Lighthouse director on leave, board members take over management of Saskatoon homeless shelter

The executive director of the Lighthouse homeless shelter in Saskatoon is on leave, with two board members assuming leadership, according to internal communications obtained by CBC News.

Lighthouse grappling with staffing shortages, COVID-19 outbreak, deadline to fix fire safety problems

Amid a shakeup in management at the Lighthouse homeless shelter, several managers have been fired. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

The executive director of Saskatoon's Lighthouse is on leave and two board members have assumed leadership, according to internal communications obtained by CBC News, which say "crucial matters have been mismanaged or neglected" in the operation of the homeless shelter.

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

The letter, signed by board president and chair Jerome Hepfner and vice-president Twila Reddekopp, says 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."

Another email to staff signed by Hepfner and Reddekopp reads, "As you may know, there have been challenges at the board level which have led to significant uncertainty.… Throughout this process, the day to day operations of the Lighthouse have suffered. And several very crucial matters have been mismanaged or neglected."

No reason has been given for the absence of Lighthouse executive director Don Windels. (Don Somers/CBC)

CBC News reached out to Windels, Hepfner and Reddekopp for comment.

"Unfortunately we do not provide comment on personnel related issues and are unable to answer your questions," Hepfner said in a reply. Windels and Reddekopp did not respond by publication time.

The Lighthouse communications manager said representatives are "unable to speak to media today."

Fined for fire safety problems

Last week, the Saskatoon Fire Department issued 14 tickets to the non-profit for "a number of deficiencies that must be remedied," and ordered it to fix the problems by the end of the month.

Those issues were found through inspections done between April 2021 and now, the department says.

Among the problems cited are 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.

Other problems, according to the fire department, include careless disposal of smoking materials, structural issues, property maintenance issues and the presence of junk or garbage.

One inspection done earlier this month found two sinks removed in a bathroom, a water heater that wasn't working and some minor sewer backup. The water heater has since been fixed.

The Lighthouse is also grappling with staff shortages due to COVID-19 and has been declared an outbreak site by the Saskatchewan Health Authority since Oct. 12 of last year. 

In a Facebook post on Friday, the shelter says it's closing its community kitchen for the night because it is short-staffed. 

Investigating 'true nature of the situation' 

Hepfner and Reddekopp have been directed to investigate "the true nature of the situation within the Lighthouse," according to the letter to management.

That includes looking into the scope and cost of required repairs, the decision-making process used to propose a temporary closure of the shelter earlier this month, and the security procedures that may have resulted in the "current lack of control within the building," the letter says.

Managers were also told to follow directions and that "insubordination in any form will not be tolerated."

The letter from Hepfner and Reddekopp says there is "one opportunity for us collectively to turn things around and bring the Lighthouse back to a place where we are all working together for the betterment of our clients and residents, where our staff are completely engaged in their positions, and it is a safe place to live and work."


Yasmine Ghania is an Egyptian-Canadian reporter with CBC News, currently based in Vancouver. She was part of a team nominated for a Canadian Association of Journalists award for their investigation into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at a private Christian school. Reach her at