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The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc.

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.

Getting to know Chris Powell

Here is a video that I shot of Chris Powell that explains a bit of his accent (he is from Georgia) and why he works at The Lighthouse.

Sigh

Earlier this week Wendy called me from Safeway and said that a guy that knew me was homeless and needed help.  I had dealt with him for years at The Salvation Army but they wouldn’t let him stay because he didn’t have funding and he didn’t have any money.  I know him pretty well, we had our ups and downs but we got along together, he posed no threat to anyone, and I liked having him around.  It was the end of the day and I told the staff that when he came in, he was the kind of guy who like to help out so find some task to cover his stay.  If he did work for an hour, he would be fine.

The next morning I came in and he was gone.  He had cleaned for three hours (he got on a roll) and had gone to day labour early.  I heard the same thing each morning.  He had shown up, worked really hard cleaning, was pleasant, and had taken off to work early that morning.

Yesterday was stressful but Chris, DeeAnn and I took off to pick up Tara Funk at the airport and had a fun lunch with her.  As we were back at The Lighthouse, there were all sorts of arguments breaking out.  As Chris was out trying to deal with one, the guy we had been helping came in.  I was happy he had come in early but in reality  Chris and I were there late and I had lost track of time.  As Chris was restoring order, the client and I went into my office and sat down to chat.

Chris joined us and we had this fantastic talk.  The client always lives on the edge of the streets, almost always in a shelter and for the last two weeks has been homeless.  So Chris and I listened, talked, and figured out a way to house him in the short term and also the long term.  He did something that kind of shocked me, he sighed.  You could just see the stress leave him.  He had a big smile and walked out relaxed.

The weird thing is that like a lot of people we have been dealing with lately, they don’t fit the system and what I keep learning is that you have to decide to house them first and then figure it out how to do it later.  There is funding, behavioral, and location issues that have to worked out but once you decide we are going to find a place to house him, it’s relatively easy.  The guy that we helped tonight isn’t a bad guy, he’s actually a really good human being and has done well with the front desk staff at The Lighthouse.  My life is actually better off from knowing and helping him but he will be able to fit into housing without some help and today it was very rewarding to give him that help.  It was also even more rewarding that I was able to do it with some other’s help.

The Lighthouse Credo

I was fooling around with a statement that defines The Lighthouse today.  This is what I came up with and is only a first draft.  I borrowed enough from Johnson and Johnson’s Credo that it is getting really close to plagiarism but I needed a starting point.  Let me know what you think.

The Lighthouse Supported LivingWe believe our first responsibility is to our residents, clients and all others who use our services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality and be focused on the needs of those that need our services. Everyone must be considered as an individual. Respect is the foundation of the everything we do. We respect our clients dignity and respect the merit of their opinions and needs.  We value being an inclusive community, one that welcomes anyone on their stage of life and will walk with them through good and tough times. We respect our facilities because it isn’t just a workplace, it is our residents home.

We are responsible to our employees. They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate.  Our work environment must be clean, orderly and safe. We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfil their family responsibilities. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and be heard. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide competent management, and our actions must be just and ethical.

We are responsible to Saskatoon. We take seriously the responsibility that we have been given to support those that are struggling, marginalized, and need help in our community. We must be good neighbours, striving to help businesses in the downtown have a pleasant and profitable work environment. We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources.

Our final responsibility is to our donors and funders. They are entrusting us with their resources and have a right to see a return on that investment with helped people and changed lives. We will experiment with new ideas. Study what we have done and learn from our mistakes. From our research, innovative programs will be developed and the results will be shared. Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times.

When we operate according to these principles, we will make our community a better place to live in.

So that didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped

So the saga of the computer lab is ongoing.  As you recall, I installed Windows XP and Open Office on a P4 Dell several months ago as the start of a computer lab at The Lighthouse.  For an internet connection, I bought three of these low profile wireless connections from OTV in Saskatoon with the idea of installing three desktops out there.  My thinking was that with the low profile adapters, they wouldn’t be noticed and why would someone steal the one piece of equipment needed to get online.  I was wrong.  They were all stolen.  When they weren’t being stolen, clients would do anything they could to make sure others couldn’t get online.  It was frustrating.

As I wrote recently, Chris Powell’s solution was Joli OS which was an elegant and functional Linux solution but when we went to install a wifi card into the machine today, it only accepted Windows drivers so back to Windows XP we go.   The plan is to install Windows SteadyState on them.

SteadyState provides simple control of more than 80 restrictions covering both individual users as well as the system as a whole. Many of these settings are based on Windows’ Group Policies, while others are implemented by SteadyState itself. Using SteadyState, an administrator can forbid a user from performing actions that may be undesirable for that environment. Some settings include the ability to turn off the control panel, disable registry editing tools, disable the command prompt, and stop the user from executing batch files or programs not in the windows or program folders.

We’ll see how this goes, shortly after Windows XP installs about 300 updates.  Now I need to figure out how I keep the speakers from being stolen.

Affordable Housing in Saskatoon

Affordable Housing at The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc.

If you know of anyone who is looking for a place to move to that looking for below market rent, is downtown and is a brand new building, let them know that The Lighthouse has 49 brand new one bedroom suites available for $750/month and 11 two bedroom suites available at $900/month.  They can download the PDF or fill out a online application form to apply.  If you have any questions or problems with the application form contact Chris at 306.653.0538 or via email at chris.powell@lighthousesaskatoon.org.  You can read more about the apartments and the project here.

Two connected projects at The Lighthouse

I wrote about the computer lab we are trying to set up at The Lighthouse.  We used Windows XP and it went about as poorly as expected.  Residents changed the settings, stole the wireless dongle, took the speakers, and basically trashed the system.  For version two, Chris Powell suggested we use Joli OS which is a Ubuntu fork that is designed to create a fast version of Linux to run on netbooks.  The interface is similar to iOS which he argued was different enough from Windows to avoid confusion.  We installed it on a Dell Optiplex P4 and while the installation wasn’t smooth, it did work.

A screenshot of the Joli OS desktop

The other alternative that people set up was Chromium and it was too difficult to install to be an option.

With this option hopefully working better than Windows, the next project has been to do some resume and employment search help.  In addition to writing a resume, we will be helping anyone who wants to set up a profile on About.me.  It only takes a couple of minutes to set up and guys like Jeff Jackson use it really effectively as a personal website.  Employment will be the first step that many of our residents will need to take to leave the emergency shelters and any help we can give them makes a difference.

If you have mental health issues and live in poverty…

You are screwed.

The Lighthouse is basically an old hotel that has been re-purposed, so the hotel rooms are now apartments for people in need, often because of being in poverty, having been homeless, having a mental illness or addiction, having an acquired brain injury, or other cognitive or physical disability.

When I started, there was a list of people whose needs were not being met. Out of 69 people, there was at least 4 elderly tenants who needed more care than we provide (all had mental health issues and incontinence problems). Since we wanted to help the people staying in our emergency dorms move on to an apartment, it is better for everyone if we move the higher needs clients to the right level of care in the wider community, so other people who are in need can have a suite with us.

I and the rest of the staff have been desperately trying to find better homes for these elderly clients. It has been an almost impossible task. If you are elderly, poor and have a mental illness in this city there are very few resources. There is such a low vacancy rate and such high demand for nursing homes, care homes, group homes, and mental health group homes, they can decide a client’s issues are too complicated to be able to help them.

Recently I got one of these tenant’s assessed. They did not qualify for a care home but were promised that services would be brought in to help them do better at our place.

The in-home services find every excuse in the book not to come. It gets to the point where they haven’t bathed in weeks. I have bathed someone twice since working here and I know other staff have as well. We are not paid to do this, nor do we have the time, or resources. We love our tenant’s and see them in need, so we fill in the gaps where other services are supposed to be.

Today I found out this tenant was turned down for a care home for a second time even though she wants to go to a place which provides more care. This person can barely swallow liquid, can’t manage stairs, is incontinent, and can’t maintain personal hygiene. The tenant doesn’t qualify because of ‘personality issues’ stemming from diagnosed mental illness and dementia. As well the in-home services to support her where she is currently living have also stopped.

I pleaded with the assessment manager to tell me what to do to allow this client of mine to have some sort of care. She suggested that I stay in the room the whole time anyone is there giving her help, to make sure the client was well behaved and compliant.  I could also appeal their refusal of accepting her in a care home, which would require me to record all incidences including outbursts, tantrums, incontinence issues, dizzy spells, falls, and lapses in her memory for one week.

So I have a week to prove this tenant is in such poor health but has a pleasant enough personality for her to qualify for a nursing home. Because I love her I will try. The assessment agency is counting on the fact that I won’t evict her to make them actually do something. And that she will be allowed to live here, inability to swallow, incontinence problems and all, until she falls and breaks a hip, or worse.

PotashCorp and The United Way Day of Caring

PotashCorp and the United Way came by The Lighthouse’s Emergency Women’s Shelter today and did and Extreme Makeover today where they completely remade the women’s shelter.  They painted, decorated, hung a mural, and made the place feel a lot more like home.  The StarPhoenix has more on the day here.

A big thank to the United Way and PotashCorp for partnering with us to ensure that women have a warm and comfortable place to call home, even during the most difficult of times.  It was inspiring to see.

The Lighthouse’s new website

The Lighthouse Supported Living's website

Today The Lighthouse launched a new website at www.lighthousesaskatoon.org.  It was the first site I have ever outsourced the design for and we hired Chris Enns.  We hired Chris for a couple of reasons:

  1. He came highly recommended
  2. I liked his design of Lemon Productions.  As I was looking at Lemon Productions website, I was thinking to myself, I need a website like this.
  3. His work on Ranger Lake Bible Camp came highly recommended.
  4. I follow him on Twitter.

The end result from a design perspective was quite satisfying.  Chris took a WordPress theme and pounded it into shape for us, made a lot of changes, and helped me understand the potential that the site could become.  That part was a lot of fun.

The not so fun part was writing almost 100 pages of content from scratch.  That was my job and it was a bigger job than you can imagine.  There was the writing, the editing, the hyperlinking, the changing the site structure so the links all broke, fixing all of the links, finding spelling mistakes along the way, finding photos and video, being harassed for being too long winded, and trying to decide if I should sell my soul and write content that is more SEO friendly (ummm, no).  So yeah, it was like writing 100 columns.  I am glad it is done and we are happy how the project turned out.  Of course the depressing part of it is that everyone else is like, “umm, we have a website?” which makes the process a little depressing but I’ll try not to think about that.

There are a couple of things that I would love to point out.

  • Our blog: I imported in the entries from our old blog by hand which was a lot of work.  That being said I am glad that no one liked the old blog software and never used it as it would have meant a lot more work if they did.
  • A staff directory with pages for each of the executive staff:  Each staff page will feature content particular to them and their job responsibilities over the next couple of months.
  • The Housing Plus page offers an overview of our housing options.  From emergency shelter beds for men and women, the Complex Needs Wing and the The Harbour of Hope
  • With the Affordable Housing tower getting so much attention, there is a page and FAQ dedicated to the project.
  • I put together a History of The Lighthouse which has some fun photos and facts from the time that the hotel was The Empire Hotel.
  • For those of you who want to be kept up-to-date with what is happening around The Lighthouse, sign up for our email newsletter, RSS, or follow us on Twitter.

Now that the framework is there, look for it to be added to over the next couple of years.  We have a lot of content, stories, and information that we want to add.  Thanks to Chris Enns for making it happen.

An Urban Rest Stop?

As I write the post, I am reminded of Tim Richter’s tweets when someone says they are adding shelter beds.  It is always “Building housing, not more shelter beds” and I totally agree with him…. in most cases.

My issue as a manager of a housing provider is what do you do for those that are too out of control or unstable to house at 8:00 p.m. at night?  I’ll give you an example.  We were housing a women that had been released from a penitentiary in Saskatchewan without her medication, no housing plan, no provision for her to meet up with doctors, supports, or perhaps most importantly, a psychiatrist.  Oh yeah, she is a violent arsonist. 

Predictably she was evicted and banned from other shelters before arriving at The Lighthouse.  No one told us that she was still on probation, was an arsonist, and was off her medication but that’s more normal than you would think.  We took her in and she was too out of control for us to handle in a congregate setting and too unstable to help.  She was taken for assessment several times and no one would help her.  It’s snowing, it’s cold, she is threatening staff, and we later found out that she was trying to convince a male resident to kill someone for her and then take his own life.  She even provided him a knife which he turned over to me. 

In an ideal world she should have been admitted but emergency room doctors are overworked and often negligent in how they handle mental health cases so each time she was released without treatment.  They even lectured us on wasting their time with her.  The Saskatoon Police Service were involved but when the doctor’s won’t treat her and she presents well to them, what can they do (well actually they made an even bigger mess of things).

The Lighthouse can handle complex housing situations.  We have a Complex Needs Wing with additional support staff and a counsellor.  Most of our residents suffer from concurrent disorders and it doesn’t even phase the staff.  This was something else and she probably needed to be in Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford until she was stabilized but she wasn’t.  She was on the street and as she later told us, was being raped there.  In the shelter she was trying to convince someone to kill people and on the streets, she was being hurt.  Of course The Lighthouse being the housing of last resort for the system, it was now our problem.

Variations of this has been happening for years in Saskatoon and as I was leaving The Lighthouse one day, I was walking through our large unused pool area and it hit me, this would make an amazing place to put people that are either too mentally unstable, too violent, or just too much of a jerk to put in a congregate setting in one of our emergency shelters.  Now Quorex is using it as a staging area for the new building (waterslide, pool, and hot tub are all gone) but once they get their stuff out of there and I can get some cots from Cabela’s (they will take 600 pounds), we will open it and keep it open starting this fall..  There are some funds that have been provided from two different funding partners (announcement will be coming) that will keep it going.  There won’t be a big demand for the project as most will be able and want to go into the mens or women’s emergency shelters or into an intox bed.  For those that have no other option because of circumstance or because of their own actions, they will be able to come into a warm and safe space where they will find some cots, easy chairs (one of the people that pushed me to do this project always thought we needed easy chairs), a couple of televisions, and a microwave with some microwaveable soups and sandwiches.  Beds will go on each corner of the building with a lot of room in between them.   To be honest, I hope there is no demand for it but experience has taught me otherwise.  There are those that are not at the point of being housed but they still have the right to be safe.  This is a spot for them to start their journey towards housing and stability.

They will have access to a shower and free laundry facilities as well as breakfast in the morning, can hang out in the drop-in areas, talk to our staff and come up with a plan for that night.  The gamble that we are making is that once that they get to know some staff, they will trust us enough to start taking some steps forward and get off the street.  As I have said at work, I hope that some of them will move from those cots to living in one of the new affordable housing suites some day and break their own personal cycle of homelessness. It’s not an ideal solution but it’s better than we have now.

There is a personal motive as well.  I have known of people that have taken their life in part because they didn’t have any other housing options.  Other times I have seen them make horrific decisions to obtain housing (sex for shelter).  A low barrier (or low threshold) shelter will hopefully give people another option than sleeping outside or putting themselves in a situation where they can become hurt because no one needs to die or get hurt because of their mental health problems.  I am a housing guy and I tend to take people sleeping outside rather personally.  I can’t wait until this opens this fall.  While the demand for it won’t be great, for those that need it, it’s going to be there for them.  You can read about the Urban Rest Stop on The Lighthouse’s new website.