Tag Archives: Salvation Army

The New (Old) Barbecue

A couple of weeks ago someone stole my brand new barbecue.  Wendy had to work that Saturday so we had the Friday off together and decided to take a trip out to Gardiner Dam.  The boys had a good time seeing the dam with the spillways open and had a nice swim in Lake Diefenbaker.

I made the mistake of ordering a quick lunch at the cafe there and it tasted bad.  Within 45 minutes I was in pain and realized that something wasn’t right.  We got home and I laid down for a nap while Wendy went grocery shopping.  There was a city crew working in the area and I never thought much of it when I heard some noise outside the house.  Little did I realize it was someone cutting the lock on the barbecue and stealing it in the middle of the afternoon.

After getting mad and then filing my police report, I had a problem.  Mainly no barbecue.  

I had an old one in the backyard which I hadn’t taken to the dump yet (thanks to my brother and his truck being busy) It was nice back in the day but had been traded into Weber who donated about 100 of them to the Salvation Army.  I bought it for $20 about 8 years ago.  We had just gutted it to fix the barbecue at the cabin so it needed some work.  Two new grills, new briquettes, a new handle, nob, and tank.  About $100 worth of repairs but cheaper than the cheap barbecues that Wal-Mart was selling and with the deep bowl, it would do a better job.  As Wendy pointed out, we do cook some things that do need some space and that factored into my decision.

My first step was to empty out the barbecue of all of the dust, grease, and briquettes pieces that were left.  I took the scraper and wire brush to the barbecue and really cleaned it out.  I will paint it next summer (perhaps a colour) with heat resistant paint but for now, I just need to get the job done.

Onward Grill Pro 92375 rw 66822 79458

After looking around, I decided to purchase GrillPro Porcelain Coated Heat Plate which converts you from briquettes to a dispersed heat plate.  It took 5 minutes to assemble and works as well as my stolen barbecue did.  It was $23 at Home Depot and in the end saved me from having to replace the bottom grill and the brickettes.

You can drill some holes in the bottom your barbecue and mount this in permanently but mine set right in and we don’t move it at all so I decided against it.  I had originally bought two of them but then after taking one of them out, I only needed one of them.

For the upper grill, I also picked up a new universal replacement grill.  It took about 30 seconds to fit and insert but it holds the heat better then the stock grill. 

I fired up the barbecue and let any of the chemicals burn off.  We then cooked a couple of beer can chickens on them and the cooking experience was fantastic compared to the briquettes (it was as good as my stolen barbecue).  If you have not moved from briquettes to one of these heat plates, you really need to.  It really is a better cooking experience and for $25, it is so cheap to do and easy to install.  Not only did I save on the briquettes but also the replacement bottom grill.  

The total cost was $45 to refurbish the barbecue with the upgraded head plate and grill which wasn’t bad.  I still had to purchase the new tank but in the end, it’s nice to be able to cook outside again.  If you have a barbecue that you don’t love nearly as much as when you bought it, consider swapping out your briquettes for a new heat plate.

Looking at harm reduction from a Christian perspective

So Calgary has stopped giving out free crack pipes as part of it’s harm reduction strategy.

Free crack pipeSince 2008, Alberta Health Services had been giving out crack-pipe kits as part of the Safeworks program, an effort to reduce transmittable diseases. The kits contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece and cleaning tool and were handed out in an AHS van.

More than 14,500 crack pipes were given out as of June 2011.

However, AHS has discontinued the Safeworks crack-pipe program as of Tuesday, citing the “potential for a legal challenge with respect to distribution.”

Tim Richter, Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO, said the program was an effective first step in engaging hardcore, street-involved crack addicts.

“We’re disappointed the program has been cancelled in the fashion it was,” Richter said. “Harm reduction and giving these crack pipes out was good, smart public health.

“It seems like a knee-jerk reaction on fairly simplistic moralistic ground.”

Some groups, including the Calgary Police Association, recently expressed concerns with the Safeworks program prior to its cancellation. CPA president John Dooks said it set a dangerous precedent.

“It’s implying you can use elicit drugs or unlawful drugs in a safe manner,” Dooks said. “The message should be there is no safe way to use drugs,”

I grew up and still am an evangelical Christian.  My grandmother was president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Saskatchewan and I work for the Salvation Army which coined the phrase “demon rum”.  Being against harm reduction and all for abstinence is in my DNA.   I hate what the drugs do to people.  I see it every day but for that very reason, I am for harm reduction.  Here’s why.  By the virtue that people are coming for free crack pipes, they are doing two things.  Realizing that things are out of control and putting themselves in contact with the very people that can help them.  That’s why Insite works.  Insite isn’t for just any heroin addict.  It’s for the addicts that realize that they need help and can’t continue on the path that they are on.  Insite isn’t a destination, it’s the start of the journey.  The same is with grabbing a crack pipe from a street worker, they are admitting that something is wrong and taking a small step in the right direction.

In Saskatoon there is still some debate about needle distribution, a debate I can’t understand, even from a Christian perspective.  You have drug users using dirty needles, passing them around, getting high.  Statistics tell us that they are at a very high risk of contracting HIV or Hep C, both are costly diseases to fight and we know many users don’t fight it.  As a friend who runs another agency once told me, up to half of our mutual clients have untreated HIV/Aids on any given night.  The more I think about it, the more I agree with her.  As a Christian who wants the best for them, by taking the needles/crack pipes away, we are just complicating things.  I am increasing the risk of a disease that will hinder them rest of their lives or shorten it drastically.  A lack of harm reduction options increases healthcare costs in addition to lost potential due to a shortness of life or a diminished capacity for life.  

The main reason to do so doesn’t seem to be a legal reason or even a moralistic one, it seems to be driven out of societies dislike and discomfort with addicts and their lifestyles and a desire to punish them.  If I can nuance Tim Richter’s stance, this isn’t about a moral stand, it’s a puritan stand, one that says that people that do wrong must be punished.

In my years of working at the Salvation Army, I have known one guy that enjoyed being an addict.  The rest hate it and want out but can’t do it yet.  On my walks home I run into a client who for years was an ass to deal with.  Was always angry at me, always yelling, and threatening.  One night he walked in and was clean of the drugs and was quite a nice guy.  Entirely different.  Part of his path out his hell was harm reduction.  He’s been clean (and struggling) ever since then.  He rents a place not far from me and is scraping out a legit existence doing a variety of jobs.  He stops by to chat when he sees that Wendy and I are around and stops by Wendy’s work to say hello to her.  Every time I see him he is always telling me that he is amazed that his drugs didn’t destroy his relationship with the Salvation Army and myself and goes on to say over and over again, how they destroyed almost everything else in his life.  His story isn’t unique.  I could insert in a variety of names and contexts into that story and the pain is always the same. 

When we look at drugs users, the explanation is that it is either a personal choice or they have a low genetic tolerance towards it (in describing Aboriginal Drug Abuse).  Both of these answers have the same underlying principle, it’s not my fault or responsibility.  One thing we overlook is the societal aspect of drug and alcohol abuse.  Drug and alcohol abuse on reserves was not a problem until the Residential Schools opened (The damage was done to those taken and those left behind.  How would you handle it if the RCMP took your children a part of a government policy.  I know I would be seriously messed up if I lost Ollie and Mark).  Now I do meet some men and women that came from extremely stable households who for whatever reason decided to self destruct with drugs as a personal lifestyle choice but for the most part the drug use is a result of escaping horrible family situations, mental health issues and is a part of concurrent disorders.  In other words the kind of individuals that we as a society have an obligation to help the most.  For decades Canada has had a social safety net for those that need this kind of help.  It has generally come in the form of healthcare or Social Assistance but as the drugs have become more potent and addictive, the solutions are more complicated as well.  Harm reduction works.  It’s not about the pipe, it’s about the pathway out the personal hell they are living in.  Alberta Health was wrong to back down and all of Albertans will pay the costs.  It’s my Christian faith that calls out for harm reduction strategies, it’s fear and a lack of grace that fights against them.


1. My grandmother would be totally opposed to EVERYTHING that I wrote in this post.

2. I believe the phrase demon rum should be used more often than it is.  I try to use it as much as I can at work but to be honest, no one drinks rum anymore and it seems awfully judgemental to say about anything else.

My week in review

On Sunday I decided to take the family to Waskesiu for the day.  We drove up through Prince Albert, past the Prince Albert Penitentiary and Riverbend Institution (Wendy was curious over where the Salvation Army has our prison barbecue) and then to Waskesiu (Mark thought we were headed to the cabin via Regina but in his defense, I had purchased him an issue of Transworld Skateboarding and he may not have noticed the forest through the many trees).

After eating at The Angry Taco, we wandered around the beach, did some shopping, and some exploring.  During most of the day, I had chest pains which I have had for months but had been telling myself, they were stress.  I have stress at work and for those of you who read Wendy’s blog, I have a lot of stress at home, depending on the state of her depression.  For the last month, I would walk the fifteen blocks home and be totally exhausted.  I have walked  back and forth from home to the Salvation Army hundreds of times and while I am walking up Caswell Hill, it isn’t as if I need to use climbing ropes for safety.  It’s a pretty tame climb.

On Monday morning I woke up with pain and I decided to go to Royal University Hospital’s Emergency Room to get it checked out.  I was hoping they would tell me it was stress but after my chest X-Ray, they told me it something more serious and I was being admitted.  So off to the 6000 ward I was sent with all of the other cardiology patients where I awaited my angiogram.  The first night was just annoying.  Wendy brought my noise cancelling headphones which makes sense but I sleep on my side so I knocked them off my head where I was greeted with snoring, snoring, and more snoring.  As soon I would fall asleep, I would knock off one of the heart monitor points which would sent a nurse scrambling in to see if I was dead and/or fix the points.  If I wasn’t doing that, I was rolling over and jamming my intravenous.  I was also woken up blood work techs and of course they needed to wake me for my blood pressure and temperature.  On top of that the blood thinner they gave me made me cold which all adds up to under two hours of sleep.  I don’t know why but in the silence of Monday night, I felt scared for the first time since Wendy was giving labour to Oliver.  Death has never bothered me that much but the idea of giving up on life prematurely because of stupid diet decisions and choices really bothered me.  My mom declined to have chemotherapy when she was dying of cancer because she didn’t want to go through it and I have always questioned that decision.  I don’t want Mark and Oliver to think, “Why didn’t Dad cut the McDonalds out of his diet and choose to be with us for some more years?”  I felt quite disappointed in myself.

Tuesday was spent waiting.  I saw my cardiologist and other doctors who lectured me on my diet and weight.  Fair enough.  The other thing that hit me was they were on me because of how high my cholesterol and blood pressure was which was news to me.  They put me on Lipitor for probably the rest of my life and also Ramipril to help me deal with high blood pressure.   Wendy had to work Tuesday night so I was chilling out reading Fareed Zakaria’s The Post American World Release 2.0 when Cam Broten came by and chatted politics and life for a bit.  The best part of the visit was he brought up The Economist and a fantasy football magazine.  The next day this doctor comes in and looks at my reading material and says, “No wonder you are in here, you can’t relax reading The Economist”  He picks it up and sees the football magazine and then without batting an eye goes, “Should I pick Manning as my QB with the neck problems or Brady with Ochocinco?”  Apparently global economic stress is bad while NFL fantasy league stress is good.  That’s why I am not a doctor.

Wednesday morning I was in for my angiogram.  They found a lesion on my heart as well as two partially blocked arteries and some blockage in another one.  The most concerning were the two arteries that are partially blocked as they aren’t bad enough to deal with.  Those mean that I need a drastic change to deal with or schedule myself a series of heart attacks, by-passes, and strokes in the coming years.

After having a 40 minute heart ultrasound and nurses tearing away connection point after connection point off my body, I was allowed to return home where I hung out with the boys before I fell asleep.  My right arm was useless as that is the artery they chose to get to my heart which resulted in some spilled milk but we survived as a family.  Mark fired up Netflix and showed Wendy the Arrested Development where GOB is CEO and going on and on about how much his suit cost.  At the hospital he goes to Wendy, “C’mon, I’m the guy in a $3700 t-shirt and you want me to get you a pop?!”.  It’s even funnier now that Wendy gets what he was talking about.  Even Oliver is going, “C’mon, look at my pants”.

Today I went to Indigo and bought a couple of cookbooks.  One is on eating Heart Smart, the other one was The Vegetarian Bible.  We have the Mayo Clinic cookbook and some other heart healthy eating books so I have some choices.  Low cholesterol diets can be summed up with one word, bland.  I had a chicken fajita tonight and they weren’t bad which is kind of pathetic but that is how food will be defined now.   After that I stopped by work to chat and after 30 minutes of that, I was too tired to wander over to the other side of the building.  Wendy drove me home (I can’t drive for a couple of days) and I have just been exhausted all day.  My proudest accomplishment has been writing this post and doing some dishes.  Other than that I have been sleeping and resting.  Oh yeah, thinking.  I have been thinking a lot as well.

I’m angry at the government as well

Cosmo Industries is upset with the City of Saskatoon City Council.  I am to but for totally different reasons.  Saskatoon doesn’t have a minor league ball team, the Riders don’t hold their training camp in Saskatoon anymore, there is a massive pothole on a street I drive to work on.  The list goes on.

Cosmo’s complaint seems to revolve around the fact that they have a contract for paper collection in the city and that contract is now in jeopardy because of the cities move to curbside recycling.  As The StarPhoenix’s Dave Hutton writes.

Cosmo issued a news release Tuesday, stating that "adults with intellectual disabilities are shut out from benefiting from the future economic and population growth in Saskatoon."

In a report, the city guarantees Cosmo 7,800 tonnes of paper fibre each year for the next seven years, the remainder of a 10-year contract. The amount of paper fibre Cosmo has received from the depots has ranged from roughly 6,500 in 2005 to 7,800 tonnes in 2010, around 41 per cent of total paper fibre in the waste stream. The city projected the amount to decrease because of more households signing up for private curbside collection and a move to digital media.

When a curbside system is installed in 2012, the depot system will remain intact, but the amount of paper coming from the depots is expected to decrease substantially. In a report, the city says it will provide the 7,800 tonnes to Cosmo by delivering the remainder of paper from depots and large organizations. The city also says it will ask bidders to provide pricing for the city to buy raw paper fibre from them and deliver it to Cosmo to meet the contract requirements.

Ken Gryschuk, community relations manager for Cosmo, said the organization projected the amount of paper received through depots to increase to 10,000 tonnes through 2018.

They are so upset they are not threatening to sue but want to talk to their lawyers about it.

Gryschuk said he still thinks there is time to amend the agreement. He said Cosmo "is not contemplating a lawsuit" but is getting a legal opinion on the status of the contract with the city.

"I do not believe that this is over," he said. "What was done last night does not reflect the will of the people of Saskatoon."

I am a part of a non-profit who deals with the Government of Saskatchewan and one thing I have learned is that essentially I work at the leisure of the Government of Saskatchewan and can be shut down or impacted negatively at any time.  This week I have spent pouring over budget information and made the hard decision to (hopefully temporarily) cut positions at the shelter.  It’s hard and it is largely a result in a government policy shift in how they want to handle their department.  The Centre has lost funding for programs before and I am sure it will lose funding for programs in the future.  Other agencies have gone through the same thing.  While I understand the frustration that those who run Cosmo Industries must feel, it is the same for everyone.  Market conditions changed and Cosmo is going to have to adjust.

The same for us.  Housing FIrst programs are dealing with homelessness far better than shelters have and so we prepare for the day when sheltering is going to be a lot less important than assisted living and SROs.  It’s been difficult in other cities as at the Booth Centre in Calgary where a change in the environment has been met with layoffs

It’s a hard decision for city council but what Cosmo Industries wanted would have frozen the city in time.  Here is how Gerry Klein sees it.

The monkey-wrench in the works, however, is a belief by Cosmo industries that to move on could cost the organization access to the paper that makes it work. To allay these fears, Coun. Lorje in January proposed – and council unanimously agreed – that any new system should be designed to protect Cosmo’s interests.

That turned the debate to whether the status quo was protection enough. Half of council and the civic administration believed that guaranteeing Cosmo a minimum volume of paper – the 7,800 tonnes or so it now receives – should allow the enterprise to continue by maintaining the current level of employment for its clients.

Cosmo, however, wants a bigger cut of the action. If this were about any other recyclable material, it probably wouldn’t have mattered much. But paper is where the money is in recycling.

Every non-profit wants to do more to help it’s clients.  Without a doubt Cosmo could hire more people and help more if they got up to 10,000 tonnes of paper a year but all non-profits can do the same if given more resources.  Cosmo is going to have to diversify, expand, retool, and reimagine themselves.  They have had a great ride, built a great legacy, and have goodwill in the community.  Trashing city council for not allowing them to continue their monopoly isn’t the way to go.  Figuring out their next market is what they need to be doing.

Wollaston Lake

Saskatoon Kinsmen / Henk Ruys Soccer Centre Since the middle of last week when the Wollaston Lake fire forced the evacuation of the community to Prince Albert and to two locations in Saskatoon, I have been handling food services at the Saskatoon Kinsmen / Henk Ruys Soccer Centre for the Salvation Army EDS since the first evacuees arrived.  What generally happens is that one of the officers handles the overall effort and gets to go to the meetings while staff from Beaver Creek Camp and the Centre handle the operations.  The officers miss out on some of the physical work but they have to listen to us complaining when we get over tired and they have corporate credit card to solve some of our problems.  I have been in some of those meetings as well and I’d prefer to be setting up food for the next meal.  The Salvation Army uses the Incident Command System and it works pretty well.

I have run the food service job a couple of years ago but it was for a far smaller number (around 100 people if I remember correctly).  The soccer centre had 650 to start (the numbers dwindled as the arrests continued) and two incompatible gangs which meant that there was a few incidents that needed some intervention.  Despite the bad press, the situation inside was quite relaxed and cheerful once the gang issues was sorted out and they were given more secure accommodations.  It was crowded as three of the four soccer pitches were needed for cots and sleeping.  Our area was the farthest from water supply and also was used as a recreation area by the Red Cross which was different than other evacuations where we had our own space and our own water supply.  After hauling hundreds of gallons of water, Wendy dropped off some additional water jugs.  We still had to haul water across the complex but in fewer trips.

Several of the staff who helped out know this first hand but there is a physical toll in working the hours (I rolled in before six a.m. most days and didn’t leave until mid to late evening on some of them).  I strained my back, hurt my shoulder, burnt my hands and legs fighting with hot food, bruised my knee after I banged into a bumper while unloading a Cambro, and burnt off some of my eyelids while blowing out a can of fuel.  I also took a chunk of out of finger which while minor, really made me whiney… a least internally. 

I spent a lot of time with some kids that are FASD.  I don’t really know what to say but they are going on seven or eight years of age with the mental capacity of a two year old.  One day I was really tired and I was trying to get some fuel lit to heat up the chafing dishes.  They burn blue and the kids kept wanting to touch them.  It was the only one there, exhausted and pissed off that I was the only one there.  My back was hurting and these kids kept wanting to touch that flame and wouldn’t listen to me.  I was thinking, “what is wrong with these stupid kids, they are going to get hurt” when it clicked in, “FASD”.  So I quickly told myself off for being a jerk and got a serving insert and one of the fuel cans.  I tore off a bit of napkin and lit it on fire in the metal insert.  The kids said, “hurt” and they got it.  Of course I couldn’t help visualize the headline, “Wollaston Lake residents sent back to forest fire threatened community because former Salvation Army employee burnt down Soccer Centre and part of River Heights”   That was my last fire demonstration.

So today I was relieved by some Salvation Army officers.  My rotation is done and I needed the break.   Despite being surrounded by food, I went three days without eating because I was too busy and/or preoccupied to think about food.  I would come home at night and just fall asleep on the sofa.  I’ll head to the Soccer Centre for one more 6:00 a.m. tomorrow to show my replacement the ropes and take off before breakfast is served.   Hopefully it is all wrapped up by Thursday night and we can plan for the next one.

It was mentioned to me today that Saskatchewan has forests that have a natural cycle of 100 years and with fire suppression, we are hitting about year 130 which means when they do start on fire, they burn badly.  Factor in flooding and it means that the Salvation Army and the Red Cross do this a couple times a year.  I have a feeling this evacuation won’t be my last this summer.

One thing that did make me a bit sad is that it will be the last evacuation with the same officers and staff that we have been doing this for years with.   The officers that were at the Centre when I started are being transferred to Vancouver and the camp directors are retiring.  For years it was just automatic who would be there and take charge.  There is a lot of experience, dedication, and problem solving ability being lost.  I’ll miss them.

Thanks to my staff and co-workers who put in some long hours down there and have the same cuts and bruises that I do.  It caused problems for childcare, sleep patterns, and added some stress to their already busy work weeks.  Despite that they are a lot of fun to work with.  They were at the Soccer Centre, Cosmo Civic Centre, and driving all over the place doing whatever they needed to do.  I appreciated the help, the companionship, and their ability to listen to me be over tired.  Thanks to Wendy as well who showed up with a large cooler of Coke, Diet Coke, and bottled ice water for staff and volunteers.  You forget how much you nice a cool pop can be when it is hot in there.  As a very happy Red Cross volunteer said while sipping a Dr. Pepper, “Your wife is an angel”.  She is.

I hear Cumberland House is on evacuation standby (doh!).  Hopefully they aren’t sent to Saskatoon as I really want to head to the cabin this weekend to celebrate Ollie’s third birthday.

One last thing.  Don’t donate goods to evacuations unless requested by the government or an agency.  Stores and malls have been collecting material goods for Wollaston Lake residents but they had zero property loss and it is a HUGE logistical nightmare for agencies like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to store, collect, and transport these goods.  In the case of Wollaston Lake, they would have to be flown in on an aircraft that has STOL capabilities and of course those planes are either really small or in short supply. If you want to give, give cash.  It allows the residents or the agencies to get what they need, and it doesn’t put a big burden on other agencies who are stuck with trying to figure out what to do with your old curtains.  In several disasters, the costs of handling the donated goods were more than what it would have cost new and much of it is sent to the garbage.  I know cash isn’t as personal as a quilt but you get a tax receipt and it allows the victims to get what they need.

The Regina of Ontario

I’m in Mississauga for a couple of days near the airport for a Social Services conference and am staying at the Delta Airport West hotel.  The hotel is nice and the staff was great.  I was about to rave about the hotel until I found some boogers in my coffee cup as I finished taking a drink from it.  I fully expect to be dead by morning. 

I had plans to take the Go Train into Toronto tonight but I haven’t been feeling well and am just tired.  I am rooming with our Corrections Coordinator and after getting into the room, grabbing a bite to eat, I lost my motivation to head out and we watched a wide variety of YouTube clips while listening to the party next door get rowdier and rowdier (I can’t hear them right now.  They may have quieted down).  While the posting here won’t interest many of you over the next couple of days, I will be posting notes and thoughts to both Twitter and here.


On Monday five of us from work took a roadtrip to Calgary to check out the Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope, a large homeless shelter in the downtown of Calgary.  I was the only non-smoker on the trip which meant a lot of stops along the way.  Rosetown, Kindersley, Alsask, Hanna, and Drumheller.  The trip almost became longer when I started to take the highway to Biggar, rather than Rosetown and I may or may not have gotten lost heading into Calgary but I am not in a position to confirm or deny such a rumour.

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.

Earthquake in Haiti

Earthquake in Haiti photos

The Big Picture has a series of photos that captures some of the devastation in Haiti

If you want to help, you can securely donate to Salvation Army relief efforts here or head down to your local Salvation Army Centre or church and just designate your donation for Haiti relief.  The Salvation Army also has a photoset which shows much of the devastation on the ground in Port au Prince.

Saskatoon has a substance abuse problem

Last night Wendy, Mark, and Oliver came along as I picked up Christmas kettles at the malls and collect them to be counted.  As I was driving from Wal-Mart in Confederation Mall along 22nd Street to Midtown Plaza.   A women just walked out in front of three lanes of incoming traffic.  Below is a screen shot of the location from Google Maps from this spring.

Google Street view of 22nd Street West in SaskatoonIt was dark and foggy last night and she was wearing a light grey coat and jacket that blended into the icy streets.  Wendy and I saw her at the same time and I hit the brakes and the horn.  I don’t drive that fast but I was still doing 50 kph along the road.  She kept on walking in front of the van.  The van slid. So did the car behind me and beside me.  She kept on walking in front of the van.  I swerved.  She kept on walking.  For a second I thought I was going to hit and kill her.  She kept on walking in front of the van.  I missed her by a less than an inch.  I think my mirror may have grazed her jacket. She just kept on walking.  Never looked up, never acknowledged she just about got hit but a couple of cars.

I called the Saskatoon Police and dispatch did what she needed to do but by the time I got to Midtown Plaza, I was shaking and my heart was still racing.  I have never come so close to ending some one’s life as I had last night.

This wasn’t the first incident we have had with someone who was really high on drugs this week.  On the way home from our staff Christmas party on Sunday night, we drove down Avenue D, past the 33rd Street Safeway.  It was below –40 degrees Celsius that night.

Google Street View of 1212 Avenue D North

As we drive past this place, I noticed what looked to be a pile of garbage propped up beside the tree.  As my headlights hit it, I noticed it was a person sitting there.  I looked at Wendy and we around the block again and saw the women who had been sitting up beside the tree, was now laying down.  We called the police and ambulance and before they got there, she came to.  She had a variety of needles, vials and what looked to be some moonshine with her.  She had no shoes on and from the dark spots on her bare feet, she had severely frozen her feet and had no idea where she was.

I spent last night trying to figure out if this is getting worse and I think it is.  Now in hindsight I should have known better than to drive down 22nd Street on a Friday night when there are checks out.  It can be a zoo.  As a teenager growing up in Lawson Heights, the was a free weekly paper called the Saskatoon Free Press.  In it they had a column called West Side Stories that talked about so many of the things that I see today.  From our vantage point in Lawson Heights, I thought he was lying and making this stuff up.  I think about it the columns a lot now when I see prostitutes shooting themselves up while walking home in the early morning or I see taxi’s roll up to the MK Kitchen in the middle of the night.

The MK Kitchen in Saskatoon

A package is tossed up into a window and a package is tossed back down.  I am pretty sure they aren’t distributing Gideon Bibles.

I wonder if this is the changing face of Saskatoon.  Wendy tells me that she has dealt with more customers high on drugs in the last year than she has seen ever before.  It has happened enough that she has the number to police dispatch memorized.

In Saskatoon, the money has come in, the good times are more or less here, the city has boomed and many have gotten rich.  Rent has gone up, cost of living has gone up and some are left behind.  I have often wondered if certain people turn to drug use when other hope is gone.  When you take home ownership away and low skill jobs are low paying, where happens to the hope?  Of course this just causes more problems.

What’s the answer?  Well the War on Drugs hasn’t done that well in the United States and according to Freakonomics, it has made the problem worse.  So much of the discussion that revolves around drugs today, revolves around white collar recreational drug use and generally revolves around legalizing or decriminalizing pot.  While I have never smoked pot, I don’t get to excited about it when friends do either.  I am not talking about pot.  It’s the meth.  It’s the heroine (and some abusing methadone as well).  It’s the crack and and cocaine.  More police on the streets makes a difference but even then there is only so much you can do.  While last night personally shook me up, about ten cars drove by that women almost frozen to death on Avenue D.  It was –40 and only two of us stopped. Jane Jacobs would be the first to say that until we care as neighbors what is happening in our neighborhoods, there is little the police or city can do. 

Jacobs maintained that mix use residential neighborhoods (industrial, residential, and commercial) was key to vibrant neighborhoods and communities.  This goes against what most cities desire as her ideal upholds redundancy against order and efficiency.  While we don’t have any input over rezoning and land use in Riversdale and the west side, we can work hard at connectiing people to each other and their community.  Last year I attended a speech by Iian De Jong who was the manager of the City of Toronto’s Streets to Home program.  In any Housing First program, the key is to get people stable housing and then work from there.  One thing he said was interesting and he talked about how important it was to create horizontal ties in communities.  Living in a car driven culture like Saskatoon, there isn’t a lot of ties I have to my neighborhood outside of our loyalty to the 33rd Street Safeway and the Bellissimo Ristorante and Lounge nearby.  We don’t feature a lot of mixed use neighborhoods in Saskatoon which means that unless someone goes out of their way to make an effort, you don’t know anyone else which is why you are left to freeze on a busy street or allowed to walk out into six lanes of traffic when you need to be at Larson House or at least inside out of the cold.  The challenge I guess is being part of a process where we create an environment where more people care and are engaged with what is happening around them.

I wish I could tell myself that this is two isolated incidents but we see this all of the time at work.  Booze, gas, drugs, solvents, and even model contact cement being abused to horrific levels.  I have been told by numerous people that there is a local doctor who will prescribe drugs to people and as you are walking out of his office, people offer to buy part of your prescription from you.   Wendy tells me that she is seeing it a lot more at work and we have seen more of it in our neighborhood as well.  In a recent e-mail from our city councilor, he pointed out that Saskatoon Police obtained a search warrant in our neighborhood the other day.

As a result two females were arrested and a large number of drug paraphernalia was seized.  This was a location used for shooting up.  It has been shut down.

Now only if they would shut down the numerous locations selling drugs…

In Reckoning: Drugs, Cities, and the American Future, author Elliote Currie says that the problem is big enough in America to threaten the countries future.  The problem is that they have been neglected for so long that the solution is focused spending on education, job training, and employment opportunity programs.  Of course those kind of solutions takes decades and generations to make a big impact and in the process, you have lost entire generations of people to drugs, violence, and crime.  It seems like such a waste.

I know many say, get tough on crime but as a parole officer reminded me, the average sentence is only 60 days which is enough to cost you your job, get you evicted but not enough time to get help in jail.  Also, there is almost no drug programming available in provincial jails.  For some reasons the same governments who like to get tough on crime also favor cutting back rehabilitation funding in prisons (it makes no sense to me because unless you plan to give everyone a life sentence, without programming they will return to their life of crime but this time with a better criminal network).  While I am not opposed to longer sentences, I do want them to get help when they are there to stop recidivism when they get out.

Well I will ponder some of this over the holidays and see what we can do when I get back to work in January (I am taking the week off after Christmas this year).  If you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments.

Christmas with Reimers

We spent an early Christmas dinner with the Reimers and Kristy before the the Reimers head south to California for Christmas with their kids.  It’s our family Christmas dinner and it is a really nice evening.

The food is always good and during dinner I was having my second helping of a bean and mushroom casserole when I realized that this was almost every food I hated as a kid.  Jerry quipped that my mom should have just combined everything today and then I would like it.  I am not sure if scalloped potatoes would have made the casserole any better.

After dinner we went downstairs, sat around the fire and exchanged Christmas gifts.

I'm a Mac Gloria is quite easy to shop for as she is someone who likes to read widely.  This is the first year we didn’t give her a book but rather we gave both Jerry and Gloria a mini DV camera so they could take some video of their trip and hopefully post it to YouTube.  On top of the camera we found a rather excellent camera bag at XS Cargo which we tossed in some batteries and a tripod.  Gloria is an Apple person and it instantly recognized both the internal memory and the 2 gig memory card in the camera.  Wendy and I are rather particular about camera bags and were quite thrilled with the one that we found.  Of course I didn’t do PC people proud when it took me about 5 minutes to get the batteries in correctly to the camera, the + and – on the batteries is apparently a little too complex for me.  Maybe I am a Mac after all.

We also gave Gloria a fondue set.  It actually has a Lazy Susan built into it because we all know how tiring eating fondue can be.  Jerry can be a lot harder to shop for but over the may long weekend, I read Liar’s Poker and I knew right then that it would be perfect for Jerry.  Just giving it to Jerry last night I realized that I should read it again.

We gave Kristy a lap desk and some external speakers for her new laptop computer.  Of course it wasn’t the ideal gift as an ideal gift for Kristy would have been a lap desk with a personal heater built into it.

Kristy surprised both Mark and Oliver with some Calgary Flames gear.  Some Flames pajamas for Ollie and a Flames shirt for Mark.  She gave me a wonderful time wasting book, while she got Wendy a sweater along with a gift certificate for a photo shoot.  I was given a gift card in my love language, Starbucks.

I was tossed into turmoil when the Reimers gave me The Clinton Tapes for Christmas.  They knew I spend my summer vacation reading The Kennedys by Peter Collier at the cabin.  I had planned to read a substantial book on each presidency each holiday at the lake but now I am torn.  Do I wait until we return to the lake in April to read it or read it over Christmas and then maybe read Conrad Black’s biography on Nixon this spring.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Wendy was tossed into turmoil when the Reimers gave her a birthday gift that she can’t open till Christmas.  It’s Wendy’s 40th birthday next week and we celebrated last night.  I actually gave her gift to her a little early.  I blame Darren Friesen for this outlay in gifts as he got an iPod for his 40th and Wendy has never let me forget it.  She was also given an anti-aging kit (Mark and I have been biting our tongues all day over that one), and a Josh Groban Christmas CD.

Halo Wars by Mega Bloks Mark was given a Halo Mega Bloks tank kit.  He was a little excited by it as at 7:00 a.m. this morning he was waking us up to see if we could help him find a piece.  I am sure Bill Cosby would have handles this differently but we just him back downstairs.

I am sure Wendy will have some thoughts on the evening later but for right now, she is chasing Oliver through the house.

Well next up on the Christmas agenda is the Salvation Army Christmas Dinner.  Mark and I are helping serve 1000 people in three settings tonight at White Buffalo Youth Lodge.  I am bringing my camera and will post some photos later tonight.

Christmas 2009

Maaco employee painting a massive Salvation Army Christmas Kettle

For us the Christmas season officially started last night with the start of Salvation Army Christmas Kettle season.  A couple of years ago I was asked if I could help out picking up Christmas kettles and bringing them in to be counted and deposited at night.  I asked what night was needed the most and the answer was Friday night.

Mark was just starting karate and so I paid him $5/week to provide protection and security for me as I went in and out of the mall.  At the time he knew one block.  When I asked him what we would do if the guy knew two punches, he actually said, “Well we are kind of screwed."

The first kettle we picked up, we were walking out of Lawson Heights Mall and Mark whispered, “What are you doing?”  I said that we were taking that kettle back to be counted.  He said incredulously, “We are taking Santa Claus’ money?”  For a couple of weeks I am pretty sure he thought his dad worked for an organized crime gang called, the Salvation Army who ripped off Santa Claus.

It takes about 90 minutes to pick up the kettles at Lawson Heights Mall, Confederation Park Mall, 33rd Street Co-op, and Midtown Plaza depending on whether or not Wendy is with me and whether or not we stop for coffee at Starbucks.  The secret to getting coffee at Starbucks is to go in early and get your coffee so you aren’t carrying the kettle and looking like you are using kettle money to purchase your late.

Last year Captain Jean, the pastor of New Hope Community Church and one of the chaplains at the Centre asked if I would help with Sunday night coffee houses during December.  I would make Mark put gloves, hair net, and apron on, even though he wasn’t able to serve any food.  Everyone got a kick out of the kid who looked like a big walking mushroom.  Mark wasn’t so nearly impressed.  When clean up time came, Mark helped out cleaning up and I think I paid him $10/week to help out.  He was saving up for a Nintendo DS.  Lee gave him one for Christmas but the money he saved up paid for a couple of games for his consol.

Since October, Mark has been asking if we were going to be picking up kettles this year so I didn’t really have a choice when they gave me Friday night again.  Since it is Friday nights, Mark can stay up a little later, provide security for me and then we can have a snack once we get home.  He pointed out that his karate moves have increased so it looks like I need to pay a little more this Christmas season.  Inflation has even hit the “hired goons” industry.

Christmas is pretty quiet around here.  We are getting together with the Reimers this Friday night before they head south to California.  I am working at the shelter for Christmas Day.  While we have two cooks coming in to cook for the residents, Wendy, Mark, and Oliver are coming down as well.  One of our cooks is going to teach Wendy how to make bannock and Mark is going to work with me.  The preliminary plan is to open our gifts together on Christmas Eve and then on Christmas Day, we will have our supper together with Lee and whoever wants to stop by for turkey/ham.  On Boxing Day Wendy is going to be working at Safeway but I am taking a week off work that week.

Between the 2.5 family events, there is the Salvation Army Community Dinner, the Santa Shuffle/Elf Run, and our staff Christmas  Party.  With no changes to the Enchanted Forest this year, we decided to pass on that but I am going to try to take in some singles games for the World Junior Hockey Championships with Mark, Wendy, and Oliver.  The other big event is that Wendy is turning 40 this year.

The good news is that we are 90% done our Christmas shopping.  Oliver, Mark, Lee, Kristi, and the Reimers gifts are picked out purchased, wrapped, and are stacked in the corner of our living room.  We refuse to go into debt for Christmas so we start looking around in September and start buying gifts then.  I don’t mind Christmas shopping but I hate Christmas shopping in December.

Mark: Media Critic

With Oliver having his seizures, Wendy and I decided to cancel our anniversary plans and go out for lunch instead.  It didn’t seem fair to make sitter deal with Oliver if he had a seizure.  Now Mark had chewed on his Nintendo DS stylus and while he didn’t tell me about it, I did notice it while we were at the cabin and after mocking him for it, I went out and bought a replacement for it.  EB Games didn’t have the ones he wanted so we checked out Wal-Mart at Preston Crossing.  We had some success there and Wendy suggested we go for lunch at Chili’s.  I didn’t really want to go but it was our anniversary so as is normal, I do what was the voices in my wife’s head tell me to do.

Lunch was just horrible.  We went in, ordered our drinks: a Ginger Ale and a Diet Pepsi and waited for 52 minutes until they came to the table.  Our meal came over an hour after we ordered and was lukewarm.  I should have sent them back but I was hungry and decided to eat it.  Big mistake. 

The burger was cold, the fries were cold, the gravy was cold.  It had obviously sat for a while.

Fast forward to that night, Nathan and Krista came over for coffee.  Around 10:00 p.m. I said to them, I wasn’t feeling well and as they left, I said to Wendy I needed to get some Pepto Bismol.  I never got around to it.  Before I could say anything, I was violently ill for over the next 9 hours.  It was food poisoning and it was the worst of my life.

I wasn’t happy with Chili’s and the next day Wendy called up the manager.  First of all she couldn’t even to get through to him but after she told the hostess that she was looking to sue the restaurant and wanted to know who to talk to, she got through. 

To his credit, the manager was both horrified, apologetic, and tried to make it right.  He offered us gift cards (thanks but no thanks), took notes, and did everything that he could do other than make a time machine and go back into time.  While my culinary feedback is not often taken seriously by our  kitchen, I do see how hard they work at making sure no one ever gets sick and a new staff + someone not doing their job = someone getting sick.

Bill-Belichick Well I took off Monday and came in raring to go on Tuesday.  Since Denver had beaten San Diego on MNF, I was wearing my Denver Broncos hoodie in honor of the Bill Bilichick coaching tree.  My voice still sounded horrible and I had dark circles under my eyes from being sick on Sunday night.  I didn’t feel that bad but I looked just horrible.

I was busy getting caught up with work when my boss mentioned that Jennifer Quesnel had called about the YWCA’s announcement that they turn away 10 people a night.  She asked about a couple of things and then returned to tell me that CBC was coming by right away and she needed me to do the interview.  I was the same guy that everyone was telling me how horrible I looked, I sounded horrible, and even at the best of times, I have the looks for radio.  Sometime in the morning I was drinking a frappachino while being bumped and I managed to spill something on my Broncos hoodie. 

Now to be honest, I have always enjoyed working with television crews because they always come to our location to shoot the footage.  It’s a lot easier to explain what we do to someone who is actually there and you know when you are on camera, you are being taped which is a little more relaxing.  I got burned a couple of years ago by the Star Phoenix when I was extremely clear that I was on background and they attributed it to me by name (the quote wasn’t damaging but I was livid afterwards).

So I did the interview and I wasn’t going to watch it or even mention it to anyone but someone at work squealed to Wendy who mentioned it to Mark.  So CBC News came on and the segment ran and I cringed when I was on.  Just I was turned the channel, Mark turns to me and grills me on everything that I said, how I said it, and even the shirt I wore).  After putting me under fire for a minute, he goes, “Well it was okay, I guess.  It wasn’t your best interview.  You should have told a joke.”  It was at that time I realized that my son was destined to end up being one of those talking heads who comments on the President’s tie after the State of the Union address.  No wonder Stephen Harper doesn’t like to watch Canadian news, his kids probably rip him apart when they see him on television.