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  • Gayle Baker

A Rousing Welcome for Lookout Society's Shayne and Lee

February 10

Thirty-two gathered on this lovely springlike Friday to welcome Lookout Society’s CEO Shayne Williams and Lee King, Vancouver Island Director of Operations. The enthusiasm was high as those committed to providing better local housing and support services gathered to welcome Shayne and Lee, enthusiastic new partners in this challenging journey.


After our Territorial Acknowledgement, we learned what fuels both Shayne and Lee: that commitment to help others on their journey towards wellness. We also learned a lot about the Lookout Society (https://lookoutsociety.ca/). While new to many of us, Lookout Society has been housing shelter-less folks since 1971. Initially focused upon older street men who could not be accommodated by youth programs, the number of beds offered by Lookout Society increased rapidly to its current level of 325 year ‘round beds in nine shelters.


Soon recognizing that emergency beds are only a bandaid solution, by 1978, Lookout began its first long-term supportive housing program. By 2021, Lookout offered over 950 transitional and permanent shelter beds, mostly in the Greater Vancouver Area but rapidly expanding to other communities. Led for 43 years by its visionary trailblazer, Karen O’Shannacery, Shayne characterized himself as second best, still drawing inspiration from Karen.


Focused on supporting residents on their journey toward wellness, Lookout offers a variety of services at each of its housing facilities, each tailored to the needs of its tenants. Some of these services include:

  • Primary Care Networks,

  • Addiction and Mental Health Support,

  • HIV Care and Food Banks,

  • Food Security and Community Gardens,

  • Educational and Employment Training,

  • Individualized Case Planning,

  • Medication Programs - with links to pharmacies,

  • Goal Oriented Values and Budget Planning,

  • And, the list goes on. . . .

For those services Lookout does not offer, it has a series of Memoranda of Understanding with partners offering these services, giving Lookout's residents priority to-access these programs. Thirty outreach workers connect one-on-one with residents who may need extra training or even a ride to a new job; they are there when a resident decides that today is the day to enter a detox program; they help Lookout residents get to that mental health counseling appointment. . . they are simply there when needed. Always busy, these 30 Lookout Staff support approximately 3,000 residents and guests .daily.


What brought Lookout to Salt Spring? It all began several years ago when a local community housing champion reached out for help, beginning that first step - a conversation. Recently, when the former Land Bank property on Dean Road became available. Lookout Society purchased it. This property, a lovely 1.41 acre plot with a home over 100 years old, has an allowed density of 12 and room for a cooperative garden, a hallmark of most Lookout properties. Currently undergoing renovation to make sure that this home is comfortable for all, both Shayne and Lee are on Salt Spring regularly. While overseeing the Dean Road Property, they are also learning about Salt Spring governance and its wealth of nonprofits, meeting with so many of us.

When asked What’s next, Shayne told us of his wait and see attitude. While they have a wealth of experience to offer, they are just as eager to listen and learn, slowly assessing what our community needs and waiting for Lookout’s role to emerge. Listening intently to our elected officials and our nonprofit leaders, they also prioritize engagement with the community at large, with special care to neighbors near Lookout residences.

While it is likely that Lookout will apply to manage the Drake Road supportive housing project when the Request for Proposals is released in the next few months, beyond that, it is up to us as a community to develop partnerships with Lookout. Lee, with decades of business development experience, offered his time and expertise to analyze project proposals and welcomed us to bring them to him. Both Shayne and Lee illustrated this desire to connect with us by giving their contact information to all, promising to continue that conversation with us.


Gardening - Lookout Society staff are convinced that offering gardening opportunities has multiple benefits for their residents. As a result, most Lookout homes, even the urban duplexes, have gardens, one even on the eleventh floor of a Lookout high rise. (A cooperative garden is planned for Salt Spring’s Dean Road property.) The perfect venue for training, it has been repeatedly-proven that the therapeutic exercise of gardening enhances self esteem, health, hope, and offers an opportunity to give back. Additionally, these gardens can provide an important portion of the fresh, organic produce used in Lookout residences as well as other housing partners.


Well beyond the scope of residential gardens, Lookout has partnered with the Mission Community Garden, offering residents a farming experience on six acres of this expansive 13-acre garden. A recent year’s harvest totaled a whopping 154,000 pounds of fresh produce, with 59% utilized by Lookout residences and the rest by local food banks as well as 35-40 local nonprofits.


Guided by a less formal relationship. Lookout also has a relationship with A Beef with Hunger (https://www.facebook.com/abeefwithhungersociety/) and recently raised 23 cows to add this high protein supplement to the meals served at Lookout residences as well as other partner nonprofits.


Such an important initiative on many levels, the farmers at this ASK Salt Spring gathering were especially intrigued, wondering how Lookout Society could become a strong local partner in our food security efforts.


Tiny Homes: Lee's mention of the Duncan Tiny Home initiative, (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/duncan-tiny-homes-bc-municipalities-1.6582177) sparked the interest of many ASK Salt Spring participants who have been frustrated by the apparent impossibility of creating a tiny home community on Salt Spring. Lee and Shayne were asked if Lookout could create a tiny home community on Salt Spring. Their answer, repeated throughout our time together, was that their commitment was to listen and learn from us. But, if a tiny home community emerges as a top priority, our special guests were confident that challenges could be overcome, for, as Shayne said, Together we are better.


But, tiny homes are small and possibly only temporary options as one progresses up from homelessness and shelters to tiny homes, mini homes, and, eventually, to market-priced housing. A fundamental goal of Lookout is to help those who are ready to achieve wellness through this upward journey, they are successful: 65% of those who leave Lookout housing go to better housing.

Evaluation: When asked how Lookout Programs are evaluated, Shayne launched into an impressive array of its evaluation measures. These include:

  • Many Lookout programs have provincial and federal funding. A high priority for Lookout is to continually evaluate its programs using the performance objectives of these funding streams. (Interestingly we learned later in the conversation that BC Housing, in the process of self-evaluation, has reached out to Lookout for their evaluation criteria.) Lookout’s Performance Quality Improvement report is reviewed and received by the Board of Directors every quarter helping them with the governance of the organization.

  • Each residence has a Tenant Advisory Group. These volunteer groups work together to identify and implement the particular needs of its tenants. As expected, initiatives vary widely. For example, at one residence, it was recognized that senior tenants were having trouble shopping. As a result, a shopping program was initiated with grocery money pooled and a few shopping and carrying the groceries for all. Helpful for seniors, it was soon discovered that there were unexpected benefits such as better bulk purchase prices, efficiency, and reduced need for transportation. Another result of a Tenant Advisory Group was the recognition that many in one facility desired a GED. Community college faculty were brought to this residence to help them achieve their high school diploma. And, yes, in addition to projects, these Tenant Advisory Groups are very good at giving Lookout staff feedback. While not always positive feedback, Shayne is clear about the great value of this regular evaluation by those being served.

  • Every month, each staff member, tenant, guest, and volunteer have the opportunity to Meet the CEO (Shayne) to offer their suggestions, voice concerns, and/or have inputs into he future planning of projects.

  • Every staff member - over 1000 of them! - is asked every month: How can we do better?

  • Suggestion boxes are plentiful. . .and full.

While Lookout is constantly seeking to do better, we were reminded by Shayne that things do not always go as desired. Fueled by the commitment to begin helping folks as soon as possible on that journey toward wellness, he recognizes that a safe place to sleep and food is the prerequisite for wellness. And, even with a safe place and food, it may be quite sometime - or never - before one is ready to begin to address the trauma, trust, and health issues so often present. A huge organization, Shayne and Lee are committed to ensure that Lookout remain as nimble and flexible as possible to create the support necessary at the moment it is needed.


While we learned so much about Lookout Society’s successes and hopes, we also laughed together. We earned that, while Lee lives in Saanich, he cannot stay away from Salt Spring, coming here multiple times each week and eager to talk with us. We learned that Shayne has lived experience of trauma, driving a car illegally at 15 and living in it in for a Prince George winter. . . and he is a hair harvester, having already donated his lovely wavy hair for 11 wigs. We also heard from participants living in their vehicles, saddened by the lack of understanding - and even unkindness - they receive from locals.


But, too quickly, it was past 1:00, and time to leave. As we prepared to say farewell, the resounding message throughout the room was joy that Lookout has come to Salt Spring and an infectious enthusiasm for further exploring this promising partnership. Before letting Shayne and Lee go, we got their commitment to come back to ASK Salt Spring again soon - and the Lobby resounded with applause. (A heartfelt Thank-you, Shayne and Lee!)



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