Tag Archives: John School

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.

My 2011 Life List

instead of a New Years Resolution, here is my list of things I want to get done in 2011.

The personal goals first

  1. Take a photo each day of 2011 and post it to my Project 365 set on Flickr. I’ll also post some to the Project 365 group.  This is designed to force me to carry a camera every day.  I went out and purchased some better camera cases which will make it easier for me to carry a point and shoot camera as well as my Fuji S2000HD along with me.
  2. Get the front deck done at the cabin and build a back patio or replace the gazebo with another one.
  3. Finish up my documentary this year.  I have about 40 interviews but it’s not even close to being done.
  4. Head to Calgary for an extended weekend this summer.  Take the boys to Calaway Park, Heritage Park, Banff via the old highway, Johnston Canyon, the Husky Calgary Tower, Calgary Zoo, have coffee with noted local photographer Dave King, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the gondola, and visit Sawback picnic site (my favourite place on earth).
  5. While at Johnston Canyon, take the hike all of the way to the ink pots (which I have never seen).  Maybe I can get a ride in Oliver’s stroller.
  6. Spend at least one uninterrupted week at the cabin with the family.  All of us.  Including the dogs.  With a visit from Lee in there for a couple of days.
  7. Walk or bike to work 100 days of the year.  I am going to put a 1500 km goal on the bike this year.  We’ll see how I do.
  8. Create some online historical walking tours of Saskatoon’s historic sites.  I have been waiting for the Saskatoon Historical Society to be doing it for ages and it never happens.  Plus the best ones that I have seen are done by individuals and not organizations. 
  9. Put up at least three posts a month at The Hedge Society.
  10. Hike with Mark to Grey Owl’s Cabin in Prince Albert National Park.
  11. Learn Adobe Premiere Elements like the back of my hand.  I know there are some seasoned video editors out there who scoff at the term elements but let’s keep in mind that I am a hack, not a professional.
  12. Make Evernote a part of my daily life.

Now my work related goals

  1. That documentary thing is kind of work related.
  2. Finish up a comprehensive manual for front line homeless workers and post it online.
  3. Finish up and launch a website for homeless individuals, front line workers, and the public on housing resources and homeless issues in Saskatoon.
  4. Take John School on the road.  John School is incredibly effective but it’s only for guys who have been picked up for solicitation. By that time a neighbourhood has been affected, marriages have been destroyed, and women have been hurt.  The idea is to get the content and message from John School out there before lives have been ruined. 
  5. Put together a conference on human trafficking in the city during 2011.  I realize that I am a libertarian deep down which makes me quite liberal minded but there are 600 known sex trade workers in Saskatoon and many of them are underage.  No, not all of them are like Julia Roberts or Heidi Fleiss.
  6. This may not happen this year but I would love to start the work on having some policy discussions on poverty and homelessness in Saskatoon with policy makers.  I hate meetings and rallies that don’t take into practical and financial implications for homelessness, poverty, and housing.  I can stand on the rooftops and scream for more money as well as the next one but the reality is that there is always going to be competing political and economic realities.
  7. Move the $10,000 goal that we (hope to) raise online with the iKettle and increase it $25,000 for Christmas 2011.

The goals for the website

  1. Become functionally literate.  The spelling mistakes around here are killing me when I read old posts.  I twice fired the writing staff this fall but unlike Conrad Black, I forgot to change the locks when I let people go and they keep sneaking back in.  Stupid helper monkeys.
  2. Incorporate some more video into the site.  I really enjoyed Warren Kinsella’s W@AL segments and want to do some more fun stuff with video here.
  3. I plan to do some long form writing on some more serious topics.  Writing 10,000 word essays is not my idea of a fun job and as you can see, there isn’t a lot of revenue being generated through advertising these days (apparently I fired my advertising team as well).
  4. I plan a lot more time doing some street level photography.  I have long been a fan of what Jake Dobkin has done with BLUEJAKE and what Sam Javanrouh has done with Top Left Pixel and I would love to do more of that in Saskatoon.  This will be related to #8 of my personal goals.
* for a better life list, check out Maggi Mason’s Life List.