My new gig

I realized the other day that I haven’t written about what I am doing now since I left The Lighthouse.  I left The Lighthouse without a Plan A or a Plan B.  When Wendy and I sat down and talked about Plan C, we actually spent a lot of time talking about selling the house and exploring options to work anywhere.

We talked a bit about moving to her home country of Guyana and I looked at some jobs in Europe.  The idea of selling everything and starting fresh was interesting and exciting to us.  We have a lot of equity in our home and benefitted from buying long before the real estate boom hit Saskatoon.  We looked at moving to Victoria, Nunuvuk, and even Newfoundland after some job offers came up.

During that time I was having conversations with companies staying in Saskatoon, including some service providers.  For some service providers, I was a good fit but I wasn’t really passionate about what they did.  Just going to work didn’t appeal to me and I wanted to do something that would continue to make a difference.

I had been talking with Tyler Stewart of Stewart Property Holdings.  Tyler is creating affordable housing suites out of old buildings  that everyone else has given up on like The 525 and 820 20th Street.  He also salvaged 340 Avenue D South which is a story that is so incredible that it needs its own documentary/horror film.

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During those times, I took some time to think about what I wanted to do and I read some good advice that said, don’t look for a job but rather look for an organization that you want to be a part of.

In talking more and more with Tyler, I realized that rejuvenating buildings and finding people quality housing is something that I care a lot about.  There is also the excitement of being part of was is essentially a start up..  His values of affordability and heritage appeal to me.

Back

The exciting thing for me is the opportunity to do something right that will be a part of the city for generations. Some of the properties are already 100 years old and this is part of their midlife rejuvenation.  Done right, they could be good housing stock for another hundred years.  That and it means staying in Saskatoon.

With new properties, it is the ability to bring in new ideas and make them fit in neighbourhoods, within budgets, and within city guidelines and regulations.  In both cases it’s seeing ideas come to light with the result being better homes for people in Saskatoon.

I am also working on the homelessness issue.  As Tim Richter, the head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has talked about, don’t build shelters, build housing units.  I agree and the opportunity now is to build housing units that match up with the needs of the residents.  For years I have had to make do with what we had.  For the first time I am able to work with agencies and build around the needs of people, regardless of their age, mental health issues, or their journey in life.

Anyways, my new job title is Vice President of Community Development and my email address is jordon AT stewartproperties.ca.  While I am not in the office a lot, it’s located at 500 Spadina Cres E which is right on the corner of 20th Street and Spadina Cres.

What’s next

So for those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I resigned from my job at The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. this week.  Of course being me, I did this without another job to go to but that happens sometimes.  Yes it is a terrifying move as working in shelters is not a profession that is bank account friendly.

It means that I am now in search of a job.  Financially we are okay because Wendy has worked at Safeway for 15 years and is still under their old collective bargaining tier which means that she makes a decent salary.  This gives me some flexibility in knowing that we can get by on minimum wage if needed although I really don’t want to do that.

Since 2005 I have been working with the homeless and hard to house and while I love it, there has been some really hard days along the way as well.  If I have an opportunity to go back into it, i will but I am always ready for a new challenge that doesn’t involve dirty needles, death threats, and the pain and suffering that I have seen day in and out over the last 8 years.

If you want to hire me, check out my LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/jordoncooper.  I am proud of the work that I have done and I think that I have a lot to give but it will be somewhere else now.

If there is one thing I like about me, it’s that I have enjoyed my jobs.  I have worked retail and loved the interactions.  I have worked in very difficult situations and loved the challenges.  Not a lot of people know this but I started mopping floors at The Salvation Army and I liked that as well.   I think I am also lucky in that I am not defined by my job which makes it easier to step back.  That being said, I have a lot of experience doing what I do so there is a nice comfort zone there.

If you are hiring (we would consider moving) or know of a job, let me know at jordoncooper@gmail.com.

Out of the Cold

Homeless feet

As an idealist, I would like to believe that the social safety net in this province worked a lot a better than it does and on nights like tonight, no one would be left outside where they could possibly freeze.  Most nights the system works but there are some nights people that are outside and as we have seen, some freeze to death.

The reason they are outside is that:

  • They don’t qualify for Social Services emergency funding because
    • The are receiving what is called Transitional Employment Assistance and don’t qualify for emergency assistance (which makes no sense to me)
    • Their worker decided that when it is 30 below, it is a good time to decide to make teach them personal responsibility.
  • Other emergency services won’t fund them
  • They have a fear of using social agencies.
  • They are banned from all facilities.

In full disclosure I have banned people before and will do it again.  The reason we ban people because they are too dangerous to other people (arsonist, violent, drug dealer) or are a danger to staff (predatorily sex offender, violence against staff in the past), or are a dangerous to themselves (they do something where like 20 people want to beat them up… it happens).  We have to balance the safety of the facility, clients, and staff vs. the needs of the individual.  While its easy to say that we need to give people another and another chance, when I have done it in the past, people have gotten seriously hurt.

The end result is that they have nowhere to go or no one wants to help them.

What we have done this year is open an Out of the Cold shelter at The Lighthouse.  Technically it isn’t it’s own shelter but a series of protocols that staff follow to make sure that people are housed.  It is a low threshold shelter where the primary importance is to make sure people are warm and safe no matter what the mood is of the system.

It sounds nice but it really isn’t.  Like anything that is a result of a failure of the system, it enables the system to behave badly.  In other cities it allows social worker to not help because there is another safety net that is there and it doesn’t reflect on anyone’s caseload.  It also moves a role that the government is supposed to take a roll in and moves to CBOs which isn’t cool.  If it was a perfect world, it wouldn’t be needed but it isn’t and so we do it.

Of course when we take them in, it becomes our problem.  Some people have fallen through the cracks and just need a break.  Those are a pleasure to deal with.  Others are entitled who believe that the system (which is now The Lighthouse) has to take care of them.  They are not so much fun.

As for the people who need it, it’s been good for them and for the most part good for the staff.  The staff have quite a bit of latitude to book someone in and like we say, “it’s easier to explain to [me] why you did it than explain your actions about why you did not to a coroner”.  In two cases where we have used it, within a day or two the men had found employment and housing really quick.  In other cases there are some mental health or addiction issues that made it harder but that’s part of it as well.  The only negative encounter was that someone started to yell and scream at the staff around 5:30 a.m. but they had stayed the night, were safe, warm, but just a little cranky.  We’ll take that as a win.

As for those that are banned.  Those are the calls that wake Chris Powell and I up in the night (hopefully Chris more than me).  We have worked with staff to give them more latitude but to overturn a ban, they are to call us and we make the final decision.  It’s a hard decision to make.  It’s hard to get banned from The Lighthouse and it means that they are dangerous to others.  We are working on some protocols that will make that happen more but I’ll be honest, it’s the hardest thing to deal with and like I said, when I have overturned bans in the past, people have gotten hurt.  What we are doing is re-assessing things and relying on some good community partners assessments.  If that is a go, we will house them.  Sadly not all community partners can assess someone.  Police officers are good for a lot of things, assessing the behaviour of someone in a shelter is not one of those skills but we also have staff there and most times the cops are quite good about it.  Emergency room staff on the other hand are a lost cause.  They can’t be counted on to give an honest assessment. 

The last category is there are some that are afraid of using social services and that is a post all by itself.  Basically something happened in their past that they associate with social services and for whatever reason, they won’t go back, even though they need help.  Staff house them and we help them in the morning.  

The other weird thing has been that people are coming in because they hear that they can get a shower and cleaned up.  They all tell the frontline staff that it is myself that told them that they can come in (which is weird as I never have). It’s not part of the program but the front desk staff has been accommodating those requests as well.  It’s a hassle with the way our facility is designed but allows people to come out of the cold, warm up, get clean and hopefully feel better about themselves.  We don’t mind offering that service as well and if nothing else, we are making Saskatoon a better smelling place to live in.  That has to be worth something.

The goal is that when we are done our renovations is that we will offer a full urban rest stop type of service.  Cold/hot drinks, washer/dryer, showers, and computers.  We have all the pieces but we will work hard over the next couple of months to integrate them together a little better.  It’s a process but I think we are getting somewhere.

Affordable Living Apartment at The Lighthouse

Affordable Living Apartment at The Lighthouse Supported Living

This was a quick panorama of one of the one bedroom suites (actually it is a bachelor suite) that is part of The Lighthouse’s Affordable Living Apartments. It is one of the still under construction suites and isn’t quite ready for occupancy but it gives an idea of what they are like.

I took the photo with my iPhone and the Microsoft Photosynth app. I think it turned out okay.

Thanks to Crickle Creek

At The Lighthouse, the Complex Needs Wing staff host Friday Funday’s which are a recreational outing for residents.  Last Friday they went out for a day of golfing at Crickle Creek Pitch & Putt.   The course was a lot of fun for staff and the residents and everyone had a fabulous time.  While golf at Crickle Creek is a tremendous bargain, they donated the time to The Lighthouse which made it even better.  Some photos, videos, and highlights of the afternoon are posted on The Lighthouse site.  I wish I could have been there.