Caitlin Glencross doesn’t turn people away.
The men, women and children who cross the threshold of the Lighthouse Supported Living Centre that she runs in North Battleford often have nowhere else to turn. All are homeless. Many are hungry and dirty. Some are drunk.
All are offered food, shelter, showers and laundry at the downtown North Battleford centre. If there isn’t enough room in the dorms, bedrolls are assembled in the dining room.
During the year since the North Battleford Lighthouse opened last January, more than 500 people have spent at least one night at the centre. More than 21,000 hot meals have been served.
“Whatever the gap is, we try to fill it,” Glencross said.
Glencross was working at The Lighthouse in Saskatoon nearly two years ago when North Battleford city officials toured the facility and proclaimed they wanted a similar shelter in their city. At the time, no facility provided continuous shelter or three meals a day in North Battleford.
“It was definitely a much rougher lifestyle for some of our clients,” Glencross said. “There were a lot of people that were going hungry.”
With funding from the federal and provincial governments and the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs Community Development Corporation, The Lighthouse purchased a building in downtown North Battleford in the summer of 2014. After months of renovations, it opened in late January 2015.
A year later, Glencross said she can’t imagine North Battleford without it.
“I don’t know where all of these people in the community would go,” she said.
Demand has been so great that the shelter has had to increase the number of beds. It now has 45 and can still be filled to capacity, especially on cold nights.
Securing the money to keep the shelter functioning is an ongoing challenge, however.
DeeAnn Mercier, communications director with the Saskatoon Lighthouse, said both the Saskatoon and North Battleford locations struggle to obtain necessary funding, much of which comes from grants that may not be available the following year. This year, in addition to operational costs, money is needed to fix the leaky roof of the North Battleford shelter.
Despite the “great need” to open more Lighthouse shelters throughout the province to house and feed vulnerable people, there are no plans to open another location.
“We definitely have our hands full,” Mercier said.
When Glencross was offered the opportunity to head up the North Battleford Lighthouse, she was cautious. The city is known for having topped Statistics Canada’s crime severity index for cities with a population over 10,000 since the index’s inception in 2009.
But her experiences in the city have been nothing but positive, Glencross said.
It’s difficult to quantify the effect the Lighthouse has had on North Battleford crime, but Battlefords RCMP Insp. John Sutherland said anecdotally, it has reduced calls for police service because people who are intoxicated now have somewhere to go.
“That person doesn’t end up incarcerated, which really isn’t where they belong,” he said.
Many people end up getting off the streets entirely. During the last 12 months, Glencross said she has seen people who were on the streets for years moved into affordable housing.
“Just being able to come in and have a warm place, and have a bed, be fed, treated with dignity and respect, we’ve seen an improvement in a lot of these people’s lives,” she said. “I’ve seen people turn their lives around, I’ve seen people get the help they need, get stabilized.”
Some of those people will be back at The Lighthouse on Jan. 26, when the organization celebrates its first anniversary.