Most of you know I am working at The Lighthouse Supported Living now but I haven’t gotten into much more than that. Partially because when they offered me the job, they didn’t know what to do with me (so many of you feel can sympathize). I was given (half) an office, a computer with a really big monitor (it’s sweet) and kind of left to find my way. My colleagues had some strong ideas of what I need to do as did my boss but they let me find my own way for a bit which I really appreciate.
When the dust had settled, I was given the job title General Manager and told to get us to the playoffs in three years. Looking back I wish they hadn’t hired Tim Tebow the year before. He’s a nice guy but his throwing motion is horrible. (if that doesn’t make any sense to you, it means you aren’t an NFL fan… don’t worry about it, I was trying to be funny). The reality is that my goals are to turn The Lighthouse into a place of best practices in the area of affordable living, supported housing, mental health care, and emergency sheltering in the next five years. It’s a big job but there are a lot of cool things coming down the pike. I can’t talk about a lot of them but one I will talk about is the Missional Housing Program which is an internship that is modelled on what they do at The Mustard Seed in Calgary and The Simple Way in Philadelphia. With Bible college’s costing about $10,000 a year now, it’s expensive to go away after high school or to take a year off of college or university to got an made a difference. For about $400 a month, The Lighthouse will give you (and a roommate) an apartment, free laundry, 21 meals a week (the food at The Lighthouse is exceptional), high speed internet, cable, and access to a gym. In return you work with us for 40 hours a week as an intern. You will be assigned a member of the senior staff who will train, mentor, evaluate and if you play your cards right, buy you lunch. If it’s me, there will be a lot of Starbucks involved. The formal announcement will go online in a couple of weeks but we are pretty excited about it and at $1600 a semester for the chance of a lifetime, we think others will be excited about it as well. On top of that is with the new tower will be a new drop in centre, nurses station, employment centre, enhanced employment training (we do it already but it will be bigger and better), a classroom, multipurpose space, lounges on each floor, a library (on each floor) and economic benefits for the downtown core (people will be paying rent below market value which means more money for drinking coffee, eating out, taking in festivals, theatre, and all that downtown offers).
The reason why I am so excited about a bunch of these things is that I have spent the weekend re-writing and expanding the copy for The Lighthouse’s website. I kind of subscribe to the Rick Warren approach in that he once said that you don’t really understand something until you can write it out. By rewriting it all out, it makes me think about the relationship of how everything we do works all together. Which staff are accountable for what areas, what the lines of communications are, where areas overlap, what policies and procedures we are missing, what I don’t understand (and there is a lot), what video ideas we need to communicate this better, what technology we need to use better, and what my priorities need to be. Considering all of the work it has been this weekend, it has also been a lot of fun as it also made me think of how awesome some of this is going to be. I feel a little bit like Kick Buttkowski while answering my phone, “Awesomeness Central, Kick speaking”.
It’s more than the programs and ideas but also because of the impact it makes on the people. DeeAnn tweeted the other day that someone spent over 100 days in an emergency shelter bed last year. That sucks and in every single way is a failure of the system which we are a part of. On the other extreme Wendy and I were walking upstairs two weeks ago and we walked by a women who had just gotten her own room the day before. I asked her how it was and she yelled at me out of excitement, realized he was yelling and then told me she couldn’t stop being loud because she was so happy. We all laughed but that is the impact of being given a home. It’s been a couple of weeks now and while she isn’t yelling she tells me once a day how happy she is living there. Take that story and multiply it by 67 other similar stories of people moving in from the street or from unsafe housing. It’s a big deal.
It’s not all fun. While The StarPhoenix has said that The Empire Hotel was built in 1910, I found some photos on the weekend that said that it was there in 1905. The Traffic Bridge was built (and last maintained) in 1907 and there are photos of the hotel during construction and apparently before that (although the dates contradict each other). We found some of the 1905 plumbing this week when a 6 inch piece of wire (it weighed about as much as twoonie) fell on a pipe that broke. It flooded out two offices. It was the same day that the cold was at it’s worst. After cleaned up the water, we turned the water back on which ruptured another frozen pipe that flooded out part of the basement. My feet were cold going home that day. Sometimes the biggest enemy at The Lighthouse is the building itself.
Despite the age, it too is undergoing a facelift. There are nine mental health rooms being renovated right now. They will provide 8 long term rooms and one emergency room. It is going to be it’s own unit with staff and supports to ensure they do well. Along with that is the refurbishment of each of the 64 rooms (actually it will be 55 since 9 are done) so the entire facility feels like home. New carpets, bathrooms, fixtures and windows. While the rooms are nice now, they will be spectacular when they are done.
The shelters are being redone. A greatly improved women’s shelter will be one of the nicest shelters for women in Canada which will allow us to upgrade the shelter for the men. While those are both good things, they are bad that they are needed and will offer up the challenge of providing supports and housing+ solutions for more people. While shelters are never going to go away (you need somewhere to go in a crisis), how do you minimize those stays to keep them as short as possible.
Of course the big challenge as has been shown in Toronto and Calgary is how do you do this in a booming part of a business district without really upsetting your neighbours who have their own concerns and ideas on how the homeless should be treated. Developers aren’t used to having a supported living provider as a neighbour and they have their own legitimate concerns that need to be dealt with. I am not ready to accept the Larry Kudlow version of capitalism (if there is such a thing as a fundementalist capitalist, he is one) but people have right to make money and we need to honor that as well.
Finally, the other fun thing about the job is the kind of people I work with. Don is a visionary. He sees potential in everything and has the ability to make his ideas come to fruition. The other staff I work closely with know what’s going on as well on both a big picture level and how to execute their ideas. It’s a good place to be right now and a lot fun. 2012 is going to be a fantastic year.