The manager of The Lighthouse Serving the Battlefords, the community’s permanent, year-round homeless shelter, sees a need in North Battleford that so far no one is interested in filling.
Establishing a supported-living program is on Caitlin Glencross’s five-year plan.
A mandate of The Lighthouse, in addition to providing emergency shelter to approximately 30 people per night, is to help clients find housing, but in some cases it’s nearly impossible.
“We have people we will probably never find housing for because they are not stable,” said Glencross during an open house at the shelter Saturday. “They can’t live on their own. That’s a gap in this community.”
There is a way to fill that gap, however, she said.
“It’s called supported living. We have it in Saskatoon and that is in my five-year plan to get it in North Battleford,” said Glencross, who worked at The Lighthouse in Saskatoon before it opened a shelter here.
“Clients who don’t have skills to live on their own need support. Those are the ones that will benefit from something like supported living.”
Unfortunately, she told a small but interested group who toured the shelter and met for a question and answer session, there are no developers interested in that kind of a project.
“The City [of North Battleford] went to developers and nobody was interested in bringing that here.”
She said, “We have a 64-unit in Saskatoon attached to The Lighthouse, staffed 24 hours.”
The supported-living project was made possible by the donation of a hotel building in 1997 by local businessman Pius Pfiefer, who also owns hotels in North Battleford.
Each unit is about the size of a hotel room, she said, each with sleeping accommodations and its own washroom. They do not have fridges or stoves, she explained. Clients come down to the dining room where meals are prepared for them.
“We have a lot of clients that have mental health [issues], a lot of clients who are pension age, but independent … and they struggle with poverty, so they are not candidates to be in a place where they have to pay.”
It is also used for people in the first steps of acquiring the skills they need to eventually move out into the community.
Security is strict.
“We don’t allow guests,” Glencross added. “People have to be buzzed in by staff. We have a camera at the door and if we don’t know who you are, we don’t buzz you in.”
She told the group, “That’s what supported living looks like, and that’s what this community needs.”
Finding permanent housing for clients in the community is an important part of the The Lighthouse’s program, so much so that it is a full-time housing locater on staff.
“Since we opened in January, we have housed 36 people out of The Lighthouse,” said Glencross. “That’s a pretty good number of people considering the housing there is in this town.”
Most of their clients need small places, even bachelor suites, so it can be difficult to find the right place for their clients’ needs. And most of them are too expensive for their clients, with Social Services allowing only about $350 for rent, “which is another issue we are advocating for.”
She also said there are several slumlords in North Battleford.
Clients have come back to them because the place they’ve moved to isn’t safe. They’d rather be at the shelter because they are scared to go home.
“We have about four landlords that we will not house our clients with, and that’s for our clients’ safety.”
The Lighthouse staff visit the housing being considered and take pictures, so they can verify the suite is safe and is in good condition. They’ve come across some makeshift situations.
“We actually went to one house and we called the RCMP,” she said.
The landlord was collecting a cheque from Social Services for eight different people, telling Social Services there were eight separate units.
“They had a basement with eight curtains and beds and that’s what they called eight units.”
She said they are working with a member of the RCMP specifically on homes that need to be shut down because the landlords are not taking care of them.
When a landlord amongst the open house visitors said his concern was having his property “trashed,” Glencross admitted they have some clients who are extremely difficult to house. In a small community, the landlords come to know the names of those they don’t want to rent to, she said.
“There are some, obviously, we are not going to house,” she said.