“Lighthouse” a beacon for the city
Three years ago, 84 per cent of the people arrested for public intoxication in Saskatoon landed in a police detention cell. That proportion has dipped to 60 per cent, thanks in part to the opening of a special unit at The Lighthouse Supported Living, a downtown homeless shelter. The other 40 per cent now go to The Lighthouse or the health region’s brief detoxification unit.
Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill is pleased with the results, but not content.
“I wouldn’t be content until there’s nobody housed in the police detention centre for a non-criminal activity. It’s there to host criminals that need to be held for the public safety,” Weighill stated.
The move to divert intoxicated people from the so-called police “drunk tank” came after a series of deaths there. “They had ingested things before we arrested them, unknown to us,” Weighill explained.
The number of arrests for public intoxication has also declined – by 14 per cent over a two-year period – from 2,019 in 2012 to 1,742 in 2014. Thanks to the stabilization centre at The Lighthouse, the brief detox unit has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of people it has to turn away for lack of space – from 1,263 in 2012 to 420 in 2014.
One figure that has shot up is the number of people passing through the Lighthouse’s stabilization centre – 6,603 in 2014, compared with 1,948 in 2013 when it opened.
The issue of encountering people on the streets with mental health issues is not unique to Saskatoon, according to Weighill. It’s a societal problem in every major city in Canada. Currently, officers will visit The Lighthouse between 60 to 90 times per month. Some of those occurrences include giving a ride to a resident.
“We would be lost in the city without The Lighthouse,” Weighill said. “It has helped us out a lot. It gives us some stable housing overnight for people that need it. It has allowed us to take people there that are intoxicated that have not committed a criminal offence but they have been a bit of a nuisance. Rather than putting them in our police cells they can get housed at The Lighthouse.”
Weighill said to keep even fewer intoxicated people in police lockup, more facilities like the one at The Lighthouse are needed, “and probably a more secure centre than The Lighthouse has” for those who are violent. He said it’s in the works, but money for it has not yet been found.
The Lighthouse has been a “big game charger for the mosaic of the City of Saskatoon to keep people off the street that are wandering around,” stated Weighill.