Tag Archives: Salvation Army Community Centre

The Cost of Homelessness

Article from the SPI had an opportunity to speak as a panel at City Hospital yesterday to a room of social workers on the cost of homelessness.  The Star Phoenix did cover a bit of what I talked about in today’s paper.

Implementing a plan with the idea that "everything starts with housing" is among the initiatives different organizations are taking to combat the growing problem of homelessness in Saskatoon.

"It’s hard to get your head around addictions and mental health issues if you don’t have a place over your head," said Jordan Cooper, the Salvation Army’s shelter director.

Cooper was one of six panelists who addressed a group of nearly 100 social workers and community members who gathered Tuesday to discuss the growing problem of homelessness.

There’s more.

"We went from a very sleepy, quiet shelter before the housing boom hit," Cooper said. Every time it adds capacity, the shelter fills. In the last year, its emergency overflow has also become full.

After realizing adding capacity was not getting the job done, the Salvation Army decided to look at working with landlords and tenants to support moving people into rental housing.

The program will provide support to ensure rent and bills are paid on time, create spending plans, ensure homes are furnished and make sure clients get settled in.

Apparently CTV covered what I said as well but since I hate seeing myself on television, I didn’t watch the story.  I have a face for radio and a voice that is best suited for Twitter.  While the boss did mention that she saw me on television, I wasn’t yelled at, given a formal warning, or even had anything tossed my way so it couldn’t have been that bad.  She later sent me out to talk to CBC television which depends on their coverage of the budget, may or may not make it on the air.

March 11

As is the tradition around here, I generally liveblog the day to save it for posterity.  (2009| 2008 | 2007| 2006 | 2005 | 2003).  I didn’t feel like doing that today so instead I am going to play around with my Kodak Zi8 camera and shoot some video of my day.  I have a video project at the Centre and I need to figure out some lighting issues anyways so why not kill two birds with one stone.

Before I was really awake today, Wendy, Mark, and Oliver woke me up and gave me a couple of birthday gifts.

Thanks everyone.  The IMAX DVD collection has Fires of Kuwait which was narrated by Rip Torn.  I realized this morning that I had vowed to name one of my kids Rip Torn and now that chance is gone.  Well I don’t know if the chance is gone but I asked Wendy if we could have another kid for the sole reason of naming it Rip Torn and it wasn’t a warm look I got back.

9:04 a.m.

1:20 p.m.

Wendy came by later and gave me The Gamble by Thomas Ricks.  I read his book Fiasco and found it to be one of the best books I had read in years.  It will be interesting to see if The Gamble is as good as it’s predecessor.  She also gave me two Moleskine notebooks, one large and one small.

Around coffee time my colleague Micheala was holding Oliver.  Now for those of you who remember, Wendy and I have babysat Micheala’s daughter and her and Mark get along like brother and sister.  Micheala has also managed to spend a couple of Christmas’s with us.  She is also Mark’s arch nemesis at Guitar Hero.  Oliver’s loyalties obviously lie with Mark as he head butted Micheala pretty hard as the video shows.

Good job Ollie.

After work we joined some friends at the Konga Cafe.   While others had some curried goat, I had the excellent spicy peanut shrimp.  If you have never eaten at the Konga Cafe, it is amazing.  It was spectacular up until Wendy had them sing me happy birthday.  I don’t blush often but I did tonight.

We retired to home and fired up the DVD player and watched Mark Twain’s America.  First of all, Mark mispronounced Twain as Twan so we have been calling him Mark Twan all night to his chagrin, secondly, that is one horrible IMAX movie we just watched.  I am glad that wasn’t the only one that came in the box set.


I emptied out my office at work.  All of my personal effects are gone today.

I am not quitting but I decided to redecorate my office this week.  I am not sure what I want to do with it but I am not that happy with it and I really don’t enjoy being in it.    When I moved in, it used to be the home of our corrections coordinator who bailed out on it for an office with a window.  He was a wise man.

It’s big but it’s two different shades of light grey.  No window.  No natural light.  Fluorescent ceiling lights.  In other words it is the world’s most depressing office space in the world.  There was stuff mounted to the walls and I ended up trying to hang things so that I could hide the flaws in the wall.  It looked terrible and I was never that happy with it.

On top of that, people have been piling things they think should go in the women’s shelter, junk they don’t want to store in their offices, and a lot of Christmas stuff in there.  By December 26th, it looked terrible in there.

As I cleaned and decluttered, it looks a lot less hospitable but for some reason I like it better.  It’s almost as if my mind is saying to me, “nothing is better than the wrong look”.  The other plus is that if I am fired, I don’t have to gather many personal items as I am escorted out of the office. 

I am not sure what I am going to do with it.  We had thousands of posters from the 80s and 90s donated and a bunch of them were mediocre baseball players.  Part of me thinks it would be hilarious to decorate the office with some of them.  Plus, the entertainment value of seeing people trying to figure out why I have a giant Brett Butler poster in my office would be worth it.

The Guardian has this section where they profile the rooms that famous English authors write in and they are range from looking like there needs to be an intervention for hoarding to being cold and inhospitable but apparently they all work.  So for right now the only personal items that are in my office are a couple of gel pens and my upgraded computer speakers and nothing else.  What’s odd about it is that I like it this way although I can’t figure out why.

Christmas Eve Live Blog

6:15 a.m. :: I hate early mornings.

6:30 a.m. :: Mark is up and showered and ready to go to work with me this morning.  Rambling Dave just played Six White Boomers on C95.

7:10 a.m. :: Lineup at Tim Horton’s was too long so I skipped that place and went straight to work.  Stopped by the kitchen for breakfast with Mark.  Then to the Front Desk to shoot the breeze with the night staff.

7:20 a.m. :: Got some bad news from the Front Desk and had to ask Mark to leave the room.  So much for a stress free holiday.  There is always something dumb that happens over Christmas and I am hoping that is it.

7:40 a.m. :: Mark is drinking his first cup of coffee ever.  Black.  Never even made a face.  I have a feeling I will be in trouble when Wendy finds out about this.

8:00 a.m. :: Sitting in Sharon’s office (one of our budget management workers) trying to figure out why I am at work this morning.

8:30 a.m. :: Laurie asked Mark and I to process last minute hamper requests.  Three years ago on Christmas Eve I filled 14 hampers for people who had nothing on Christmas Eve.  I left work feeling really good about what we did.  On Boxing Day I found out that we had been ripped off by all 14 people.  All of them had gotten hampers.  I didn’t feel that bad about it.  I wasn’t the one lying and plus, it’s Christmas and I will never live it down.  I guess that is why Laurie asked Mark to help me out.  She knows that I won’t say no to anyone unless I have a good reason.

9:11 a.m. :: Answering back the 25 or so e-mails of people wanting to volunteer down at the Centre on Christmas Day.

10:20 a.m. :: Tim Horton’s run.  The Giant Tiger parking lot is packed.  Mark is drinking his second cup of coffee, this time a double/double on the recommendation of Debbie, one of our cooks.

10:40 a.m. :: I filled a couple of hampers.  The people appreciated it.  Not sure if they were telling the truth or not but I didn’t really care.  It’s Christmas Eve.

11:00 a.m. :: Laurie cut off hampers.  The Emergency After Hours staff has a bunch made up if anyone comes in on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

11:30 a.m. :: Mark is having his third cup of coffee and is talking loudly.  He also has five dollars as he was helping in the kitchen.  He is now carrying 81 Christmas gifts to the chapel where they will be put under a tree for the guys tomorrow.  Thanks to my awesome wife Wendy for helping wrap them.

12:00 p.m. :: The office is closed.  Only the kitchen and Front Desk staff remain.  Some other staff are tearing down the Christmas warehouse and bringing things back to the Centre.  Also, some officers are picking up Christmas kettles and bringing them to a place so they can counted in time for the bank to close.

1:00 p.m. :: So much for leaving early.  I am heading back home.  Safeway looks crazy.  I feel sorry for Wendy.

1:10 p.m. :: Our snow shovel is broken, someone has been in the house and there is a very large box in my living room.  Since there a) is no blood from being attacked from the dog b) there is a PSP Go on the table, I assume Lee was here.  It doesn’t explain the broken snow shovel.  Mark totally missed the five foot wide box in the living room and notices the PSP Go.  Observant kid I have.

2:00 p.m. :: Lee is here.  He broke our shovel and brought over a new ergonomic shovel.  He is pretty quiet about the large box though.

3:15 p.m. :: Lee suggests we go to Future Shop and get the new Family Guy movie.  I remind him that it is Christmas Eve and it will be crazy.  He goes, “that explains the time off and the gifts”.

4:20 p.m. :: I went by Safeway and it was absolutely nuts  Wendy can’t explain it as Safeway is always quiet after 2:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  I buy some groceries and double check Wendy has bought turnips.  She still can’t understand how I eat them.

6:00 p.m. :: We order pizza from Papa John’s Pizza.  It’s the best pizza in Saskatoon.  It’s an hour wait which is fine as Wendy will be home in 30 minutes.

6:40 p.m. :: Wendy is home and said that Safeway was crazy from opening to 6:00 p.m.  She wasn’t impressed but was happy to get home.

6:41 p.m. :: Wendy, Lee, and Mark are all demanding we open gifts.  Oliver is more preoccupied with a box of Swiss Cheese Crackers.

LED Lantern 6:45 p.m. :: Stockings are open.  Wendy and I both got LED lanterns, Mark got a small dart board, all of us got the usual candies and toiletries.

7:15 p.m. :: Pizza is here, gifts are opened, the house is a big mess.  Here is the summary of gifts.



  • MiJam Mixer from Oliver
  • iDog Dance from Maggi
  • A small aquarium from Santa
  • A play M1 Abrams Tank Set and a Campaigns of World WWII Day by Day by Chris Bishop from me.  I had wanted to get him a book explaining what happened in WWII and this did a pretty good job brining history to his reading level.
  • I Learned Kung Fu from a Bear Cub by Matt Jackson from Wendy.  Wendy met the author while he was at Indigo and he recommended this book for Mark and signed it as well.
  • PSP 3000 A PSP 3000 from Lee :: Lee bought himself a PSPGo a couple of months ago and gave him his old PSP 3000 with a plethora of games and movies.  Mark was thrilled, mostly because he can watch a couple of seasons of Family Guy anytime he wants.  He also found out he can use Twitter on it as well.
  • He got Trackmania and Tomb Raider for his Nintendo DS.
  • I gave him a Swiss Army knife.
  • Backyard Football 2009 and Medal of Honor Vanguard or his PS2. 
  • A carrying case for his Nintendo DS games and Nindendo DS from Wendy
  • A Coby Snapp Cam, SD card, case, and mini-tripod from Wendy and I. 




  • A Chicago Bears jacket.  I feel better about the gift now that the Bears now that Jay Cutler and the Bears are brutal this year.  If the Kyle Orton trade hadn’t have worked out for Denver the way it did, I would have had to take it back.  I like the Bears but I love the Broncos.
  • The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945 by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns.  I read this book at the cabin this fall and was amazed at how compelling of a read it was.
  • Airsoft Sig Sauer pistol.  We had one up at the cabin and we used it for target practice at the dump all summer long.  Technically it is a toy and it’s velocity is low enough (combined with the soft ammunition) that it isn’t going to be lethal, even on a small animal.  Mark and I did a test and the ammunition won’t penetrate a piece of paper at 5 feet.  It does however make a satisfying ping when you hit your target at the dump.
  • A Saskatchewan Roughriders sign :: I really want one of these for the cabin.

  • A new and improved multi-tool.

The Dogs

  • Both of the dogs got dog booties for all of us.  Right now Maggi is on the phone to the SPCA making a formal complaint.  Hutch has just decided never to go outside again.
  • Maggi and Hutch also got a variety to toys to chase and chew.

Now back to the big box.  Lee was quiet adamant that gifts would be opened in a certain order.  Finally it came to the gifts he got for us.  I was stunned to open a gift and see a Nintendo Wii.  He got us the Wii, Wii Play, Wii Sports Resort, Four controllers and nunchucks, and a charging station.  He tossed in a couple of games as well.  For me there was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Reflex and for Mark (and all of us), there was Super Mario Brothers.  Finally we opened the big box and there was a Sony Bravia 42 inch HDTV in it. 

Ok, it's not quite that big

We were shocked.  Lee just said that we helped him out during a tough time and he wanted to get this for us.  It is quite a gift.

Actually it looks more like this.

Sony Bravia 42" television

After all was said and done, we had to come to grips that we are a family of giant nerds.  Multiple game platforms now call our house home and it seems to be getting worse.  Most can be linked back to Lee.  Actually all of them except for Wendy’s Nintendo DS can be traced back to Lee.  So maybe Lee is the big nerd.

9:00 p.m. :: Lee and I get the old television out of the way and the new TV set up.  The Wii is installed and Mark is playing some Wii Sports.

10:00 p.m. :: The pizza is all gone, Lee has gone home, Mark and Oliver are in bed (Oliver spent the entire night trying to get to the Swiss Cheese Crackers, treating the pizza, his gifts, and the entire Christmas celebration as a plot to keep him away from his true love, that cracker box.  I watched a bit of the Aloha Hawaii Bowl but SMU was running away with it.

Christmas at the Centre

Well Christmas at the Salvation Army Community Centre in Saskatoon is just about finished.  Most of it isn’t my department so I get to avoid the stress of the season while at the same time as a manager, I get to help out when asked.  Everyone is always amazed at how busy we are at Christmas when they are apart of even a small part of the season and so I was thinking I would share some of what happens down there here on top of our regular programs and ministries.

2009 Salvation Army Toy Ride

The Christmas Season starts with the Salvation Army Toy Run in September.  It is a fun event that starts with a pancake breakfast at Prairieland Park and then hundreds of bikers get on their motorbikes and then drive to the Saskatoon Inn where they then donate toys to the Salvation Army and then eat a big lunch.  This starts off our toy collection efforts for the Christmas kettles and is a fun day of connecting to the biker community in Saskatoon.  Major Henri does a great job of organizing this event and I knew it was a success this year when I got caught going behind the bikes as they crossed Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge and I couldn’t figure out why traffic was so slow until I saw over 100 bikes on the bridge, many with large stuffed animals riding along.

Shortly after this event, staff and officers start to look for warehouse space to house all of the food hampers and the toys for Christmas.  We need a lot of space to store, sorts, and then distribute gifts and it also needs to be on a bus route (so people can get there to get their hampers).  Oh yeah, it needs to be free warehouse space to keep the costs down.  You have no idea how much effort goes into keeping costs down so we can help more families.  I know it’s easy to be cynical about it but the staff and officers care deeply about making sure we help everyone we can and part of that is keeping costs down.  Well this year Confederation Mall stepped up and donated some great space in two locations in the mall.  Of course there are insurance issues and getting some other stuff taken care of that I am glad that I don’t have to worry about.

Of course during a year, not all things go to plan.  About this time we found out that our venue for the Community Christmas Dinner wasn’t going to work out.  We called all around and found the White Buffalo Youth Lodge and booked it for December 5th.

During the start of November, we start to see some more seasonal staff more often.  Carol organizes the Christmas Kettles which is a huge job.  Carol and her husband Murdy run Beaver Creek Camp and are well known at the Centre, especially since she started to coordinate all of the kettle activities.  She has a big job coordinating volunteers, Christian education students, some seasonal staff at numerous locations across the city for the start of the kettle kick off in the middle of November.  About this time our Family Services manager asks if I will pick up kettles again this year and I take Friday because Mark can come along with me and it doesn’t impact his bedtime as much as it would during the week. 

2009 Kettle Kick Off Breakfast

In November there is the kettle kickoff breakfast.  This is generally attended by local politicians, the service organizations and all of the people who help out and make the Christmas Kettle campaign in Saskatoon a big success.  Our host for the event is the Hilton Garden Inn who is a great host for us.

Once kettles go out, they need to be picked up every night and taken to an undisclosed location to be stored, counted, and then deposited.   This is a huge effort that takes a lot of volunteer and staff hours as well as a very understanding bank.  This year the goal was $150,000 raised and an amazing amount of that is in coins (as you can see from looking in a kettle).

2009 Community Christmas Dinner

During the first week of December, we hold our Community Christmas Dinner.  This is a turkey dinner for around 1000 members of the community.  About two weeks before we have the dinner, we start to distribute tickets.  People are happy to get these tickets and we are happy to hand them out.  The week before the dinner, the Centre smells like turkey.  The joke is that we have the dinner early in December so we don’t get sick of turkey (as if that is possible!) and have time for the holidays.  Either way the Centre smells great the first week of December.  We have about 100 volunteers and VIPs who serve the meal.  The meal serves as a family Christmas dinner for many families and clients who have long relationships with the Centre. 

2008 Santa Shuffle

On the same morning as the Community Christmas Dinner, the Centre also hosts the Santa Shuffle.  It’s a fun run (not a race) and the diehard runners brave the cold and run the race to help fund our Christmas efforts.  The Running Room is a great partner for this event and while I can’t figure out why people enjoy running in the bitter cold, they do seem to have a good time.  I’ll take their word for it.

For my department, Residential Services, we also hold a Christmas Party for the guys.  Major Henri, who serves as the chaplain for the guys (among other things), does a good job of hosting this.  This year he decided we should go winter paintballing.  He invited some of the staff along and about 20 of us headed to Merrill Dunes Paintball which just just south of the city.  It was about –10 degrees Celsius that night we had a blast.  The facility was wonderful and despite the cold, we were peeling layers of clothes off.  Of course none of us actually stretched out before we started and we paid for it the next couple of days.  I wasn’t that bruised but after three hours of jogging, jumping, getting shot, falling down, getting shot, tumbling down hills, and getting shot, I was really, really sore for two days.  I also was shot at such an angle, the goo from the paintball went up my nose.  For many of the guys, they have never done it before and most of the guys were moved that we could do something like that.  Afterwards we all headed back to the Centre for some Papa John’s Pizza, pop, and snacks with all of the residents.  Why Papa John’s, well it is pretty great pizza and they donate a lot of pizza out of the blue to the guys at the Centre and everyone really appreciates it.  Not only has Papa John’s become the unofficial pizza of the Centre, it is also the unofficial pizza of our house.

2009 Staff Christmas Party

During December, we also find some time to have a staff Christmas party.  It is a nice family event that is pretty low key, partly because much of the staff is really, really tired.  We had a nice supper, exchanged some gifts and then played a spirited game of Family Feud.  The Centre is a pretty family friendly employer so we do see spouses and kids, it is nice to be in the same place for a relaxing night of dinner, coffee, and laughing at life.  I had to laugh this year as our friend Micheala walked by Mark and called him “Princess” which her daughter calls Mark to bug him.  Mark casually answered back while talking to one of the Front Desk staff who started to give him a hard time.  Mark comes over to me and whispers to me, “How do I get out of this jam? Lorne knows I answer to Princess.”

Of course Christmas at the Centre is about Christmas Hampers.  As soon as the warehouse opens in November, staff start to be allocated to the Christmas Hamper effort.  We have people every day picking up toys for Rock 102 Toy Solder campaign, food donations, helping pick up stuff for Secret Santa and Brent and Penny’s Adopt-A-Family.

Around the middle of November, we see a lot more of Kelly.  “Christmas” Kelly is the most organized women I have ever seen and she comes in every fall and runs our hamper program.  She is down there everyday and runs the registration process, works with churches and other agencies on making sure that people are not signed up for multiple hampers, and liaisons with almost everyone, especially our partners in Secret Santa and Brent and Penny Adopt a Family.  She also works really hard getting families adopted out to other organizations.  It’s cool to see. 

Of course thousands of people apply for hampers and they all go into the database.

This all peaks in Hamper Handout Day on December 22nd.

2009 Hamper Handout Day2009 Hamper Handout Day 2009 Hamper Handout Day2009 Hamper Handout Day2009 Hamper Handout Day2009 Hamper Handout Day2009 Hamper Handout Day2009 Hamper Handout Day 2009 Hamper Handout Day

Is that ever a big day.  There is an army of volunteers, members of the Saskatoon Fire and Protective Services, staff, and friends all down there to distribute the food, toys, and then if needed, drive people back to their homes.

All of the leftover food and toys (the stuff in the bags is toys) is hauled down to the Centre the night of the 22nd.  For those who can’t pickup their hampers on 22nd, they can come down to the Salvation Army on the 23rd and pick it up.  On days like this, we also correct any mistakes with toys.  Kelly comes up to the staff all day with a note that says, “9 year old girl and a 5 year old boy” or something like that.  The staff goes back to find the perfect gift from the donated toys to match up with a kid.  If we can’t decide on what to get the kid, we will bring up a couple of toys.  If it was up to some of us, we would bring up so many toys we would need a pallet jack but there are a lot of kids to be taken care of.  The toys were in our staff room and in the chapel and he we are trying to find the “perfect gift” for a kid we don’t know anything about.  It’s fun.

Late today we finally unwrapped the toys that were not picked up.  Mark was there and helped unwrap, sort, and tomorrow they will be packed up.  His opinion was also solicited for a couple of gift requests.  The reason that we unwrap gifts is that by the end of today, we were running low on some age groups of toys and we needed to know what we had and if they are being stored for next season, we need to know what we have next year.  Of course with that many of us who are (ahem) middle aged, there was all sorts of reminiscing going on.  “I had one of those!”  “I wanted one of these?” “These were better when I was a kid!”.

Once Christmas morning comes along, the shelter will be full and maybe even overflowing.  While some guys have families to go to, most do not.  Also a lot of guys who are living in really horrible boarding houses or flophouses will evaluate their current lodging and decide that a dorm bed at the Salvation Army with friendly staff and good food is better than the booze and violence that comes from their current location. 

The cooks come in at 8:30 a.m. and if I value my life, I will be down there for coffee with them.   The first batch of food will come out around 9:00 a.m. and the guys will be able to eat all day long.  We have a 42 inch television that we will show BBC’s Planet Earth on all day while on our other television, we will show comedy’s.  I gave a couple of options to the guys: Band of Brothers, Season One of Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars… Planet Earth won out.  I learned during this process that some of the footage from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was faked.  Apparently some of the animals were actually trained and not wild footage.  I’m shocked too.

Maggi also comes to the Centre on Christmas morning for a game of fetch and running around sniffing people.  The guys will think she is a drug dog and be a little freaked out but that’s okay too.  Wendy and one of our staff, Anita, wrapped up 81 gifts for the guys.  We had planned to get the guys some hoodies but our supplier called us a month ago in a panic over them being back ordered.  Instead we got the guys some really nice gift packages.  Wendy bought them all at Wal-Mart and she wants me to make it clear how incredibly helpful the Wal-Mart staff was in not only running through a massive sale but also in loading them all in our van for her, checking out that they were exactly what she needed, and pushing through the three carts around the store.  A whole bunch of churches and businesses have dropped off stuff from the Christmas Gift Guide for the Homeless which will be distributing as well.  Thanks to everyone that helped out.

Well there you go.  That’s a slice of Christmas for you.  It doesn’t tell the whole picture but it hopefully give you an idea of what the staff at the Centre do there.

It’s still chilly out there

I posted this over at the Salvation Army Community Centre’s blog and I thought I would link to it here.  There has been a lot of media reports about guys who are sleeping outside in –40 below weather.  I know some of them personally and the guys do have options for places to sleep.  If they are sober, they can stay here.  If not, there is Larson House (or even the city cells).  If for some reason, we can’t house them, we provide them other places to stay.  Not only that but Social Services is trying to help them as well.

It’s frustrating because when I talk to them, we explain all of this to them.  Guys listen, tell me how much they appreciate us but say, “I’m not really ready to come indoors yet.”  There has been a lot of articles written on the need of a wet shelter but I am not even sure if that would deal with this problem.  I think it isn’t so much a shelter problem as it is an issue with the mental health system.  Either way it seems to be a growing problem.

Christmas Gift Guide for the Homeless

This one is pretty close to my heart.  At work I get to buy the Christmas gifts for the guys at the Salvation Army Community Centre and I have a lot of fun doing it.

Last year I got them nice duffle bags and a watch/wallet gift set.  We also got a big donation of men’s boxer shorts from Wal-Mart and we let the guys sort those out.  It was hilarious because there was Simpson’s boxers, Montreal Expos boxers, and other funny boxers. We laid them out in the chapel on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning there was underwear soaring through the air like fish at Pike’s Market as guys figured out sizes and preferences.  I think they got a bigger kick out of the Saskatoon Gotch Market than anything that day.  Some of the guys had never owned a watch and were in tears.

In the past, we have given out fleece jackets, electric razors, Christmas stockings full of loot, and other bits of clothing.

This year we are going to give out some hoodies (Christmas brought to you by Bill Bilichick but we won’t cut off their sleeves) and a shaving kit full of shaving supplies, toiletries that we don’t keep in stock at the Centre and for the guys who are just passing through, winter survival kits. We are also giving out some leather bound NLT Bibles. (that’s the plan so far but all plans are subject to change)

We get a lot of requests over the holidays about what to get people in the shelter.  It’s a tough time for many guys who stay in shelters.  Being homeless is a tough experience anytime of the season but even harder at Christmas. I thought I would post a Christmas Gift Guide for those that are homeless and living in a shelter.

Take a look and see what you can help with and make Christmas a little nicer for those that live in a shelter.

Simple Luxuries

  • A couple of years ago someone donated some Old Spice Body Wash.  The tagline on it said, If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist. which brought a lot of laughs for the guys that we gave it to.  From places like Dollarama you can get imitation brands of stuff for $1 and it smells pretty good.  Guys love it.  If you are so inclined, get them a body scrub puff as well.
  • We give out free razors at the Centre.  The general rule is that when guys say thanks to us for them, we jokingly tell them not to.  They are that bad.  I have used them once and the screams could be heard for miles.  A great luxury is a decent razor.  Walmart and most pharmacies have their Gillette Sensor clones with inexpensive replacement blades.  Disposable packages of Gillette or Schick razors are awesome as well.  If you can toss in some travel packages of shaving cream, all the better.
  • Towels: No one ever has a towel and we always need more of them to give out.  I tend to agree with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that a nice new towel is a wonderful luxury.  It’s a big source of frustration with me as some guys tend to demand towels and a towel service but others love them and take care of them.  All I know is we can always use more of them.  New towels, used towels, you name it.
  • A nice insulated travel mug with a secure leak proof lid :: One of thing that most people don’t understand is that most of our guys are working and some of them are working in really tough, hard, jobs in the bitter Saskatchewan cold.  An insulated travel mug is a prized possession for a lot of guys and something like this Starbucks tumbler would be great.  I am not saying that you need to get one of these, I am just saying a mug that won’t spill is a big deal.  Dollarama has some stainless steel mugs for $1 but their lids come off pretty quickly but they often have thermoses that would serve the same purpose.
  • McDonalds or Tim Hortons gift cards.  You have no idea how much guys appreciate a Tim Horton’s gift card around the shelter.  Gary Smalley could write a book about Tim Hortons as a love language and it is a comfort food for guys.  Now I know a lot of you who read this are in the U.S. but all you have to do is find out what the closest coffee chain is to the shelter.  Tim Hortons, Starbucks, or Dunkin’ Donuts… you get the idea.
  • Long Distance Phone Cards :: Some of the guys at the Centre have no family while others desperately miss theirs over the holidays.  This gives them a chance to reconnect.  We gave out $5 ones a couple of years ago but they can burn through them pretty quickly.
  •  I saw this hand crank radio the other day while in XS Cargo and I thought it was a great idea for the guys.  You crank it up for 30 seconds and it will run for 20 minutes.  It also includes some headphones to go along with it so they don’t drive guys around them crazy. While they run on batteries, they don’t need them.
  • Chocolate/Candy :: I am torn over this one as so many of our clients have diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).  Then again I am going to have some candy and chocolate over Christmas so why not?  Basically if you like it, someone down at the shelter will like it.

Stuff for Work

  • In Saskatchewan, you have no idea what a difference that winter work gloves, winter jackets, fleece jackets (dress in layers), and winter coveralls can make.  It allows guys who may not have resumes or that extensive of work experience to go down to the day labour places and get some work.  Work brings in money but it also allows the guys to prove themselves.  Many of the guys in the shelter go out to a day labour place for a couple of days and get hired on by the company who brought them in.  A couple of years ago a donation came of winter work clothes, the stuff was given out and two guys found work the next day.  Within a short time they were out of the shelter and haven’t looked back since.  It’s a big deal.  You can toss in travel mugs and thermoses into this category as well.  They make working in the cold a lot easier to do.

Necessities of Life

  • The Centre has soap, shampoo, conditioner, and razors to give away for free.  We also have a clothes cave where we can give away clothes that are donated.  What we need is underwear (let’s be honest, no one donates underwear for good reason) and socks (who keeps old socks?).  We could always use new underwear and socks.  In addition, we could always use winter jackets.  During my time at the Centre, I have seen so many hitchhikers be brought in totally frozen by the RCMP or city police and the guy is in a jean jacket an that’s it.  What is frustrating is that the guys are like, I’ll just warm up and keep going in -40 weather while wearing just a jean jacket.  Generally we take them to our Clothes Cave and get some warm stuff.  Also, you have no idea how many cold kids we see who need something warm in extreme weather.  If it warms you up, we will put it to good use.

Reading Material

  • An easy to read translation of the Bible.  Over 50% of our guys at anytime in the Centre are functionally illiterate which makes the KJV translations that the Gideons give out pretty much useless.  Guys love the NLT, Message and CEV bibles when they come in and we can give them out.  Pocket versions are best as they don’t take up that much space is a pack.
  • Magazines :: Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health, National Geographic ¦ you get the point.

Don’t Give These Items

  • Personally I think a multi tool would be great for 97% of our guys and they would really appreciate them but for one or two guys, the damage they would create would be immense and shelters really don’t want knives in them because of the risk they pose.
  • Computer driven electronics. I know that you can get 1 gig MP3 players for under $10 now but where are they going to get charged up, where are the guys going to get the music. Like us, many shelters really don’t want USB devices plugged into their system because virus concerns and also a lot of guys use them to carry porn along with them. It’s not that I care that much what guys are carrying on their USB devices but I do care when I have a computer full of porn and viruses to deal with.

If you have any questions or doubts, contact your local shelter and see what they can use.


Tonight I went to my first City Council meeting.  I was there because the Salvation Army Community Centre is opening an emergency shelter for up to 45 women & children when they are in crisis.  The property we were looking at is in Pleasant Hill and we needed to have the lot rezoned so we could run a hostel/shelter on it.  It’s been a long process and we have been working on it for 18 months already. 

The process started with an idea of our old Executive Director but the property didn’t work out.  One night after working a shift on the Emergency After Hours desk, I dealt with a homeless women suffering from hypothermia living under a bridge and was really bothered by it.  We kind of took some ownership of the idea and we started working as a management team getting the Salvation Army’s approval for the project.  At the same time our EAH desk just got a lot busier.  A combination of higher rent, people coming in from out of town, increased domestic violence, and more people with mental health issues all played a factor.  What was a job that was only busy on weekends was busy all of the time.  A couple of years ago hotels were falling over themselves for the Centre’s business were now shutting their doors to us as they upgraded and no longer wanted homeless clients (to their defense, some of them can be difficult).  We had to do something and that something in the Salvation Army starts with a Program Proposal.  It sounds innocent enough until you see what it entails.  Even now I speak of the phrase reverently.  I am tempted to just call it a Prgm Prpsl without any vowels lest I offend it or make it angry.  It’s one tough process and the best way to describe that process was totally and completely exhaustive.  I actually had nightmares that featured it and that was just the filling out the forms part.  The Salvation Army doesn’t enter into these kind of projects lightly and there is a rigorous process with a lot of feedback.  Feedback means revising said Program Proposal.  While they supported the idea, we couldn’t get the project to break even.  We would have all sorts of discussions with Social Services and they supported the idea but they couldn’t give us the money we needed until the Pringle-Merriman report came out.  That was frustrating because we were stuck and going no where.  In the whole scheme of things it didn’t really delay us that much but while it was happening, it seemed like a big deal.  We anticipated the worse and we kept working at different business plans but none met the standards of the Army and for all intents and purposes, the project was dead.

In the spring of 2008, we got a call to go to the Cabinet Office in downtown Saskatoon.  The Minister of Social Services Hon. Donna Harpauer made a funding announcement that increased shelter rates dramatically.  Half way through her talk I wanted to go up and give her a high five as we knew the numbers would make sense.  Bob Pringle was there and I remember saying “thanks” to him as we left and he was asking if we would be able to go ahead.  I said “most definitely”.  The funny thing is that we were so happy and we did some media interviews on the way out but nothing was aired because we weren’t negative towards the government.

Back at the office we started again on the program proposal and after submitting about another ten versions of it, it was approved by the Division.  It went to the Territorial Headquarters where it underwent more questioning.  In the end, there was 19 different versions done up.  Even now my left eye twitches when thinking about it.  It was so much work but I learned a whole lot about projects during that process and I really appreciate how hard it was and how hard they made us work for it because in the end, it made the next steps a lot easier.  If I was a denominational executive, I would call up my nearest counterpart in the Salvation Army and ask them a lot of questions about their process for approving new programs.  It made us think through and talk through issues that would never have come up.  Another thing I appreciate was that we had to work out a break even point financially.  That made me put a number to the women and children we would be housing and once we did that, it becomes really hard to stop.

Homelessness Partering Strategy Funding Announcement Then we had to get the money from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy.  That wasn’t going to be a problem but Stephen Harper decided to drop the writ.  Luckily the Hon. Monte Solberg wasn’t running for re-election and instead of being out of the hustlings, he was apparently signing funding agreements back in Ottawa and we got our funding without having to wait for a new cabinet minister to be named or if the Conservatives lost, the project could be cancelled. 

Finding the money wasn’t any small task either as the staff members at Service Canada lived up to their name.  It was the end of a funding cycle and most of the money had already been spent.  They looked high and low for money for us and if they told me that they dumped over the couch in the Minister’s office looking for spare change, I would believe them.

Their application process wasn’t as tough as the Salvation Army’s and because we had done so much work to get the Army to sign off on it, it only took a couple of days and by December, we had a funding announcement for the project.

Earlier in 2008, we thought we had a property down the street from but the first real estate agent we worked with actually bought the property while saying he was representing us.  That set us back months and hurt personally as the realtor was a personal friend of mine.  We then went to Larry Gingerich who in addition to handling most of the Salvation Army’s deals in the city, is the dad of my friend Mike.  Larry was a lot of fun to work with as a realtor although we probably spent too much time working together because as  we were looking for a shelter for homeless women, there was a housing boom going on which made the process a lot harder.  All of the managers in the Centre became amateur real estate agents looking online, driving around looking for properties, and reading the real estate paper that comes in the Star Phoenix every Friday.  Our Executive Director did so much work on it, I bet she still reads the real estate section out of habit.  Someone would find a property and either we, the architect, or the city would find fault with it.  This went on for months although we did get some fun suggestions out of it like foam domes and I liked portable shepherd huts (you wouldn’t need zoning permission, just change to park it in front of a meter).  Finally we found a property on 341 Avenue T South that met all of our needs, our architect liked it, the city planners liked it and we could afford it.

Then we started the rezoning process.  It’s a long process.  Forms have to be submitted, plans have to be drawn up, things have to be put in tubes with stickers on it, and they have to be passed around City Hall and it takes a long time.  Fortunately our architect knows a lot more about this than we do and took it over.  Ken Wilson did a great job of steering us through this, explaining it to us, and in his spare time did some excellent drawings up for the new shelter.  The rezoning had to go to public meetings, committee meetings, and letters get written suggesting you need to replace the water main for a block.  Engineering firms have to be contacted which refute letters suggesting you need to replace part of the water main on Avenue T from 19th Street and finally you get to a city council vote.

While I knew we had the votes and it was likely to be unanimous, I had butterflies in my stomach while it was being discussed.  Councilor Pat Lorje got up to speak for the shelter and said some quite gracious words about it which made me feel better but when the vote came down as unanimous, it was like a weight off my back.

The re-zoning process bothered me a lot.  On one hand I understand the need for process.  On the other hand hotels don’t like to take homeless women and children so what are the options available?  Housing them in men’s shelter’s is a disaster waiting to happen and we didn’t have the room even if we wanted to do it.  While it never happened that we had to turn away a homeless women and child, there were several times when the shelters were full, the hotels were full (or would not take them) and we had to come up with very creative solutions.  It was a stressful fall and winter for both us and Social Services.  I know that isn’t the City’s responsibility but I wish we could have had a better way of coming up with temporary solutions.  Then again, maybe this is part of the process where we learn as a city how to handle an economic boom. 

Now the boss and our architect get to concentrate on building permits, while I get to start planning out a staff to work over at the shelter.  As Council wrapped up tonight, 45 women and children are one step closer to having a safe place to go in an emergency and that’s pretty cool.

Three years

It was three years ago this week that I got hired by the Salvation Army Community Centre.  Since several of the managers and staff have been here for over a decade (or decades), I still feel like I am a noob around here.

A lot has changed, including my job title changing twice in two years and the Centre itself has changed.  We are way busier, from two mostly dorms with 6000 beds served up to three dorms and 18,000 beds served.  From 40,000 meals to over 100,000 meals this year.  We think we are going to have to open up the chapel this winter to deal with the expected demand.  Oh yeah, the women’s shelter will open up this fall which I expect women and children will fill up another 10,000 beds at least.

The change was starting when I got here but our clients changed.  They have gotten a lot younger.  Part of it is that Saskatoon is booming and young men head to where the jobs are at.  The other part of it is that more and more kids don’t have a family network for which to turn.  We see a lot more guys with mental health problems which is another part of a growing city.

The other side of the incredible demand is the generosity of the people of Saskatoon.  I walked in here the other night because a shoe manufacturer donated about a bazillion pairs of winter boots.  We have a small portion of them here and they fill our loading dock — all of them are going to be given out to the community between now and first snow.  Myself and other staff have been carrying them out ten boxes at a time for meals.  While I was down here the Front Desk had fresh pizza that came from a pizza place for the guys.  I don’t know why they do it but it’s much appreciated.  We have bags and boxes of stuff come in all day, every day so that we can use it or give it away.  When it gets cold we get boxes of new gloves, toques, and scarves from companies who organized a mini clothing drive and the stuff goes to guys so they can work outside and brave the elements so they can keep getting ahead.  Other stuff goes to kids so they are warm.  Then there are the Christmas kettles, what the radio stations do, the Christmas hampers, feeding 1000 people their Christmas dinner, kids going to camp who otherwise couldn’t afford it and the list goes on.  Today we had a landed immigrant who is having some problems with the system stop one of our staff and ask her why she helped him so much when no one else did.

Of course my favorite part of the job is the impact it has had on Mark who has seen a lot of what we do first hand (and is the beneficiary of it this week while he is out at Beaver Creek Camp).  He plans for growing up include both being an eXtreme sports star and helping people who are homeless.  It doesn’t sound like a bad goal.

In training

Salvation Army Community Centre in Saskatoon at night

The last three nights have all been night shifts for me.  We finally hired someone new at the Centre for our night shift and I was doing my part in helping train her.  The other staff on at night had done a great job in teaching her our procedures so far so I was looking for some productive shifts on the weekend helping teach her how we deal with really difficult clients and situations.

I don’t know how I missed the memo but it was the weekend where Saskatoon went to bed early and collectively decided to shun the help that the Salvation Army and other agencies provide.  The last three nights were probably the three quietest nights that I have ever experienced which are great if you are working but terrible if you are there to train someone on how to handle difficult situations.  One of the few times the phone rang, it was actually one of the other social agencies to see if we were as quiet as they were.

The odd thing is that the when the Saskatoon Police was in and out of the building a couple of times, I asked them if they were busy and the answer was yes which added to the oddness of the weekend. 

All isn’t lost, the other staff who is on knows our emergency procedures pretty well and I am not that worried about things but it is weird to see Saskatoon that quiet on a weekend.

Summer Breakfast Program

I thought this was kind of cool and I thought I would pass it on.  During the last year, the Salvation Army has been feeding around 100 people three times a week at the Bridge on 20th.  We prepare, bring, and serve the food over there which provides a nutritious and free breakfast to those that would otherwise go without.

With the summer coming and elementary schools shutting down it means that the breakfast programs local schools run won’t be available for those that need it.  The Salvation Army Community Centre decided to step into that gap and is taking it’s breakfast program on the road to four different locations, three times a week.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, our Community Response Vehicle will be serving breakfast at:

This isn’t my area of the Centre (it’s a Family Services program) but I do know that they would appreciate volunteers and donations to help this program this summer.  Feel free to contact Sylvia at the Centre at 242-6833 or via email at sylvia.stevenson@salvationarmysaskatoon.org.

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

Off to Prison

I posted a little bit about the day over at the Centre’s weblog but I thought I would post some more thoughts here.

Each summer the Centre puts on a big barbecue at Riverbend Institution.  Last year I was asked to go along and four of us headed up north to Prince Albert to cook and meet some of the guys who are at Riverbend.  For many of the guys who are there, they are on their way out of the federal prison system and Riverbend is one of their last stops until they get to a federal half way house.  In addition to this, some guys don’t do that great in a halfway house and are sent back and we have a chance to catch up with them.

Last year I took some photos.  They were cool with it as I wasn’t taking photos of the guys there, just us setting up.  Below is a photo of the four of us smoking out all of Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
Salvation Army BBQ at Riverbend Institution
This year they had us in a different location and there were always guys around helping so I never took any photos out of respect for the rules and the guys there (and let’s be honest, I was in the middle of a federal prison and I wanted to get out at the end of the night) but we had a lot of fun and yes there was  a lot of smoke this year as well.

According to our two host chaplains, we had 130 guys come to the barbecue.  About 20 of them were early enough to help us set up and over 50 of them swarmed around and helped clean up.  While it was a lot of work to put on, I was told to take a seat in one of the adirondack chairs while clean up was going on.

While last year was a lot of fun, this year I was a little more comfortable with the guys which made it a more enjoyable event for me personally.  Several of the guys came up and told me how much they appreciated the chaplaincy of the Major and several guys passed on greetings to the staff back at the Centre and even greetings for Wendy and Oliver.  While they may be frustrated at themselves, their Parole Officers, and the system, they still like us and it is good to hear stories of them getting back on track.

It was a nice trip and I look forward to coming back next year.