Today, it’s Roy who’s driving while Suze sits in the passenger seat, chatting with clients.

Roy and Suze both work for the mobile outreach van, a service offered by the Lighthouse Supported Living that provides transportation and support services to homeless or struggling individuals in Saskatoon. As part of a six-month pilot resulting from Saskatoon Health Region’s Better Every Day 14 Day Challenge, the van’s hours were extended in March from six to 16 hours a day. The service is now offered 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week, 365 days a year. On average, outreach workers are connecting with anywhere from 30 to 60 clients each day, up from about 30 prior to the pilot.

The Lighthouse Outreach van

Roy McCallum and Suze Doucette work for the Lighthouse’s mobile outreach van.

In the back of the van are two clients: a man with a cast on his foot who has requested a ride to an organization that works on behalf of individuals with mental health disabilities, and a woman who needs to pick up a prescription from a pharmacy on 20th street. The woman, a recovering addict, has requested the van because she knows that if she goes alone on the bus, she is at risk of relapsing in a neighbourhood she considers a trigger for her addiction.

“We transport a lot of people who live a high-risk lifestyle,” says Suze Doucette, who is also an addictions counsellor.

The van will pick up anyone, says Suze, as long as the request is medical or someone is in a crisis.

“It’s got to be a legitimate reason,” says Suze. “We’re not going to pick someone up because they want to pick up clothes or do laundry. If they need to access resources in the community – housing, food, medical, psychiatric – we’ll pick them up.”

What is the Lighthouse?
The Lighthouse is a community-based organization that provides emergency shelter, supported living and affordable housing to those in need.

Before the van’s hours were extended, Suze says it was a struggle for people to get to their appointments.

“They don’t have a bus pass, they have no transportation, and it’s cold out in the winter,” she says. “They had no way of getting to their appointments, so they would just not go. Now, we’re meeting everyone’s needs. They’re getting to their appointments, getting their needs met and their quality of life is improving.”

Suze, Roy and their four colleagues are more than just drivers. In addition to transporting clients to their various appointments, the van’s outreach workers walk along the streets, making meaningful connections with struggling individuals, and hand out sandwiches, juice and business cards with the Lighthouse’s phone number. It’s how they get, and keep, many of their clients.

“We’re making connections daily, developing relationships with clients, and they love it,” says Suze.

“It’s essential,” she adds of the van. “I think the hours should be 24/7. The community needs it.”

“I think it’s great,” says one of the van’s clients. “They pick me up when I need to call them. They feed me when I’m hungry. They take me to a safe place.”

The van’s expanded hours are also helping Lighthouse staff, including addictions counsellors and nurses, who are now reassured that their clients have the means to get to off-site referrals and appointments when required.

“Before the van’s hours were extended, this was the biggest stumbling block for our nurses and counsellors – getting a client a ride to another location when the client requires services we don’t provide onsite,” says Donna McKnight, a registered psychiatric nurse who works at the Lighthouse.

“It’s a huge pain not to be able to get to where you want to go,” she adds. “It’s easy for us to say somebody should go out and catch the bus, but when clients don’t have money for the bus, or even a good understanding of the bus route and system depending on their literacy skills, it can cause anxiety. From our clients’ perspective, the mobile outreach van is improving quality of life.”

See more stories about Region improvements at www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/ReadyEveryDay.