Lighthouse management wants province to appoint a mediator, board member resigns

·4 min read
A shakeup in management at Saskatoon's Lighthouse has led the management team to ask the province to appoint a mediator. (Albert Couillard/CBC News - image credit)
A shakeup in management at Saskatoon's Lighthouse has led the management team to ask the province to appoint a mediator. (Albert Couillard/CBC News - image credit)

The Lighthouse homeless shelter's management team in Saskatoon is asking the provincial government to appoint a mediator after the organization's executive director was recently put on leave, with two board members assuming leadership.

Don Windels, executive director, has been replaced in the interim by Jerome Hepfner, board president and chair, and Twila Reddekopp, vice-president.

Lighthouse management signed a letter on Thursday, which said they are calling on the province to appoint a member of its Dispute Resolution Office "so that all parties can constructively work through the issues facing the Lighthouse and come to a peaceful resolution."

They said they are hopeful the shakeup in management "does not affect our day-to-day operations" and that they "remain dedicated to ensuring that the people we serve are not impacted."

Challenges at the shelter

The Lighthouse is the largest homeless shelter in Saskatoon, with about 100 shelter beds, 68 supported living apartment units and 58 affordable apartment units. The shelter has about 140 full-time, part-time and casual staff. For weeks, it has been grappling with staffing shortages, a COVID-19 outbreak and fire safety problems.

Non-profit entities can request services such as the appointment of a member of the province's Dispute Resolution Office through a confidential application process, according to Noel Busse, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson.

Busse said he can't disclose whether the Lighthouse is a client in the interest of confidentiality and due to the sensitivity of the mediation process.

Windels has been on leave from his position since last Tuesday, according to a letter addressed to management and obtained by CBC News. No reason was given for his absence, and it's unknown when he's expected to return.

The letter, signed by Hepfner and Reddekopp, said they were appointed as interim managing directors by the board, which has authorized them to take on duties that would "customarily be dealt with by the executive director."

Two days before Windels was put on leave, Pierre Trudel, who was president of the board from 2010 through to 2017, put in his resignation, according to the Lighthouse website. The reason for his resignation is unknown.

CBC News reached out to Windels, Trudel and the interim managing directors. Windels, Trudel and Hepfner declined to comment.

"Unfortunately we do not provide comment on personnel related issues and are unable to answer your questions," Hepfner said in a reply Friday.

Lighthouse annual report
Lighthouse annual report

The Ministry of Social Services said it can't speak to the Lighthouse's human resources, but that it "continues to engage in conversations with Lighthouse Supported Living regarding their efforts to ensure services for clients continue without disruption."

CBC News requested an interview with Mayor Charlie Clark. In an emailed statement, his spokesperson said Clark's "primary concern is about the safety of the residents and staff at the Lighthouse."

'Hostile work environment'

One staff member, who cannot be identified due to concern over their employment, said a neutral party is needed to help with communication. They said the new managing directors are not willing to meet with managers as a group and will only meet one-on-one.

In an email signed by Hepfner and Reddekopp last week, managers were told to follow directions and that "insubordination in any form will not be tolerated."

The staff member said this has made for a "hostile work environment" for managers and administrative staff.

The letter signed by management spoke about how Lighthouse staff are not only doing their regular duties, but also "are going above and beyond" while being short-staffed during a COVID outbreak and dealing with building repairs.

The Saskatoon Fire Department (SFD) issued 14 tickets to the Lighthouse on Jan. 14 for 42 contraventions of the Fire Safety Act with respect to the electrical system, sprinklers, the fire alarm system, a lack of records and a lack of proper fire exits.

Yvonne Raymer, the assistant fire chief, wrote in an email to the CBC on Monday that Lighthouse has "prioritized the deficiencies and provided records and repairs for the fire protection systems where necessary" and continues to work with the fire inspector towards compliance.

Initially, the fire department ordered the shelter to fix the problems by the end of January, but Raymer says that deadline can be extended.

"At this point, the fire inspector believes they can continue past the compliance date towards compliance based on their continued efforts and communication with the SFD," Raymer said.

"We will continue to support the Lighthouse to ensure everything is rectified."

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