On my walks home I run into a client who for years was an ass to deal with.  Was always angry at me, always yelling, and threatening.  One night he walked in and was clean of the drugs and was quite a nice guy.  Entirely different.  Part of his path out his hell was harm reduction.  He’s been clean (and struggling) ever since then.  He rents a place not far from me and is scraping out a legit existence doing a variety of jobs.  He stops by to chat when he sees that Wendy and I are around and stops by Wendy’s work to say hello to her.  Every time I see him he is always telling me that he is amazed that his drugs didn’t destroy his relationship with the Salvation Army and myself and goes on to say over and over again, how they destroyed almost everything else in his life.  His story isn’t unique.  I could insert in a variety of names and contexts into that story and the pain is always the same. 

When we look at drugs users, the explanation is that it is either a personal choice or they have a low genetic tolerance towards it (in describing Aboriginal Drug Abuse).  Both of these answers have the same underlying principle, it’s not my fault or responsibility.  One thing we overlook is the societal aspect of drug and alcohol abuse.  Drug and alcohol abuse on reserves was not a problem until the Residential Schools opened (The damage was done to those taken and those left behind.  How would you handle it if the RCMP took your children a part of a government policy.  I know I would be seriously messed up if I lost Ollie and Mark).  Now I do meet some men and women that came from extremely stable households who for whatever reason decided to self destruct with drugs as a personal lifestyle choice but for the most part the drug use is a result of escaping horrible family situations, mental health issues and is a part of concurrent disorders.  In other words the kind of individuals that we as a society have an obligation to help the most.  For decades Canada has had a social safety net for those that need this kind of help.  It has generally come in the form of healthcare or Social Assistance but as the drugs have become more potent and addictive, the solutions are more complicated as well.  Harm reduction works.  It’s not about the pipe, it’s about the pathway out the personal hell they are living in.  Alberta Health was wrong to back down and all of Albertans will pay the costs.  It’s my Christian faith that calls out for harm reduction strategies, it’s fear and a lack of grace that fights against them.

Notes:

1. My grandmother would be totally opposed to EVERYTHING that I wrote in this post.

2. I believe the phrase demon rum should be used more often than it is.  I try to use it as much as I can at work but to be honest, no one drinks rum anymore and it seems awfully judgemental to say about anything else.

King of the Road

From the Chicago Tribune.  Truck driving is a lot harder job than you think.  Most of these guys work pretty hard for very little money.

Let me tell you a little about the truck driver you just flipped off because he was passing another truck, and you had to cancel the cruise control and slow down until he completed the pass and moved back over.

King of the roadHis truck is governed to 68 miles an hour, because the company he leases it from believes it keeps him and the public and the equipment safer.

The truck he passed was probably running under 65 mph to conserve fuel. You see, the best these trucks do for fuel economy is about 8 miles per gallon. With fuel at almost $4 per gallon — well, you do the math. And, yes, that driver pays for his own fuel.

He needs to be 1,014 miles from where he loaded in two days. And he can’t fudge his federally mandated driver log, because he no longer does it on paper; he is logged electronically.

He can drive 11 hours in a 14-hour period; then he must take a 10-hour break. And considering that the shipper where he loaded held him up for five hours because it is understaffed, he now needs to run without stopping for lunch and dinner breaks.

If he misses his delivery appointment, he will be rescheduled for the next day, because the receiver has booked its docks solid (and has cut staff to a minimum). That means the driver sits, losing 500-plus miles for the week.

Which means his profit will be cut, and he will take less money home to his family. Most of these guys are gone 10 days, and home for a day and a half, and take home an average of $500 a week if everything goes well.

via

Cuts in Transit Services

I’ll admit, it has been years since I road a city bus for the simple reason that it’s a pretty easy walk from my house to work and Wendy only has to travel two blocks to her work.  At both of our places of work, there are staff there 24 hours a day.  The Salvation Army Community Services has a policy where we provide taxis to staff who are arriving/leaving late at night and on days when there is no transit services for personal safety issues (shelter staff have been violently attacked in other cities and many of our staff have been threatened).

My problems with the transit cuts are that by cutting them off at 10:00 p.m., what do staff at retail establishments or restaurants do when their shift ends after transit calls it a night.  Some have suggested carpooling or taxis.  I know what our taxi bill is at work.  Even with Comfort Cabs giving us a deal on taxis, it would be over an hour in lost wages for anyone working for a retail job.  That’s a big time pay cut, especially if your shift is only 4 or 5 hours long (welcome to retail).  There is always walking but my employer isn’t all that thrilled with me walking to work for a midnight shift and I am 6’4 and often walk down with our dog that [looks] intimidating.  Wendy has had co-workers assaulted walking home in the middle of the afternoon in an east side parking lot as has one who was walking home at 8:00 p.m. at night.  Both were able to fight off their attackers but no one deserves that.  At one time people probably did live in the same neighbourhoods where they worked but it’s a long walk from anywhere at the big box stores.  This isn’t Mayberry anymore.

Some have suggested car pooling.  Great idea but often times the people working those shifts don’t have much seniority, are working for a low wage and don’t have a car.  It’s the reality of retail.  The hours are long, the pay is low and there isn’t enough benefits to go around.

While we love late night shopping, don’t we have some responsibility for staffs to get home safely and easily after catering to the demands of their clientele?  What can we do about it?  Maybe just fund it.

Portland's Free Rail Zone In the United States, public transit is far more thoroughly funded by all three levels of government.  In the United States the cities fund 21% of the subsidies and in Canada, cities kicked in 77% of the funding so Saskatoon taxpayers are paying a far higher share of public transit funding then they do in American cities.  With the federal government paying a larger chunk of the bill (mostly capital), it means that there are lower fares more resources and better service which of course ads up to an increase in ridership.  Up to 90% of public transit is taxpayer funded in some cities in order to keep rates low and ridership high.  As part of an effort to deal with vehicle traffic in downtown Portland, you can ride MAX Light Rail and Portland Streetcar within downtown Portland, the Rose Quarter and the Lloyd District for free.  Calgary has a similar system on 7th Avenue.

The 2010 transit budget was $32.5 million, $11.5 million came from fares.  Saskatoon Transit’s subsidy increased by $2 million this year to $19.7 million.  That’s not chump change and is frustrating because there isn’t much federal or provincial dollars helping out.  I understand the city wanting to cut costs and increase revenues but it’s not exactly cheap either.  I got a kick out of an old entry from Sean Shaw who pointed out that taking the bus to work actually costs him more than driving and parking and takes an hour longer each day.  At $71.00/month for an adult pass, it is more than we spend on gas for a month if there are not trips to the lake… and more importantly to a lot of people, it’s an extra hour of commute time a day.

At about 2/3 subsidy, we are at the same levels as the rest of Canada but quite a bit less than some cities in the United States.  A quick glance at the cities who dwarf us show that they have LRT’s or subways.  While it’s really easy to cancel a seldom used express bus to the airport, it’s really hard to walk away from a subway line.  The other interesting thing is that in the United States, the federal government takes a much more active role in providing operating subsidies than the Canadian government.  Where we may pay as much as 60% of operational subsidies, many U.S. cities only pay 25% or lower of the costs the state and the feds picking up the rest.  That is the problem.  I expect the low rates and high quality of service of a place like Chicago or Boston but without the federal subsidies that pay for it. 

My feeling is that we figure out how to build a world class transit service.  Find out what Saskatoon really wants and then fund it.  It seems like whenever we look at transit the first thing that comes out of anyone’s mouth is the subsidy.  The subsidy isn’t going away, the debate needs to be are we getting good value for it.  This doesn’t need to be an emotional discussion.  I am not an economist and I think I could come up with a framework for measuring economic impact.  My feeling is that the economic impact of students getting to school (and then the mall), people getting to work (rather than a car payment), cars off our streets, and more parking being available to those doing business downtown rather than working there is well above the $20 million we are paying.  Anyone want to challenge that? I have comments.

Wollaston Lake

Saskatoon Kinsmen / Henk Ruys Soccer Centre Since the middle of last week when the Wollaston Lake fire forced the evacuation of the community to Prince Albert and to two locations in Saskatoon, I have been handling food services at the Saskatoon Kinsmen / Henk Ruys Soccer Centre for the Salvation Army EDS since the first evacuees arrived.  What generally happens is that one of the officers handles the overall effort and gets to go to the meetings while staff from Beaver Creek Camp and the Centre handle the operations.  The officers miss out on some of the physical work but they have to listen to us complaining when we get over tired and they have corporate credit card to solve some of our problems.  I have been in some of those meetings as well and I’d prefer to be setting up food for the next meal.  The Salvation Army uses the Incident Command System and it works pretty well.

I have run the food service job a couple of years ago but it was for a far smaller number (around 100 people if I remember correctly).  The soccer centre had 650 to start (the numbers dwindled as the arrests continued) and two incompatible gangs which meant that there was a few incidents that needed some intervention.  Despite the bad press, the situation inside was quite relaxed and cheerful once the gang issues was sorted out and they were given more secure accommodations.  It was crowded as three of the four soccer pitches were needed for cots and sleeping.  Our area was the farthest from water supply and also was used as a recreation area by the Red Cross which was different than other evacuations where we had our own space and our own water supply.  After hauling hundreds of gallons of water, Wendy dropped off some additional water jugs.  We still had to haul water across the complex but in fewer trips.

Several of the staff who helped out know this first hand but there is a physical toll in working the hours (I rolled in before six a.m. most days and didn’t leave until mid to late evening on some of them).  I strained my back, hurt my shoulder, burnt my hands and legs fighting with hot food, bruised my knee after I banged into a bumper while unloading a Cambro, and burnt off some of my eyelids while blowing out a can of fuel.  I also took a chunk of out of finger which while minor, really made me whiney… a least internally. 

I spent a lot of time with some kids that are FASD.  I don’t really know what to say but they are going on seven or eight years of age with the mental capacity of a two year old.  One day I was really tired and I was trying to get some fuel lit to heat up the chafing dishes.  They burn blue and the kids kept wanting to touch them.  It was the only one there, exhausted and pissed off that I was the only one there.  My back was hurting and these kids kept wanting to touch that flame and wouldn’t listen to me.  I was thinking, “what is wrong with these stupid kids, they are going to get hurt” when it clicked in, “FASD”.  So I quickly told myself off for being a jerk and got a serving insert and one of the fuel cans.  I tore off a bit of napkin and lit it on fire in the metal insert.  The kids said, “hurt” and they got it.  Of course I couldn’t help visualize the headline, “Wollaston Lake residents sent back to forest fire threatened community because former Salvation Army employee burnt down Soccer Centre and part of River Heights”   That was my last fire demonstration.

So today I was relieved by some Salvation Army officers.  My rotation is done and I needed the break.   Despite being surrounded by food, I went three days without eating because I was too busy and/or preoccupied to think about food.  I would come home at night and just fall asleep on the sofa.  I’ll head to the Soccer Centre for one more 6:00 a.m. tomorrow to show my replacement the ropes and take off before breakfast is served.   Hopefully it is all wrapped up by Thursday night and we can plan for the next one.

It was mentioned to me today that Saskatchewan has forests that have a natural cycle of 100 years and with fire suppression, we are hitting about year 130 which means when they do start on fire, they burn badly.  Factor in flooding and it means that the Salvation Army and the Red Cross do this a couple times a year.  I have a feeling this evacuation won’t be my last this summer.

One thing that did make me a bit sad is that it will be the last evacuation with the same officers and staff that we have been doing this for years with.   The officers that were at the Centre when I started are being transferred to Vancouver and the camp directors are retiring.  For years it was just automatic who would be there and take charge.  There is a lot of experience, dedication, and problem solving ability being lost.  I’ll miss them.

Thanks to my staff and co-workers who put in some long hours down there and have the same cuts and bruises that I do.  It caused problems for childcare, sleep patterns, and added some stress to their already busy work weeks.  Despite that they are a lot of fun to work with.  They were at the Soccer Centre, Cosmo Civic Centre, and driving all over the place doing whatever they needed to do.  I appreciated the help, the companionship, and their ability to listen to me be over tired.  Thanks to Wendy as well who showed up with a large cooler of Coke, Diet Coke, and bottled ice water for staff and volunteers.  You forget how much you nice a cool pop can be when it is hot in there.  As a very happy Red Cross volunteer said while sipping a Dr. Pepper, “Your wife is an angel”.  She is.

I hear Cumberland House is on evacuation standby (doh!).  Hopefully they aren’t sent to Saskatoon as I really want to head to the cabin this weekend to celebrate Ollie’s third birthday.

One last thing.  Don’t donate goods to evacuations unless requested by the government or an agency.  Stores and malls have been collecting material goods for Wollaston Lake residents but they had zero property loss and it is a HUGE logistical nightmare for agencies like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to store, collect, and transport these goods.  In the case of Wollaston Lake, they would have to be flown in on an aircraft that has STOL capabilities and of course those planes are either really small or in short supply. If you want to give, give cash.  It allows the residents or the agencies to get what they need, and it doesn’t put a big burden on other agencies who are stuck with trying to figure out what to do with your old curtains.  In several disasters, the costs of handling the donated goods were more than what it would have cost new and much of it is sent to the garbage.  I know cash isn’t as personal as a quilt but you get a tax receipt and it allows the victims to get what they need.

Why I do what I do

A couple of months ago I put this together from many, many sources (manuals, binders, and internal documents) for the staff I supervise.  It’s a manifesto of hope and it kind of explains why we do what we do at the Salvation Army in Saskatoon.  We have a lot of stuff that says what to do but I wanted something that says, why we do it.  I didn’t know how it would go over when I put it together but staff here and at Mumford House keep asking me for copies.  Every once in while when I find myself browsing jobs on SaskJobs and am stressed out, it’s good for me to read it as well.  If you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments.

 

General William Booth of the Salvation ArmyWilliam Booth believed in the idea of Soup, Soap and Salvation. This came from his belief that the teaching and example of Jesus, together with the repeated testimony of the Bible, reveal that God places a very high value on those who are poor, rejected and marginalized as they have also been made in His image, and are precious to Him. We are convinced of the fundamental dignity and worth of each and every human being, without qualification.

Drastically different life circumstances can create the illusion that we are somehow different people, especially when those external differences are ones that may frighten us – such as homelessness, mental illness, or substance abuse. These perceived differences allow us to distance ourselves, until we can easily justify us looking the other way from people who are homeless or on the street. Yet the closer we get to people, even those whose experiences and circumstances seem foreign to us, the more similar we find ourselves to be. People who are homeless have the same needs and longings we all share, one of the largest things we share in common is a need for community.

In many ways it is this belief that drove William Booth (and later The Salvation Army) for his entire existence. As General William Booth preached during his last sermon at Royal Albert Hall on May 9, 1912

General William Booth of the Salvation ArmyWhile women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight;
While little children go hungry, I’ll fight;
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I’ll fight;
While there is a drunkard left, 
       while there is a poor lost girl on the streets, 
       where there remains one dark soul without the light of God – I’ll fight!
I’ll fight to the very end!

Following in William Booth’s footsteps, we offer food, shelter, and a place to call home here at the Salvation Army. A safe place where people can find the necessities of life as well as a place to call home, even if for a short while.

There is a big difference between shelter and home. A home is more than just four walls and a roof. It mean’s being welcomed into a safe, secure and dignified place to live; healthy, nurturing relationships; respectful of boundaries; the opportunity for education; a place to worship, and a place where it is safe to dream and play in vibrant community.

It’s easy to provide shelter.  Anyone can put up a tent or a shed. It’s far more difficult to provide a place to call home. We take the more difficult path of providing a home for our clients because we are driven by love and compassion. Compassion is more than a feeling.  Genuinely caring about people motivates us to take action. It pushes us to learn why people become homeless or are trapped in poverty, it makes us engage in social advocacy. It drives us to make a point of getting to know people who may live outside our own comfort zones, and seek to share our time, abilities and resources. All of these energies are directed at bringing about positive change – such as helping our residents find a home of their own, meaningful employment, serving a meal cooked with care, or helping them access health care or education.

Choosing to help only those who we feel is deserving of our help and leaving behind those whose behaviors we may disapprove of is prejudicial and not Biblical. The grace that all Christians rely on is for people who are undeserving and/or guilty.  The Salvation Army, knowing ourselves to be by nature undeserving, we ought to be able to identify with those who appear to be homeless or poor because of their own behaviors. In other words, we as staff and officers have messed up too.

The cost of our inaction is often higher than our actions. Abandoning people to poverty increases health problems and necessitates increased Social Services spending.  We also know it sometimes drives people to crime – all major burdens for governments and us as taxpayers.  Being trapped in poverty diminishes hope and the sense of personal value in the individual. Children when they are born into poverty, start life so far behind others that they may never be able to catch up. When people are shut out because of their poverty, poverty itself “snowballs”, increasing our societal burden and diminishing our capacity as a community.  Part of what we strive to do here everyday at the Centre is to stop this snowball effect on and in our clients.

One of the ways we do that is to offer “second chances” to people who have failed or done wrong. We believe that justice ought to be primarily restorative rather than punitive. We do that at the Centre through New Frontiers Half-Way House, John School, and the staff’s willingness to continue to work with even the most difficult of clients. Everything we do, even in handling out disciplinary action is aimed at the restoration of the relationship and community.

From this, we take out the following principles

  1. We are here for our clients. They are our reason for existence as a Residential Services department and as a staff. They are the reason we come to work, they are the reason Social Services decides to fund us and why we get paychecks.
  2. All homeless persons have the right to safe shelter which is a universal human right afforded to all human beings regardless of political or religious beliefs, ethno-cultural background, (dis)ability, gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Staff must respect and be sensitive to the diversity of residents. Discriminatory and racist incidents or behaviors are not tolerated.
  3. Despite the situations that lead to a client becoming homeless, the staff must do everything they can to ensure that we find safe, secure, and affordable housing for our clients, whether it be in our residential programs, Larson House, the Lighthouse, another one of Saskatoon’s shelters or even the Saskatoon Police Service.
  4. The Centre will provide an atmosphere of dignity and respect for all shelter residents, and provide services in a non-judgmental manner.
  5. Residents are capable of moving toward increasing levels of self-reliance and self-determination. Shelter staff will work with residents to assist them in achieving their goals.
  6. The Salvation Army Community Services is sensitive to the ethno-specific and linguistic needs of residents. Staff will work to ensure residents have access to culturally appropriate interpreter services if needed.
  7. Gender identity is self-defined. Sometimes this may not correspond with a person’s physical appearance. We accept gender identity as defined by the individual rather than by the perception of staff and/or other residents. If the gender identification is not compatible with our current capacity to house them, staff will work with Emergency After Hours find more appropriate housing (i.e. hotels or other shelters).
  8. Front Desk Staff often have access to detailed and highly sensitive personal information about residents. Protecting the privacy and confidentiality of shelter residents and their personal information is of the utmost importance.
  9. All people who need it will have access to safe and nutritious food. All of the staff has a role in this, whether it be signing people up for twelve free meals, issuing of free meal tickets, accurate referrals to the Saskatoon Food Bank or The Friendship Inn, referrals to coffee houses, helping out with dining room security, or assisting in the kitchen, we do what we have to do to make sure people have access to good food.
  10. The health and safety of residents, volunteers and staff is of the highest importance to The Salvation Army Community Services. Training, policies, procedures and regular maintenance are intended to encourage, improve and maintain the health and safety of all people residing, volunteering and working in the shelter.
  11. People who are homeless have few resources and the shelter system is often their final option to receive the basic necessities of life: food and shelter. We will only issue service restrictions as a last resort and in the most serious cases. If a client is banned, we will work with other shelters, Emergency After Hours, and Social Services to ensure that he or she is housed.
  12. People who are homeless, like other members of our community, may use substances to varying degrees. Everyone is entitled to shelter whether or not they use substances. Even though we may not house them here, we need to find an appropriate spot for them, whether that be with Larson House, the Lighthouse, or another facility. In extreme cases we call the Saskatoon City Police. For clients who insist on using banned substances, we may ask them to find another residence but this is only done after staff, the Residential Coordinator, and the Centre’s chaplain has talked with them.
  13. We have tough jobs that rely on accurate information being given to us. In turn, we will always give accurate and honest assessments to other agencies. Not only for their benefits but so our clients are placed properly.
  14. Shelters are part of a larger network of homeless services and agencies. Collaboration within this network is important to ensure that our goals and objectives as a Centre are being met.

As individual staff members, it means that there are also certain expectations made of us.

Staff will:

  1. Maintain the best interests of the resident as their primary goal. The best interests of a client may not be what they want but what they need or has been defined as a proper course of action by our policies or the Courts. It’s why we send intoxicated clients to Larson House, it’s why we call in CSC clients who have breached, it’s why we monitor probation clients.
  2. Acknowledge the power inherent in their position and strive to minimize the impact of the power differential.
  3. Be respectful of residents, fellow employees, and any other person with whom they come in contact during the course of their duties.
  4. Carry out professional duties and obligations with integrity, objectivity and equity.
  5. Ensure residents have the necessary information to make informed decisions.
  6. Acknowledge that the work-site is someone else’s home, and be mindful of their presence especially in communal and sleeping areas.
  7. Be accountable for all interactions with residents, community members and staff.
  8. Acknowledge when they are in a situation they are not skilled or comfortable to handle, and seek support from colleagues and supervisors.
  9. Work as a team with other Residential staff and other programs in The Salvation Army. At our peak, over 60 staff members work out of here in a wide variety of jobs and programs. Always be on the lookout for how you can help in another area or help out another staff, regardless of whether or not it is in your job description.
  10. Follow their agency policies and procedures around staff behavior and conduct.
  11. Report all violation of the code of ethics to the Residential Coordinator or if needed, the Executive Director.

Staff will not:

  1. Discriminate against any person on the basis of race, ethnic/cultural background, sexual orientation, age, (dis)ability, religious belief, socio-economic status, etc.
  2. Use abusive, discriminatory language.
  3. Impose their own personal beliefs/standards on residents.
  4. Exploit their relationship with a resident for personal benefit, gain or gratification.
  5. Become involved in a resident’s personal life beyond their professional function.
  6. Have personal relations with current or previous residents as outlined in The Salvation Army’s policies personal conduct policy.
  7. Accept gifts or services from current or previous residents, their family, or friends
  8. Perform duties under the influence of intoxicants or consume intoxicants while on duty.
  9. Violate or disobey established rules, regulations, or lawful orders from a supervisor (or Parole Officer, Officer of the Court, or a Salvation Army officer)
  10. Engage in critical discussion of staff members or residents in the presence of residents.
  11. Withhold information which, in so doing, threatens the security of the Center, its staff, visitors, or the community.
  12. Through negligence, endanger the well-being of self or others.
  13. Engage in any form of business or profitable enterprise with residents.
  14. When dealing with Correctional Services of Canada clients, inquire about, disclose, or discuss details of a resident’s crime with any other clients.

Giving Hope Today is more than a marketing slogan for the Salvation Army in Canada, it is our job description in three words and it has always been a hard task to do.

There is going to be days when as a staff we are given responsibilities that we don’t think are totally suited to our capabilities. That’s fine because throughout history, the world has been made a better place by those that do what they are not suited for.

If we are going change the world around us, there are going to be days when the task ahead is going to be hard and hard and demanding and the clients unappreciative. Theologian Leonard Sweet offers quick look back at the Bible and church history gave some time to reflect on the attitudes of those that have made a difference.

The world’s a better place because a German monk named Martin Luther did not say, "I don’t do doors."

The world’s a better place because an Oxford don named John Wesley didn’t say "I don’t do preaching in fields."

The world’s a better place because Moses didn’t say, "I don’t do Pharaohs or mass migrations."

The world’s a better place because Noah didn’t say, "I don’t do arks and animals."

The world’s a better place because David didn’t say, "I don’t do giants."

The world’s a better place because John didn’t say, "I don’t do deserts."

The world’s a better place because Mary didn’t say, "I don’t do virgin births."

The world’s a better place because Paul didn’t say "I don’t do correspondence."

The world’s a better place because Jesus didn’t say "I don’t do crosses."

And the world will be a better place only if you and I don’t Say, "I don’t do …"

As staff, every hour of every day, we are here to serve our clients, do everything we can to ensure that people have a home to go to, and in the spirit of William Booth fight for those who have no one else to fight for them. Plus, there is no job quite like changing the world and making the differences in the lives that we do each and every shift.

The end of the line

I attended a funeral for a long time resident of the Salvation Army Community Services today.  He stayed with us for several years after the death of his wife and the alienation from his children.  During the funeral today, the priest mentioned his time at the Salvation Army several times and each time he would mention it, I found myself thinking of our time together.

At the funeral there were some residents of the nursing home, not all of them were even aware what was going on and who Andy was and there were four of us from the Salvation Army and that was it.  Now he was buried earlier and four other staff and officers attended that service and that’s it, eight of us over two services.  No one else.

It struck me because if you wanted a visualization of the Salvation Army’s vision, that would be part of it.  When there is no one else, we will be there and we were there a lot for Andy.  At the same time Andy just didn’t take from us, he gave back in terms of friendship.

He never talked much and could never remember our names.  He wouldn’t even try.  He never called me Jordon but rather Susan, Joe, Frank, Peggy, or Patty.  Apparently he wasn’t big on gender differentiation either.  He remembered my co-worker Vi’s name and when he was a little ticked at her, he called her Viv.  Not sure why but it made us laugh.  While he never got my name right, we would hug me once a month and tell he that he thought we were going a good job.  Getting hugged freaked me out but I appreciated the sentiment.  He also said it like it was.  One day he came down and said, “Give me a bucket, I just s— myself” and there was a trail coming all the way from his room and down the stairs.  At least he offered to clean up after himself (our janitor took care of it).  Another time a highly intoxicated man had some in and immediately passed out in the lobby, splitting open his head.  He was almost bleeding out and there was paramedics and blood everywhere.  As someone came in and asked what happened, Andy replied, “I told him not to mess with me” and didn’t crack a smile.  Perhaps my favorite thing Andy ever said to me was he walked up to the front desk and simply said, “Damn Blue Jays.  No pitching at all this year” and wondered off.

Andy was fiercely independent but he let the staff close enough to care for him and also for us to see a bit of his life as well.  I’ll really miss him.  As the priest said, Andy had a hard life but there was some good times as well.  I’m glad I was there to see some of them.  I am not sure what all of the ups and downs of his life were but I am quite sure the time spent with us was good for him.

During the service I kept thinking that Andy brought out the best in all of us.  I can’t think of Andy without hearing my co-workers joking with him, fussing a little bit over him, or just chatting with him.   It’s rumored that I may have shed a tear in the service thinking about all of it.

Of course since I have been rather sappy, I’ll spoil all of it for you with this story.  One really funny part of the funeral was when the chaplain at the Sherbrooke Community Centre acknowledged that there was people there from the Salvation Army and a women said, “I’ve already given them money, I’m out of here” and stormed out of the funeral.  One more really funny memory to cap of his life.