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DeeAnn Mercier

Janice Braden on the OurYXE podcast

Janice Braden

Janice Braden joined us for the OurYXE podcast this week where we talked for a little over an hour about the Municipal Planning Commission, architecture, affordable housing, and city building.  It was a great discussion and I learned a lot from Janice.   Next weekend we are looking at chatting with Shaun Dyer, the executive director of the John Howard Society.  We will be talking about corrections, crime, and our community.

Interviewing Zach Jeffries

Councillor Zach JeffriesThe OurYXE podcast sat down and interviewed Councillor Zach Jeffries (you may know him from such roles as Campaigning for Ward 10).  We had a good discussion about suburban sprawl, the North Commuter Bridge, and his lucky campaign shirt.  It’s worth a listen.

Of course if you can’t get enough of Saskatoon politics and policy, you can subscribe to the OurYXE podcast via RSS, iTunes, or just stop by every Monday and see who else we have tormented (next week it is Councillor Charlie Clark).

In case you get tired of reading my stuff

Our YXE Podcast

For those of you who are tired of reading what I have written; I have put together a new medium to grow tired of; a podcast.  Sean Shaw, DeeAnn Mercier and myself (along with some soon to be announced contributors) are going to talking city politics, urban planning, and other issues that affect us as a city at ouryxe.ca.  We have some great guests lined up and at times it can get rather testy but a great city needs a place to debate things and talk about new ideas.  This just happens to be one of them.  The RSS feed is live and we hope to hear back from iTunes in a couple of days and I can post that link.  The first episode can be found online here.  Expect to hear our episode with Councillor Zach Jeffries to go live as soon as our iTunes page goes live.

2013 Western Canadian Biathlon Championships

Last week DeeAnn talked me into heading up with her and Jules to Blue Mountain Outdoor Adventures near North Battleford to take some photos and video of the 2013 Western Canadian Championships for biathlon.  On Sunday the three of us drove up and checked things out.  All of us ended up taking photos of competitors and coaches from all over western Canada.  When there wasn’t someone racing by, there was the cracks from the gunfire (reminded me of being at home).

2013 Western Canadian Biathlon Championships

There were races happening the entire time we were there so there was always something to take a picture of.  The weather wasn’t that bad out.  I was cold yet was only wearing a hoodie so it wasn’t too bad out.  By the time I got home and edited the shots, I took a couple hundred photos which I uploaded to a Flickr photo set and Blue Mountain’s Flickr group page

What surprised me was how big of sport biathlon is out in Western Canada and also how big of an event these championships are.  There were a couple hundred competitors, coaches, and family members out at Blue Mountain with clubs as far away as Canmore, Hinton, Jasper, and from places in Manitoba.  The other thing that surprised me was how young some of the racers were. 

From what I saw, everyone was having a good time (except for this guy who broke a ski while starting his race) and the weekend went off without a hitch.

Fitness on 25th

So with DeeAnn gone from the Lighthouse, my new office mate is a psychologist who loves to run.  Jeff started to pester me about joining a gym non-stop and I was ignoring it until I decided to take this hike through the backcountry.  As part of the training, I decided to get a Nike Fuel Band to monitor my movement and get myself motivated.  Well that didn’t work out too well.  Well actually it worked too well as it showed me missing my goal of 3000 Nike Fuel every day.  This is how a Nike Fuel Band works.

Basically it taunts you for being inactive.  It’s clever.  It’s not rude as to be mean spirited but it sits there and reminds you that you are no where close to your Nike Fuel goal (for me it’s 3000) and I am surprised how much it bothers me.

After several days of not hitting 3000 (or even coming close), I decided to head down to the YWCA and hit the gym at Fitness on 25th.  Three of my co-workers also came and for 30 minutes we hit the elliptical or the treadmill and had a pretty good work out.  The problem is that it still didn’t get me enough Nike Fuel so tomorrow I am walking to work, walking to the gym, working out, and then walking home… all in the pursuit of the magical Nike Fuel.

I don’t know how long my level of motivation will last the Nike Fuel Band got me to the gym and is making me walk a lot more.  I still hate doing it but lazing around on the sofa isn’t doing a lot for me either.

Now back to Fitness on 25th.  I decided to join there because I believe in the work that the YWCA does in Saskatoon (and know some of their staff).  We have a good relationship with them at The Lighthouse and it’s kind of on my way home from work.  It has 4 treadmills, a bunch of ellipticals and stairclimbers for cardio, a bunch of free weights and stationary bikes.  I spent some quality time on the elliptical which gave my legs a brutal workout and got my right shoulder moving.

The YWCA gym is older but it was quiet and not very busy when we go at 4:00 p.m.  It does offer a free two week trail which I would advise you to check out.  I am not thrilled with having to sign up for a year but I understand why they do it.

Getting to know Chris Powell

Here is a video that I shot of Chris Powell that explains a bit of his accent (he is from Georgia) and why he works at The Lighthouse.

Sigh

Earlier this week Wendy called me from Safeway and said that a guy that knew me was homeless and needed help.  I had dealt with him for years at The Salvation Army but they wouldn’t let him stay because he didn’t have funding and he didn’t have any money.  I know him pretty well, we had our ups and downs but we got along together, he posed no threat to anyone, and I liked having him around.  It was the end of the day and I told the staff that when he came in, he was the kind of guy who like to help out so find some task to cover his stay.  If he did work for an hour, he would be fine.

The next morning I came in and he was gone.  He had cleaned for three hours (he got on a roll) and had gone to day labour early.  I heard the same thing each morning.  He had shown up, worked really hard cleaning, was pleasant, and had taken off to work early that morning.

Yesterday was stressful but Chris, DeeAnn and I took off to pick up Tara Funk at the airport and had a fun lunch with her.  As we were back at The Lighthouse, there were all sorts of arguments breaking out.  As Chris was out trying to deal with one, the guy we had been helping came in.  I was happy he had come in early but in reality  Chris and I were there late and I had lost track of time.  As Chris was restoring order, the client and I went into my office and sat down to chat.

Chris joined us and we had this fantastic talk.  The client always lives on the edge of the streets, almost always in a shelter and for the last two weeks has been homeless.  So Chris and I listened, talked, and figured out a way to house him in the short term and also the long term.  He did something that kind of shocked me, he sighed.  You could just see the stress leave him.  He had a big smile and walked out relaxed.

The weird thing is that like a lot of people we have been dealing with lately, they don’t fit the system and what I keep learning is that you have to decide to house them first and then figure it out how to do it later.  There is funding, behavioral, and location issues that have to worked out but once you decide we are going to find a place to house him, it’s relatively easy.  The guy that we helped tonight isn’t a bad guy, he’s actually a really good human being and has done well with the front desk staff at The Lighthouse.  My life is actually better off from knowing and helping him but he will be able to fit into housing without some help and today it was very rewarding to give him that help.  It was also even more rewarding that I was able to do it with some other’s help.

Project: The Story of Saskatoon.

The other day DeeAnn Mercier and I were arguing about the hiking the food desert that she was a part of last year. I was talking about it being kind of pointless when Station 20 West was opening up when I realized how much people spend each check day to get to Safeway/Superstore/Wal-Mart in taxis which of course comes right out of the food budget. While Station 20 West will be a big part of the solution, it is still a long ways for people to get groceries. That lead to a discussion about some of the stats in the core neighbourhoods that we have heard over the last year and DeeAnn suggested visualizing some of those statistics into videos. The idea was appealing although relearning Flash (or more than likely Swish wasn’t appealing) As we brainstormed, debated, argued, and brainstormed some more we put together a framework that hopefully will tell the stories of what life is like for those below the poverty line in Saskatoon.

The plan is take look at a bunch of different urban issues that are affecting Saskatoon. Housing, drugs, crime, sex trade, income disparity, racism, urban design, food security, and even sports. Using video, we want to tell the story from the perspective of those struggling to get by but also what the City of Saskatoon, the Province of Saskatchewan, the Government of Canada, and service providers are doing about it. While the story of people struggling is told and the story of government initiatives are told, they are often told independently when in reality they are totally connected.

It’s also a chance to do a project like this correctly. Too often we have seen documentaries shot in Saskatoon that ignore the facts of the situation. They tell a sad story but miss the contributing factors, what others have done, and either ignore the bigger issues or place blame in the wrong places (sometimes on the individual, sometimes on the wrong part of the system).

It won’t be one episode but a series of 10-12 minute videos posted to our channels on YouTube and Vimeo with the goal of posting one a month. If you are interesting in joining our little project to explore and tell the stories of life in Saskatoon, why not contact us at jordon@collectiveimpact.ca or deeann@collectiveimpact.ca

You can find out more about our efforts at collectiveimpact.ca, follow us on Twitter (@TheCollectiveSK), YouTube (CollectiveImpactYXE) and Vimeo (CollectiveImpactYXE).  We’d love your help and feedback.

If you have mental health issues and live in poverty…

You are screwed.

The Lighthouse is basically an old hotel that has been re-purposed, so the hotel rooms are now apartments for people in need, often because of being in poverty, having been homeless, having a mental illness or addiction, having an acquired brain injury, or other cognitive or physical disability.

When I started, there was a list of people whose needs were not being met. Out of 69 people, there was at least 4 elderly tenants who needed more care than we provide (all had mental health issues and incontinence problems). Since we wanted to help the people staying in our emergency dorms move on to an apartment, it is better for everyone if we move the higher needs clients to the right level of care in the wider community, so other people who are in need can have a suite with us.

I and the rest of the staff have been desperately trying to find better homes for these elderly clients. It has been an almost impossible task. If you are elderly, poor and have a mental illness in this city there are very few resources. There is such a low vacancy rate and such high demand for nursing homes, care homes, group homes, and mental health group homes, they can decide a client’s issues are too complicated to be able to help them.

Recently I got one of these tenant’s assessed. They did not qualify for a care home but were promised that services would be brought in to help them do better at our place.

The in-home services find every excuse in the book not to come. It gets to the point where they haven’t bathed in weeks. I have bathed someone twice since working here and I know other staff have as well. We are not paid to do this, nor do we have the time, or resources. We love our tenant’s and see them in need, so we fill in the gaps where other services are supposed to be.

Today I found out this tenant was turned down for a care home for a second time even though she wants to go to a place which provides more care. This person can barely swallow liquid, can’t manage stairs, is incontinent, and can’t maintain personal hygiene. The tenant doesn’t qualify because of ‘personality issues’ stemming from diagnosed mental illness and dementia. As well the in-home services to support her where she is currently living have also stopped.

I pleaded with the assessment manager to tell me what to do to allow this client of mine to have some sort of care. She suggested that I stay in the room the whole time anyone is there giving her help, to make sure the client was well behaved and compliant.  I could also appeal their refusal of accepting her in a care home, which would require me to record all incidences including outbursts, tantrums, incontinence issues, dizzy spells, falls, and lapses in her memory for one week.

So I have a week to prove this tenant is in such poor health but has a pleasant enough personality for her to qualify for a nursing home. Because I love her I will try. The assessment agency is counting on the fact that I won’t evict her to make them actually do something. And that she will be allowed to live here, inability to swallow, incontinence problems and all, until she falls and breaks a hip, or worse.

Showing the FCM delegates The Lighthouse

For most of the last week, DeeAnn, Wendy, and I showed FCM delegates from across the country what The Lighthouse is doing with it’s supported living and affordable housing programs in six different tours.  The tours were only 20 minutes long but the tours were quite late by the time they got to The Lighthouse so DeeAnn, Don and I spent a lot of time standing on the corner of 20th Street and 2nd Avenue.  We were joined by Jeff Jackson, Wendy, and even Mike San Miguel stopped by during our time of loitering.  I am just glad the new by-law enforcement officers weren’t out there yet or I would have been moved on or charged for nefarious street activity.

The tours went well and I have been digging through a pile of email from councillors and civic officials from across Canada about the operations and funding of The Lighthouse.  Wendy snapped some photos of one of the tours and you can see them here.

The Lighthouse Staff Blog

When I started at The Lighthouse, I was caught on what was the best way to communicate with the staff.  I didn’t want to use memos and while email works, I wanted something that would keep a narrative of where we started from.  I set up an intranet with Google Sites and while it was impressive, I didn’t think it would get checked enough and was a bit of a pain to post stuff too.  I finally settled on setting up a password protected staff blog using Blogger.  It took about 2 minutes to set up and invite the staff to.  Another 60 seconds and I had invited Chris and DeeAnn to post to it as well.

The response to reading it was good but there were some technical difficulties.  Once those were settled it will be even more productive.  The main technical obstacle is staff forgetting their passwords at home and then wanting to read it at work.  That was solved by setting up a generic account that can be accessed by anyone at work to read it.

We are only six posts into it and I am not sure what the end result will be but the hope is that it will be a resource that will bring staff up to speed quicker and give them a better feel for the ethos, feel, and personality of The Lighthouse quicker than ever before.

With it being so easy to set up and publish to, I am surprised that more employers aren’t using internal blogs more.  I have loved the idea ever since I heard of the idea of Blogger in Google shortly after Google acquired Google.

Blogger in Google Screen Shot

From MacWorld:

"Google Inc., which implemented an internal Web log system behind its firewall about 18 months ago, has seen tremendous benefits from it and may in the future consider providing tools and expertise for this purpose to interested clients, a Google executive said.

Google deployed an internal blog for its employees shortly after acquiring the blogging service Blogger in early 2003, and since then Google staffers have found many useful and creative ways for the internal blog, said Jason Goldman, Blogger product manager at Google.

"Since then, we have seen a lot of different uses of blogs within the firewall: people keeping track of meeting notes, people sharing diagnostics information, people sharing snippets of code, as well as more personal uses, like letting co-workers know what they’re thinking about and what they’re up to," Goldman said. "It really helps grow the intranet and the internal base of documents."

Google executives have talked in the past about the company’s internal Blogger implementation, called Blogger in Google (BIG), and a Google employee even posted a screenshot of a BIG page last year".

It’s not a new idea but it has the potential for The Lighthouse to have a big return on almost no investment.

The Opening of The Lighthouse Complex Needs Wing

You can get more details here.

Google Contacts

At work I needed a database to store contact information at The Lighthouse.  I originally went into Libre Office Base (and thought about purchasing Filemaker) and planned to design a database myself.  I then realized that I had better things to do and DeeAnn would need to use it as well.  Both her and I work on our desktops and laptops and I use my iPad quite a bit at work as well so a cloud solution seemed to be in order.  A bunch of the options I looked at seemed far more expensive than what I thought I should be paying for in a small institution.  While I was looking around, several people recommended I try Google Contacts.

Google ContactsI am a pretty big fan of Google Contacts personally as it allows me to keep my address book on my iPhone sync’d up with my address book in Gmail.  After checking it out, I looked at it and saw that as a stand alone now which is exactly what I wanted.  It is customizable enough and exports data easily enough that I can get it out anytime I need it.  I set it up with a new account and started to input data.  Of course I wanted to be able to sort the names and it allows me to create groups.  We have groups for service providers, politicians, vendors, and other groups and of course with it you have integration with email when you need it.  As for accessing it, all it takes is a bookmark and a password.

I know there are a lot of options out there but Google Contacts is free, accessible from anywhere, sync’s with our iOS/Blackberry/Android users.  Being a Google shop, it also is easy to export out parts of the database for staff who need the contacts.  Going back to my time at Lakeview Church, I have wanted an easy to use contact database.  We had database designers, consultants, and all sorts of people say they would be a part of the project but it never did anything because in the end, I think they conceived as too complicated.  In the end Google Contacts takes the project to it’s most basic level and does a pretty good job of executing it.

If you are looking for a database for your organization and you don’t have time to design it yourself, check out Google Contacts.  It has more under the hood than you would think.

Marcilfaction

My friend and colleague Marcel has started a new blog which should be good as he is one of the most versatile people I know.   He is one of the four people that are calling my office home right now and is often the cameraman on the videos that we shoot around The Lighthouse.   Since I noted that he has one, I suppose it’s as good of time as any to mention that my other office mate, DeeAnn has one as well.

The Harbour of Hope

DeeAnn Mercier gives a tour of the Harbour of Hope, one of the houses that The Lighthouse runs for women caught up in the sex trade in Saskatoon.  Using a housing first philosophy of housing first with supports, women are working on the streets can find safe housing, support, and community in one of our houses.  The improvements have been faster and more drastic than we imagined. Girls go from using drugs several times a day to almost no drug use, they get back into drug treatment, and those that have HIV or AIDS get back on the life saving medication needed to fight the illness.