Tag Archives: Pleasant Hill

Column:Mobile services effective option

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

My ears perk up whenever I hear Coun. Pat Lorje talk about the concentration of social service agencies in Saskatoon, because it is a very hard problem to fix once it has developed.
Social services tend to be located in poor areas of the city because that is where the need is. For many people, that is the end of the debate, but it’s more complicated than that. Those agencies are located there because of need and because real estate is cheap.
Despite the rhetoric of government, most see social services as an overhead cost, and if money can be saved by locating an agency in a less expensive part of town they will do it, nine times out of 10. For agencies not funded by the government, it is seen as a good stewardship of donations and resources to pay as little as possible for rent or a mortgage.
In Saskatchewan, the need is somewhat artificial because for years the province’s rental supplement has been geared toward accommodation that’s close to supports and services. It provides an incentive for people to live close to social agencies and concentrates poverty.
Once a critical mass of social agencies gets concentrated in one part of town, they tend to drive out other businesses and decrease property values even more. For people who depend on those services, it makes more sense to move to where cost of living is lower and close to where the services are provided. Of course, then you have more social service needs.
It’s an endless cycle that can do a lot of damage to the economic districts of some communities.
An interesting trend in a variety of cities over the last couple of years has been the creation of mobile social services, which are offered all across a city or region. Often these take the form of converted school buses or motorhomes, and provide such things as medical services (i.e. the Saskatoon Health Region’s health bus), as well as mobile showers in San Francisco and even a grocery store that’s driven to areas that do not have easy access to healthy food.
It’s not an new idea.
Libraries were doing this long before it was hip and trendy. I know many people who grew up in Saskatoon who can tell you when the Bookmobile came to their neighbourhood, and exactly where it stopped. It was by no means revolutionary, but it was part of community life.
Today we have the health bus. It doesn’t replace a hospital, but provides many services that one can access without going to a hospital. Being mobile, it can adjust its routes and schedule to meet people’s needs.
The advantages of mobility is that it allows the provision of services to neighbourhoods that need them, but aren’t within walking distance from the main location of a social agency. When many service agencies located in Riversdale, the area had some of the lowest rent and family incomes in Saskatoon. Redevelopment in Riversdale has significantly changed the neighbourhood.
The next place that could see big changes is Pleasant Hill, where the Junction development is slated to proceed. The impact that has seen real estate prices soar elsewhere is yet to be seen here, but the potential exists for affordable housing to move far away from the core and needed services.
There is a reason why studies in many cities show homeless people and those in extreme poverty will walk up to 20 kilometres a day to obtain food and shelter services. Even in Saskatoon, some of the most affordable living areas have almost no access to social services. Either rent eats up one’s food money and you can access services, or you have affordable rent and no access. For many it is a loselose situation.
Using outside-the-box ideas to use buses, local schools or faith-based organizations to deliver needed social services allows agencies and the government to meet needs inexpensively, while having a minimal impact on a local community.
Not only are the startup funds needed for such programs relatively small – one community recently made a significant dent in its food desert with a $100,000 bus – but it is temporary. If a grocery store comes in and wants to build in the neighbourhood it can, and the bus rolls out to another section of town. It can create markets, not kill them.
Without a long-term investment in a property, these programs can also be suited to economic conditions.
Saskatoon is changing.
With that comes the need for the province and city to adapt to how they deliver services in a way that helps people and minimizes the impact on the neighbourhoods where they live.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

A way to improve housing stock in older neighborhoods

Here is a cheaper way to rehabilitate homes in older neighbourhoods

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Buying a house for $500 would be an indisputable bargain in most places, but not necessarily in Cleveland.

So when the owner of the vacant house in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood made the offer to developer and landlord Charles Scaravelli, he paused.

A traditional rehab would cost at least $30,000, more than he could recoup by renting or selling the house.

That didn’t stop him. “Wow, it’s got a slate roof,” Scaravelli said. “I’ll buy it.”

Scaravelli’s decision, not knowing whether it would be an albatross or an opportunity, is turning out to be more than a risk that paid off for him. It also could affect the vast inventory of vacant and abandoned housing in the city and increasingly the suburbs.

Scaravelli converted the dwelling into a loft house, a rehab that cost only $10,000. He has had no problem renting the home on Schaefer Avenue for $500 a month and another on East 47th Street that he bought from the St. Clair Superior Development Corp. and converted.

Now the Cuyahoga land bank and the St. Clair Superior nonprofit are engaged in a pilot project to see whether the loft home conversions can be a way of bringing vacant houses, often the wreckage of the foreclosure crisis, back online. Demolition is the typical solution, but if an affordable model can be found to create a viable market for these houses, bulldozing doesn’t have to be their only fate.

There are homes all over Saskatoon that could benefit drastically from this treatment.

Staying the Course in Ward 2

It’s hard to give opinions on other ward races.  I have several friends on campaigns who are either running or helping run them and you end up picking sides, even between people you respect so I tend to stay out of them.  I have a passionate connection with Ward 2 since 2006 when I found myself working in a homeless shelter in the ward and that has stayed with me as I have moved on. 

I had known of Pat Lorje going back to her time on council in the 1980s and later as a NDP MLA when she was elected in 1993.  I wasn’t a fan because as long time readers of this blog know, I am amongst the last two remaining defenders of the Grant Devine administration (okay, I may be the last remaining one) and I was occasionally (and unsuccessfully) campaigning for her opponent.  Later I unengaged from politics and Lorje became a cabinet minister (those aren’t really connected).

When I found myself working at a shelter in Ward 2 and working with poverty and homelessness issues, Coun. Lorje and Randy Pshebylo made some statements questioning the concentration of services in Riversdale.  I emailed Lorje and asked to meet with our management team and we had an excellent exchange of ideas between her, Pshebylo and other managers.  While Lorje and I disagreed on the issue, her viewpoint was well thought out and backed up with some pretty interesting academic policy discussions about concentrations of service (in Ottawa and Cinncinnati) and what it does to neighbourhood.  It set a pattern even when I see Lorje (and Pshebylo) today.  We may not always agree but we are always looking for ideas to solve and improve poverty and homeless issues.  

The first time that I worked closely with Coun. Lorje was on the opening and rezoning of Mumford House.  It was another service in Pleasant Hill but Lorje saw the big picture on the project and knew that we needed a shelter for women and children in Saskatoon.  She was an effective advocate for the community but also with us and served as an effective “power broker” between us as a service provider and the community association.  It was a project that would have been delayed without community support and her support was crucial in getting it open in a timely matter.  It’s always hard to think what it would have been like without Lorje’s support but I have seen home based child care rezoning efforts have more difficult time than what we had.

As an outsider, I enjoyed watching the politics of the wind turbine and the new development in Montgomery.  Lorje has been a passionate defender of Montgomery and while I didn’t agree with her stance (especially on the wind turbine), she did an excellent job of representing their interests both publicly and to me privately.  She has also been an advocate for things in Council that she feels are right for citizens across the city, especially for those that are marginalized.

Finally as someone that loves the culture of Riversdale, I love the changes that have happened with the revitalization of the neighbourhood as a result of the efforts of the Riversdale BID, entrepreneurs, and the City of Saskatoon’s investment; investment that Lorje champions for at every opportunity.

Ward 2 can’t be an easy ward to represent with perhaps the largest income gap between neighbourhoods in Saskatoon but Lorje has done a good job over the last six years. While I can’t speak for the ward, I can speak for the work that Lorje has done and I think she has done an excellent job for both Ward 2 and for all of Saskatoon.  I can’t take a lawn sign but I’ll make my thoughts known here.  Pat Lorje should be re-elected on October 24th.

Concentration of Poverty in Riversdale

This is the second post in a series on poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon.  You can find the first post here.

A lot of you have asking why my blog series on Riversdale stopped.  The quick answer is that I found a question that I had no answer to.  Of course the long answer is that I started writing about an article that Dave Hutton wrote back in May.  As I started to write about it, I got to a point where i was going to talk about the concentration of poverty in Riversdale (and to a lesser degree, the other core neighbourhoods in Saskatoon).  As I was writing, I remembered hearing Leonard Sweet talk about growing up in poverty in West Virginia.  While I am sure all of us idealize parts of our childhood, he was describing both poverty and a strong sense of community that existed in his youth and even now while West Virginia ranks at the bottom of most indicators of economic strength and standard of living it also have very low crime rates, an issue that has defined Saskatoon’s inner city for a number of years.

So when Councilor Lorje and Randy Pshebylo comment on the concentration of poverty in Saskatoon, it isn’t just a lack of money that is the issue.

"The issue is not just poverty," she said. "It’s the concentration of poverty."

Lorje is backed on the issue by the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Randy Pshebylo says the burden of helping the homeless and drug-addicted needs to be shared by other neighbourhoods.

The concentration of any one thing — be it bars and pubs, pawn shops, retail stores, restaurants or social organizations — diminishes the strength of any neighbourhood, Pshebylo said.

Missions and soup kitchens are better suited for the avenues adjacent to 20th Street than the main business strip, he said.

"We just want an equitable neighbourhood," he said. "You don’t put your sink in your living room."

This interactive map below shows the main social service agencies in Saskatoon.  It isn’t totally accurate as it is building and not agency based (the Family Service Village in Kinsmen Park holds numerous agencies in one place and I chose to include just the YWCA and Crisis Intervention service on the map to give a wider perspective).

As I plotted out the graph, I didn’t include longer term housing like Saskatoon Housing Authority and Quint Development Corporation (which offers below market rent and I would argue don’t serve a homeless or transient population) or agencies that I knew about but when I Googled their name, I wasn’t easily able to determine the address (which is true of shelters catering to women and youth) which means that they aren’t publically known or want to keep a low profile.  I also left out low income suites targeted towards seniors.  In the end, while some of these agencies are spread over the city, others are in the city core so I think the ratio remains similar.

Here is the color guide.

  • Red: Emergency and transitional housing locations
  • Yellow: Support agencies that provide supports to people in the communities
  • Blue: Food security
  • Purple: Drop In Centres

A quick glance at the map makes it obvious that there is a concentration of lower income services in the Riversdale/Pleasant Hill area.  I was shown another map that showed all of the non-profits that are in Riversdale but that also included many of the local churches.  I am going to leave those out of the conversation because some of them have been there for a long time and not all of them are engaged in any ministry or services to the poor (which is a different post in itself).  No matter which way you look at it, there are a lot of sinks in the living room.  The question is why.

Now it does make sense that there would be a lot of services to the poor in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill as they are the two poorest neighbourhoods in the city and the neighbourhoods around on each side of them (Caswell Hill and King George) also have a concentration of poverty. 

Saskatoon realtor Norm Fisher’s website provides an excellent visual breakdown of the economics of Pleasant Hill and Riversdale. (charts used with permission)

Take a quick look at Riversdale’s income breakdown.

Riversdale's income breakdown

Of the 306 households making under $15,000/year, 140 households are making under $10,000 year.  See full neighbourhood profile here.

Head further west on 20th Street and check out Pleasant Hill’s income breakdown

Pleasant Hill's income breakdown

Of the 863 households trying to get by on under $15,000, 450 households are making less than $10,000 year.  See full neighborhood profile here.

South of Riversdale is King George.  One of Saskatoon’s oldest neighbourhoods.

King George's income breakdown

Of the 153 households making under $15,000 per year, 65 of those households are making under $10,000 per year.  You can see the neighbourhood profile here.

Heading even further west you have Meadowgreen.  While it doesn’t have the commercial connection to 20th Street that Pleasant Hill and Riversdale does, it does have a high concentration of poverty.

meadowgreen-income

Of the 407 households with an income of under $15,000, 125 of them are bringing in under $10,000.  Again, here is the full neighbourhood profile.

I was shocked a little by Caswell Hill’s income breakdown. 

Caswell Hill's income breakdown

I spend a lot of time walking through Caswell Hill and the amount of low income households caught me off guard.  Especially considering that there are 125 households making under $10,000 a year.  Even a neighbourhood with a high concentration of homes being renovated, fixed up, and improved, there is a significant concentration of poverty.

In the end you have 2133 households trying to love on under $15,000 a year and another 1662 households trying to get by under $30,000 a year in those four neighbourhoods.  Of those families, a staggering 905 of them are trying to get by on under $10,000 per year (140 households in Riversdale, 450 households in Pleasant Hill, 65 households in King George, 125 households in Caswell Hill). 

Let’s put this another way.

  $ income/year % less than $15,000/year
City of Saskatoon 65,487 5.9%
Core neighbourhoods 35,003 13.3%
Caswell Hill 41,454 11.2%
King George 36,805 8.8%
Pleasant Hill 25,776 18.3%
Riversdale 29,441 14.3%
Westmount 34,654 11.4%

Not only is there a concentration of poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon, the underlying causes are hard to overcome.  The vast majority of residents in the five listed neighbourhoods do not have a high school diploma or GED.  Those that are employed are working in retail jobs which often do not feature stable hours and/or a liveable wage.   For those who are not working, they are trying to get by on one of the two main Social Services programs, (through either SAP or TEA). 

Rental vs. Ownership
  % Rental % Owned
City of Saskatoon 38 62
Core Neighbourhoods 49 51
Caswell 42 58
King George 33 67
Pleasant Hill 75 25
Riversdale 58 42
Westmount 38 62

If you have a highly educated and mobile workforce, high rental rates can be quite useful, especially in a changing economy (you can move to where the jobs are).  The problem is that the high rental numbers in the core neighbourhoods are combined with a population with a very poor education.

City of Saskatoon 6.0
Core Neighbourhoods 13.2
Caswell 4.6
King George 9.2
Pleasant Hill 18.4
Riversdale 21.0
Westmount 13.0

Take a look at the data… you have low income, low education, low rate of home ownership all in the same neighbourhoods.  Along with it you will see higher rates of violence and crime, despite increased police efforts at curbing it.

Of course does the concentration of services in Riversdale help or hurt the neighbourhood?  You need to separate the business of 20th Street from the equation first.  Does having a business district in the middle of the second poorest neighbourhood hurt things. Toss in the fact that in 2007 StatsCan found that 1/2 of all of the violent crime in Saskatoon (which was Canada’s second most violent city in 2009) was in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, it explains why one study in Saskatoon found people felt safer on Broadway Avenue at night than they did on 20th Street during the day.  This is shocking.  Riverdale and Pleasant Hill had 300 crime reports per 1000 residents (second only to the neighbourhoods around Confederation Park)

2007 crime rate in Saskatoon

Freakonomics A quick look at the map would show a link between poverty and crime but for those of you who want to study it further, Harvard economics professor Steven Levitt (and co-author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics) wrote on the changing link between poverty and crime back in 1999 for the New York Federal Reserve Bank.  As he summarizes his findings of previous research.

In summary, much but not all of the existing empirical evidence is consistent with the conclusion that poverty and income inequality are associated with higher crime rates.

This would coincide with what we see in Saskatoon.  The main point of Levitt’s research is that as income gaps widened, the poor went from robbing those wealthier to those who are also poor.  In other words, the rich in Saskatoon are more likely to be able to afford SaskTel SecurTek (with credit checks being demanded by SecurTek and others, it actually makes it very difficult for low income residents to get the same protection as their wealthier neighbours.  We may not have two tier healthcare, we do have two tier Crown Corporations).  This happens for a lot of reasons that can be linked to the rise of crack cocaine and Reagan’s tough on crime policies (Traditional petty criminals were locked up for longer sentences giving drug dealer a new national distribution network).  Once people realized the money that they could make selling drugs to the masses, it spread across the continent.  Drugs like cocaine used to be for the rich, now with crack out there, drugs became a vice of the poor.  The amount of times I see a dial-a-dope run while at work late shows the depth of the problem.

This matters why?  Lower incomes criminals used to head across the river to the east side to rob people (higher income criminals went to work for Wall Street).  Which more or less spread crime over an urban area.  A combination of technology and wealthy families moving further and further away from the city core turned places like Riversdale, Pleasant Hill and 20th Street into high crime areas.  Wendy and I have experienced this in Mayfair.  We have just seen a lot of property crime on our block… everything from three steering columns being destroyed as people tried to steal our cars to the accompanying smashed windows, to our low voltage landscape lights and Christmas lights being stolen.  Now damage to my car or Christmas lights is one thing.  That is frustrating, annoying, and with a $800 bill even maddening.  Yet it’s nothing compared to how one would feel if someone close to you was violently hurt.

Here is a four month snapshot of assaults in Saskatoon.  These just aren’t minor assaults either but assaults causing bodily harm, aggravated assaults, and assaults with a weapon.

Map of 2010 assaults in Saskatoon

According to police it isn’t that bad.

“If people are suggesting that crime is spiralling out of control over the last five years, the numbers don’t support that,” said Det. Staff Sgt. Jean-Marc Voisard, who heads the personal violence section.

But after 31 years with the Saskatoon police, Voisard has noticed that assaults have become more vicious. Injuries are more serious and knives are more common now, he said.

“When I started, there were stabbings, but not to the extent we see today,” Voisard said.

“Society has become more violent. People are quicker to resort to violence to settle a dispute, and that applies to bar fights just as much as a family fighting in the living room.”

The concentration of crime in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill confirms what Stats Canada is saying and makes it even harder for businesses in Riversdale.  This matters because the perception of crime is more important then the crime rate itself.  Back in the early 80s my friends and I used to as ten year olds take the nearest C-Train station downtown to check out the Glenbow Museum on any given Saturday.  I used to catch a bus by myself that would take kids to Pask-a-poo each Saturday and ski all day supervised.  Now when Mark walks the two short blocks to Safeway from our place, even during the early evening, Wendy’s co-workers show incredible concern that he walked two short blocks.  It doesn’t matter that statistically it was more dangerous growing up in Calgary, the perception is that is more dangerous for us now.  Fear is a powerful motivator.

Not only do you have the fear of crime in the city core, there are several well known links between poverty and mental health.  As the Ontario Mental Health Association puts it.

People with serious mental illness face many barriers over their lifetime, including stigma and discrimination, which may prevent them from securing adequate education and employment. Experiencing a mental illness can seriously interrupt a person’s education or career path and result in diminished opportunities for employment. A lack of secure employment, in turn, affects one’s ability to earn an adequate income. As a result, people may eventually drift into poverty.

Moreover, individuals with serious mental illness are frequently unable to access community services and supports due to stigma, gaps in service and/or challenges in system navigation. Lack of sufficient primary health care and community mental health services, shortages of affordable housing, and inadequate income support further alienate them from life in the community. Exclusion from these social and economic supports results in social isolation, significantly increasing their risk of chronic poverty.

Individuals with work-limiting disabilities are nearly three times as likely to be poor and four times as likely to be in receipt of social assistance as individuals without a disability.

The stigma of people with mental disabilities is incredible.  Many well meaning people have asked me, “How do you work with those people?”  While listening to the radio a couple of weeks ago I listened to one radio host complain about people who were homeless and had mental people out on the same Saskatoon streets as he was.  The suggestion was that they stay inside.  Many people with mental health and addiction issues are living downtown are in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill and that stigma follows them and of course impacts shop owners on 20th.  This is at the core of the creation of suburbia and bedroom communities (although in Saskatchewan I think it has a lot to do with people wanting to connect to rural roots).

If you are a shop owner on Riversdale, you have big time problem.  You are surrounded by some of poorest neighbourhoods in Canada which means that your ability to make money off of local consumers is limited.  You are in one of the highest crime areas of Canada which means that you have to rely heavily on attracting customers to come down and spend money on 20th Street and those consumers don’t feel safe. Even the Little Chief Police Station that was intended to make Riversdale safer is a quiet reminder that by it’s very presence, Riversdale isn’t always a safe place to be. 

In response to the poverty, mental health and addiction issues and crime, it makes sense that several NGO’s moved into Riversdale to help people cope with the poverty.  High end retailers go to where the money is and like it or not, many community based organizations go where societal issues are.  Many of them do very good work but by our very presence in the neighbourhood, we make it harder for businesses to operate here.  Long time readers know that I used to work the 4-12 shift at the Salvation Army’s front desk.  We are right across from what I thought was the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, The Golden Dragon.  All of the time we would have drunks stumble in to our place and then over to The Golden Dragon causing all sorts of problems for the owners and it’s customers.  That takes a toll on your business and no wonder I have to walk downtown to get a Starbucks.  In the last year or so the Salvation Army has followed the lead of other shelters and has worked hard at keeping the residents and users of our services off the front sidewalk and to the side of the building where we purchased two heavy duty (and quite nice) picnic tables and umbrellas.   Our janitors work hard at sweeping up cigarette butts and garbage but every morning that I come to work there are some guys loitering out front (it is a public sidewalk).  The same can be said about the front of the Saskatoon Food Bank, the Friendship Inn, the Lighthouse, the Bridge on 20th and a variety of other social organizations on 20th Street.  Despite that Wendy has twice been accosted while waiting for me to get off work by guys looking for money and sadly we still get complaints made by people who have had to endure comments by our clients as they walked by.

I don’t know how much it changes the neighbourhood.  What would be the difference between 20th Street if there was no community based organizations there?  Would it be a thriving business district or without the social structures and emergency services that organizations provide would it be worse off.  Is there an alternative way to deliver services?

To answer that, I first want to take a look at what life is life for those that are living under $10,000 / year because without that, we don’t even know what is really needed.  I’ll post more tomorrow.

What’s Next?

A couple of weeks ago now I resigned by job.  Like any life decision like that there are a lot of reasons but in the end I was feeling really tired and in some ways burned out.  Wendy’s depression is worse now than it has ever been and that takes a toll on the entire family (she’s making an ugly, ugly transition to yet another stronger anti-depressant without being weaned off the old one right now).  While the job wasn’t burning my out, life was taking a toll on all of us and we have a very hard time getting treatment in Saskatchewan, heck, we can’t even get her old clinic to transfer her medical files to the new doctor

After I made it public that I was looking for a new challenge, several serious job offers came in and we looked at some opportunities that would change our financial position substantially and one in particular that would give me and the family an opportunity to travel and live abroad.  Another offer was a great job in a particularly evil company.  Not quite big tobacco or working for the GOP but evil enough that I am sure that all go for supper together.  I have lived in the prairies my entire life and the opportunity to raise Mark and Oliver in a different culture and worldview was something that I wanted to do since Mark was born.  I am also getting to the age where I think a little more about retirement each year and this would give us a chance to retire with a little more money in the bank.  While the Salvation Army treats me quite fairly, as a non-profit, it can’t compare to the compensation of evil publically traded companies.  Whatever my job decision was going to be, I had planned to wrap up work here last Wednesday and start at my new job in late September.  I was asked to reconsider my decision and stay here as well but at the time, I was at peace with moving on to new challenges.

It wasn’t a easy decision to make as we balanced Wendy’s access to treatment, what was good for the boys, what our goals were as a family, and also some pretty strong ties to Saskatoon, particularly the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon.  During this time of evaluation, there was a murder (more) that bothered me deeply.  I know both the victim and the accused from work and while I was processing that death, we had a death at work.  After hours of questioning by the police, crime scene investigators and major crimes (don’t worry, it was a death from natural causes), I drove our former chaplain up to St. Paul’s Hospital as he was off to see a dying friend.  While I tend to drive up 19th Street to avoid the traffic on 20th, I drove back down 20th Street that night.  I have never seen 20th Street like that.  I counted 14 girls clearly working the stroll.  Three of them looked to be underage.  Guys were on the street corners as I watched 2 drug deals go down.  I know that isn’t typical for 20th Street and was like that because the Saskatoon Exhibition was in town which brings in a lot of out of town customers.  As I left the Centre that night around 10:00 p.m., I turned back up 19th and as I was turning the corner, I watched a taxi complete a brazen dial-a-dope transaction at the phone booth across the street from the Centre.  Of course the prostitutes were on 33rd Street that night (Wendy later told me that there has been as many as four in the Safeway parking lot on shift).  I got home, grabbed a Diet Coke, grabbed my Moleskine and started to jot down some notes for how things had changed since I started working at the Salvation Army in Riversdale and on the west side.

What we do at the Salvation Army Community Services is both really simple in concept and really complex in how it is executed.  The concepts are pretty easy.  We provide meals, food, budget management help, and emergency assistance to those that need it.  The nuances of distributing those goods, paying for it, being paid for it, determining need and the appropriate response is what is so complex.  It takes a lot of staff, volunteers, officers, and money to make it happen.

The operational side I have a firm grasp on, it is that simple stuff that was troubling me.  The Centre does a really good job at doing what we do but what haunted me as I went to bed that night was, are we doing the right things?

I came in and talked with some other managers about what I was thinking.  I think the Salvation Army Community Services does a lot of really good things but Riversdale has changed.  While getting the Mumford House ready for it’s opening, I drove a lot between the two locations and on every corner around the women’s shelter, there are girls working on the corners… at 8:30 a.m.  Even during the opening of the Mumford House I watched girls on the corner.  While I have been complaining night and day about prostitution in Mayfair, girls are working the streets in Confederation Park and even as far west as Pacific Heights.  90% of the girls on the streets are being trafficked by a variety of sources.  They are moving out of the stroll (women can be as territorial as the men and if they don’t come up with a new territory, they get beaten if they don’t bring him the money).

It’s just not the prostitution.  It’s the drugs, the increase in violence, and the sense of hopelessness from not being able to get ahead.  13.2% of residents in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon don’t have a grade nine education.  (including 21.0% of those in Riversdale and 18.4 of those in Pleasant Hill).  While 11% of Saskatoon is made up of one parents families, 24 % of Riversdale households are single parents families.  Not to get all Dan Quayle on you or anything but Wendy and I have a hard time raising kids on two salaries and very little child care costs (we work opposite hours).  How much harder is it to go alone?  A sign of disenfranchisement many households feel, only 13% of Pleasant Hill residents turned out to vote in the last civic election (vs. 50% of voters in Briarwood).   Of course one doesn’t need to channel the spirit of Thomas Homer-Dixon to realize how problems can be even more complex than the combined statistical analysis… and believe me, the stats show a complex problem.

We are left with two alternatives.  During this time, I finished up an internal proposal to go to the Salvation Army for a new facility.  It’s no secret that Saskatoon needs more shelter beds.  In addition to more beds, it redesigns how we accommodate our residents so they are more comfortable and guys can have a better rest.  More youth rooms, more mental health rooms, a wing for grumpy old men, transitional rooms, a small half gym, computer facilities, a coffee shop/drop in space, and lots of green space for our guys.  It’s not perfect, I couldn’t figure out how to slide a go-cart track past the bureaucracy but will we see.

As I finished it up, I realized that what we were proposing a dam and levy system for many of our residents.  While they were at the Centre, they would be safe and secure and maybe even get ahead of the game but when many left, they get swamped by what is outside of the Centre.  There is value in creating safe spaces but eventually you have to leave and go out in the real world.  Too high of rent, too low of income, stuck in a flophouse, surrounded by drugs, forced to take a bad roommate, mental health and addiction problems and trapped in poverty.  Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that life should be hard at times but the obstacles confronting our clients are considerable.    So I was left with an architectural solution (increase the size of dorms to X number of dorm beds and even more private rooms for grumpy old men and then keep building and building and building) or we figure out a way to help our clients live back in the community amongst the alcohol, drugs, violence, and exploitation.  By doing so, we would also be changing the character of those neighbourhoods.  Of course of the two, the second option is a lot harder to do.

As I was thinking about this, I was at the Front Desk the other night when a women came in.  The Emergency After Hours worker was swamped with other clients and the women was upset and crying.  I took her into a room off the office, left the door open (and it’s on camera) and started to see what she needed.  She needed accommodation and I asked a couple of questions which she was quite forthcoming in answering.  The details aren’t that important but drugs, acquired brain injury, prostitution to make ends meet, a couple of bad tricks.  As the staff found a place for her at a local women’s shelter, I had two thoughts.  One this women in someone’s daughter and secondly as her face and neck had the signs of being beaten up by a john, will she escape this cycle first or will she end up being another statistic?

So what can I do?  What can we do?  I’ll get into this in a lot of detail later but there is a lot that we can do about this.  I think that is what kept me here, there is stuff that I can do as an individual, I can do within the organization, and we can do as an organization of other community based partners.    As Margaret Mead once said, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. 

The Concentration of Services in Riversdale has broke my weblog

Ever since The StarPhoenix’s Dave Hutton wrote an article covering Pat Lorje’s suggestion that the concentration of social services in Riversdale has become a problem, I have been thinking about it, had to conversations with Councilor Lorje, read some material she gave me, and spent a lot of time looking at city demographics, urban planning theory, and even spent a lot of evenings walking around Riversdale, Pleasant Hill, Caswell Hill (it’s on the way home), and King George… sometimes looking around, other times just soaking up the vibe.  Oh yeah, I started to write.  In what was supposed to be a short reply grew from 500 words to 5000 words and last night moved a little past 10,000 words.  As I was about to push post, I realized that at 10,000 word post was insane and I a) needed to hire a good editor or b) needed to break my thoughts into a series.

So hopefully between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. tonight, the series will be uploaded and linked together and I finally have some measure of closure in my life.

Update: Not so fast.  To make a long story short, during the final edits, I wanted to research some more about mental health issues and Riversdale as well as I started to read about what the concentration of services in Skid Row had done to that neighborhood. 

I am off to the cabin today until Sunday but I plan to bring my netbook along and post something later tonight if not tomorrow.

Donate to Station 20 West

Rendering of Station 20 West It’s easy to join a Facebook group supporting Station 20 West but put your money where your mouth is and make a donation to make Station 20 West a reality.  Their goal is raise $6 million by May.

Why does Saskatoon need Station 20 West.  According to their website.

Limited access to healthy food

  • Many residents do not own a car. For many, there are no grocery stores within walking distance. People sometimes must depend on convenience stores and gas stations as a source of food.

Health Disparity (Based on government data from 2001)

  • nearly four times as many people from low-income Saskatoon neighbourhoods wound up in hospital after attempting suicide compared to the rest of the city. The number of suicide attempts is also more than 15 times higher than the number in affluent neighbourhoods.

  • hospitalizations for diabetes were three times higher in low-income neighbourhoods than the rest of the city, and nearly 13 times higher than in the eastern suburbs.

  • only 46 per cent of inner-city children are up to date with their measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations while 95 per cent of kids in affluent areas are covered

  • babies born in Saskatoon’s lower income neighbourhoods are 5 times more likely to die than an average city baby

      Income disparity

      • in 2001, the average household income in Briarwood was $133,468 while the average household income in Pleasant Hill was $22,603

      • 75% of single parents living in westside neighbourhoods live below the poverty line

      • 65% of Aboriginal people in Saskatoon live below the poverty line (average Aboriginal family income in the core neighbourhoods is $16,497)

      • the wealthiest 10% of people in Saskatoon earn 18 times more than the poorest 10%

      • hardly any employment opportunities exist for Aboriginal people, whose populations range from 27% to 44% in the various core neighbourhoods

      • It will be occupied by these partner organizations.

        While I have some concerns over the sustainability of the grocery store, I have been at the 7-11 on 22nd Street on a night when Social Services issued their checks.  It looked like a riot had gone through there.   I am not saying that a grocery store is going to solve all of the problems, giving people a better option than buying groceries at a convenience store, is  a big deal.  The convenience store takes a really small amount of money and makes it a lot smaller.

        You can donate here

        I wrote about Station 20 West previously.

        Public Meeting

        As many of you know, the Salvation Army has been working on opening a women’s shelter in Saskatoon for over a year and a half now.  It’s been a long process and one of the latest parts of the process has been asking the city to rezone a piece of property for us.

        There is a process for that and on June 16th, the Salvation Army, the City of Saskatoon, and the citizens of Pleasant Hill got together to discuss our desire for a zoning change.  While the meeting turned out really well, it did have some fun twists and turns.

        Along the way, there was a mis-communication between the City and Pleasant Hill School and the school was locked when everyone got there.  The city planners were knocking on all of the doors and Councilor Lorje was thinking of calling someone when all of us realized that it was the perfect night to sit outside.  So instead of using the school’s auditorium, we used the front step and lawn.  The result was we all got to enjoy the late spring weather and we had a good time getting to know our neighbors a little better.

        Wendy was there and took some photos of the gathering.  Some of them are below.  You can find the rest on Flickr.

        Public Meeting for the Rezoning of the Salvation Army's Family Shelter in Pleasant Hill

        Public Meeting for the Rezoning of the Salvation Army's Family Shelter in Pleasant Hill

        Public Meeting for the Rezoning of the Salvation Army's Family Shelter in Pleasant Hill

        Public Meeting for the Rezoning of the Salvation Army's Family Shelter in Pleasant Hill