Posts tagged lighthouse
Posts tagged lighthouse
In addition to the responsibility of providing adequate healthcare to prisoners,we have a responsibility to society. Most prisoners are released back into the community.To the extent that their blood-borne communicable diseases, depression and other mental disorders, and chronic, degenerative diseases are under poor control, their families and the community will bear the burden of the related health,social and economic costs of inadequate care.
At the Lighthouse, the life expectance of our tenants is much lower than the general population. Sometimes when I share this people state, “Well, they’ve lived a rough life.” Which I suppose is part of it. But there is also a large part of inadequate and sub-standard health care given to them, not being able to afford medicines, not being able to travel to the doctor, poor diet due to lack of resources, toxic home or work environments, and on and on.
When I started working here, the old wives’ tale was that out of our 68 supported living tenants and 40 emergency stay clients, there would be a death every 6 months. That has proved to be strangely, hauntingly accurate.
Young and old, sudden and quick, long and painful, some unpredictable, some drawn out. It makes it more important to check in with everyone to see how they’re doing; it’s important to note if someone has been unaccountably missing from our little community. Everyone looks out for everyone.
Now we’ve added 48 affordable living suites to our community. Some hold families, some hold roommates, some with young babies. I pray and hope that we can change the ‘6 month’ lore curse.
August 26 - September 1, 2012, the week that was.
Full shelters, media interviews, and then helping people move in to their new suites.
(If you click on the pictures there are little captions.)
I want to write more about my experiences working at an emergency shelter and supported living facility-about the effects of poverty, mental illness, drug abuse, mental and physical abuse, all these things I see around me every day at work. But something has held me up for a long time- it’s because I wrote this- where I wrote about advocating for a client till she got the care she needed.
I phrased it that I did it because I loved her. What a bunch of bullshit. Now I read that post and think what a stupid thing to say. I did and do love her, but what about all the other clients? The ones I don’t know that well, the ones I don’t like, the ones whose mental illness has robbed them of their personality? The ones who smell so bad I have to run away and dry heave over the nearest garbage can?
I don’t just help the ones I love. Or do I?
This past month I’ve questioned myself a lot because of two tenants.
The first tenant I call Uncle Bobby*. He’s the next on the list of people who need more care than the Lighthouse can provide. He carries on a conversation with himself out loud pretty much all the time. He’s often out ‘picking’, teetering on his long, worryingly thin legs because he’s had some toes amputated. We’ve never had a full conversation-I’m sure he has no idea who I am.
Uncle Bobby’s main vice is binge drinking cleaning fluids once or twice a month, which results in him defecating himself. He doesn’t have the presence of mind to clean up or change his clothes, and sometimes wears his soiled shorts for days on end. You can imagine why this is tough when 80 people have to eat eat together in a dining room.
He’s not lovable. Yet I still need to work on making his life better. And it’s going to be just as tough, or tougher than the last one. So far we have the baby step of having a scheduled sponged bathed twice a week for him with Home Care. Although he won’t stay home for the appointments, so it’s not really working out.
The other tenant whose forced me to question my whole “I love my clients therefore…” motto was a wonderful lady, I’ll call Grace*. A very nice, pleasant lady in her early 50s, who lived at the Lighthouse. She has a very serious hoarding problem; her washroom was so full of stuff she could not use it. Grace was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor sometime in late winter and was given six months to live. Unfortunately it progressed very quickly and the pain became unmanageable, and she spent her last two months at St Paul’s hospital in the palliative care ward.
My co-workers went and visited her. “She asked about you,” they said, “she wants you to go visit her. “But prepare yourself,” the other said, “it’s pretty bad.” Her tumor had spread and had become very disfiguring.
And I stalled and I forgot. I hate hospitals with a “I may have a panic attack” fervor. And I didn’t want to go because it’s hard to find parking.
My “love” for my clients obviously doesn’t cover the fact I may have to inconvenience myself.
About a month ago I finally went. Stopped in quick, brought her a word search book. Her room smelled of rotting food and infection. Her family was there so I only stayed briefly to ask how she doing. She said she was experiencing very little pain and smiled.
She passed away the next week.
It’s not “love” that’s going to keep me going at this job-the people or the circumstances are just too unlovable sometimes. The post about loving my client so much I’d call agencies and tell-off managers, bathe her myself, move her myself, buy her cigarettes at her new home so she would get along with others, double and triple check her first month’s rent was paid- damn, I did that. But I need to do that not just for the lovable ones.
*Not their real names
By Tammy Robert, Saskatoon Express
Recently, I had the opportunity to tour Saskatoon’s Lighthouse Supported Living Centre, in the heart of our downtown on the corner of 20th Street and Second Avenue. You know the one — the place a whole bunch of people wish didn’t exist.
After my tour, walking down the cracked steps and back into the sunlight, two distinct feelings washed over me: Hope and Hopelessness.
Let’s start with Hopelessness because it’s the more logical feeling when exiting a facility filled with our community’s most vulnerable citizens. Addictions, lifetimes of abuse and exploitation, chronic homelessness, mental illness, disease and plain old-fashioned bad luck tend to plague those who call the Lighthouse home. Yes, these are often the same people bothering you for change downtown, drifting up and down Second Avenue.
The Lighthouse, formerly the Capri Hotel, is not a glamorous place. In various stages of renovation and disrepair, projects move slowly, teasing staff and clients alike with their potential as grant funds trickle in at a glacier’s pace. The men and women’s emergency overnight shelters, housed in what appears to be the hotel pool’s locker rooms, are lined with neatly made beds. General manager Jordon Cooper, a man who has devoted his life to the lives of others, shares the story of one woman using the sparse shelter for herself and her two daughters — it’s the only thing holding her family together.
Rental income from a full slate of tenants keeps the Lighthouse’s operating costs afloat. Everyone has a roof over their head, which is the main priority, but the old hotel hallways are dank, yellowed and depressing. Layers of rotten carpet shift spongy under your feet, while the occasional tenant slips ghostlike out of their tiny apartment, heading downstairs for a smoke and a reprieve from their four walls.
The lobby is a hub of organized chaos. The old Capri bar sits adjacent to the counter, still authentic with its original wood panelling and retro stippled ceiling. A few couches scatter the room, where clients sleeping curled around backpacks with their backs to the world. A female tenant sits on an old chair next to the doors, eagerly watching the vending machine being replenished. She complains when she hears there won’t be sandwiches for lunch, but brightens at the prospect of lasagna for supper. A stocky man, with wild hair and a face both blank and furious, asks the busy receptionist for a glass of water so he can take his pill. Clients drift in and out of stairwells and the rather precarious looking elevator, busy going nowhere.
It was a tiny snapshot of what’s going on in that building across from the theatre. Now let’s get to the Hope, shall we?
Hope springs at the Lighthouse, driven by a small but tight team of people, including Jordon and communications director DeeAnn Mercier, who guided me through the tour. At any given moment, you’ll find DeeAnn, Jordon and the team switching hats seamlessly from counsellor, educator, to punching bag, advocate, landlord, to first responder, to savior. They make hundreds of decisions per day. Decisions that radically impact the lives of their clients, yet they manage to radiate stoicism and compassion.
Pockets of newness, such as the recently opened floor for Saskatoon Health Region patients suffering from mental illness, reflect the promise of Hope for the entire facility. The brand new residential tower stands bright and tall next to the grimy exterior of the old hotel. Above all, there are plans — so many plans — for programming and facilities to make the lives of Lighthouse residents better. From indoor gardens to detox centres, DeeAnn and Jordon refuse to see any space as anything other than a place for great things to come.
An occasional story floats to the surface of a resident who overcame impossible odds. It’s these stories that help keep Lighthouse staff going forward — and must keep the Lighthouse doing the same.
Last week was a bit crazy around the Lighthouse, as the letters we had sent out the previous week encouraging our tenants who were late with the rent to come talk to the managers made some clients very angry.
Many people came and paid this months rent plus what they owed in back payment (some people just need a friendly reminder). Another gentleman told us he needed to pay his cable bill so therefore he would not be paying back his late rent.* With so little money given for living allowance it is very hard to pay back old rent if a person on social assistance gets behind. This would make most landlords evict the tenant and try their luck with someone else. Often lack of rent payment burns landlords so bad they stop renting to people on social assistance and sometimes renting to any one at all.
At the Lighthouse we try to be understanding and give grace where grace is needed. But one gentleman thinks we ‘owe’ him and is insulted every time we ask for the rent that is due us. He came charging into the Housing Manager’s office. The Housing Manager and our GM tried to have a civil conversation with him but it quickly elevated to swearing and threats from him. I stood in the hallway to try to prevent him from not going towards the door which leads out of the wing of offices.**
This client, with a history of drug abuse, suicide attempts right in front of us, and mental illness starts saying, “Boy you’re lucky I won’t throw you out the window,” and “You’re suck a bleepin’ goof,” and “Let’s take it outside!” He’s ranting and ranting and eventually ends up on the other side of the glass door which separates the offices from the lobby.
We all breathe a sigh of relief, he’s mad but he’s far enough away he can’t hurt us and we can walk away from him, even if he refuses to leave the lobby.
I notice some donors in the lobby dropping of quilts with a terrified look in their eyes. I ask them to come to the door so I can let them drop of their blankets. As I open the door, the irate client tried to shove his way past me and back into the office, yelling the whole time. And I push him in the chest, out the doorway and then pull the door shut, yelling right back at him the whole time.
So not okay. The Housing Manager yells at me to get back in my office. I feel like a complete utter ass. Pushing a client? This is an extreme new low for me, and yet it was in the moment and it was self defense. I didn’t think about it, I was just protecting the staff and myself from this volatile person.
He continues ranting and raving but goes up to his room. We call the cops. By the time the cops come our councillor has been talking to the client and calmed him down a considerable amount. Him seeing the cops works him back up again, but the cops quietly and thoughtful say, “We can do this the hard way or the easy way,” and start putting on their gloves. They leave him to stew in his apartment.
The cops interview me. Nothing they can do, they say. Nothing they could charge him with. Which I understand, I guess. They say we should evict him. And, they advice, if they were us, they would evict him immediately. Immediately means at least two weeks to get a hearing set at the Rentalsmen. Which means the staff have to walk on eggshells for the next two weeks, while this person who has threatened us continues to remain in the building with us.
(Later that day this gentleman follows our General Manager on his walk home, berating and taunting him. Thank the Lord I drive.)
Anyways, eventually the ladies who brought the quilts were able to hand them over to me, and I threw them onto the floor. Not very nicely, as I am very thankful for all bedding as we are always in need of it. They see I’m all worked up and they say, “You don’t get paid enough for this dear.”
Good thing I don’t do it for the pay. But I sure as hell don’t do it to feel threaten and scared everyday either.
*Not okay with us but next to impossible to argue with this line of reasoning- all other things are more important than paying rent because he believes we won’t evict him. Another story for another time.
**Wing is kind-of a joke, there are four offices plus the front desk.
One of the biggest areas of ignorance my first year at the Lighthouse has exposed is in mental health and the mental health care system.
I never knew that people could be arrested under a mental health warrant, if they were deemed to be a threat to themselves or to others and needed psychiatric care forced upon them. I’ve seen these ‘arrests’ lead to treatment and medication that has completely changed a person’s life so they can be a functioning member of society again. I’ve also seen attempts to get a mental health warrant rejected by a judge and then have staff and clients fear for their lives as we have to watch someone’s mental health rapidly deteriorate.
One of the first times I remember thinking, “Man, this guy is not alright,” was when a gentleman continually complained to us about his roommate, and his roommates germs. It was all well and normal until he started to tell us that their was deadly mold growing in his room and he could see the walls moving. He contacted the health department to look at his room, and they came and left, utterly perplexed as to what the guy was talking about. He continued to yell and then threaten staff saying his roommate needed to clean his room, or else. I was in the hallway coming back from going to the washroom and he stood between me and my exit, at the bottom of the flight of stairs, yelling at me and threatening me. And then he said I had molested him by not cleaning his roommate’s room or forcing the roommate to do it. (Sidenote: We don’t clean people’s suites at the Lighthouse, they are their own responsibility.)
We proceeded to get a mental health warrant against him. He was picked up, brought to the ER, assessed as being stable and functional, and returned back to our place within the day. This made us all walk on pins and needles because now he had reason to be really mad at us.
I told one of my co-worker’s later about it and kind-of laughed. This 250+ pound man saying I molested him, while the nearest we had ever gotten was 12 feet away from each other. My co-worker said this was no laughing matter and that, even as a woman, I could lose my career over allegations like that.
One of my other co-worker’s spent the next month gather new evidence. You can’t present the same case twice, so he gathered new incidences, talked to his case workers and other mental health staff. He also contacted the ER so that they would know that the client was going to arrive, that he needed treatment, no matter how he presented himself, and they determined what medical treatment they were going to provide. The client ended up staying in the local mental health hospital for 3-4 weeks, made a great recovery and completely changed his demeanor.
And that is a success story.
Tomorrow I will return to work, and again be confronted with people in desperate need of mental health care but who would not qualify for a mental health warrant. Which not only puts the staff at risk, but also leaves those who reside in our building in a complicated predicament.