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For this, the final post on the Here At Home webdoc blog, we asked Stephen Gaetz for some final thoughts. Gaetz, who has written for us before, is director of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network and the Homeless Hub. These projects are dedicated to mobilizing homelessness research so that it has a greater impact on policy, planning and service provision, thereby contributing to solutions to end homelessness in Canada. Dr. Gaetz is also Associate Dean, Research and Professional Development in the Faculty of Education, York University, Toronto.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment was the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it tested: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes. 

The At Home/Chez Soi project is a fantastic example of research impact.  For many years I have argued that our progress on ending homelessness has been impeded by a curious anti-intellectualism – people, often frustrated, would tell me: “We don’t need research – we know what the problem is, and we know what the solution is”.  I used to think: “Wrong! On all counts!”

Now in 2013, we are seeing how research really does matter!  Recently the Homeless Hub (Canadian Homelessness Research Network) in partnership with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, released “The State of Homelessness in Canada – 2013”, the first national report card on homelessness.  The report paints a pretty grim picture.  At least 30,000 people are homeless in Canada on a given night, and minimally over 200,000 in a given year.  Many others are at risk, as we are suffering from an acute shortage of affordable housing in Canada.  Since the 1990s, we have seen incomes decline for approximately 40% of Canadians, and at the same time housing prices rise and low rent housing becomes more and more scarce.

I would argue that since that time we have become all too comfortable with the presence of homelessness in our communities.  In some cases it is our prejudices that permit us to not care; our belief that people who are homeless choose to be so, or are lazy, or just want to live on benefits (a national poll conducted for the Salvation Army in 2011 suggested as much).  The research does not support any of these beliefs.

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes. 

For today’s post we matched the Vancouver film, “Waiting for Jon” with Jacqueline Kennelly, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University. She is currently completing a 6 year qualitative study on the effects of the Olympic Games and its associated urban development projects on homeless youth in Vancouver, BC and London, UK.

In ‘Waiting for Jon,’ we follow Doug, the Peer Employment Coordinator at the Bosman Hotel in Vancouver, as he works with residents to facilitate their involvement in the daily upkeep of their home. The Bosman Hotel is not a hotel in the tourist sense of the word, but rather a supportive housing structure designed to assist the people who live there to put the pieces of their lives back together and keep them together. As Doug notes, the Bosman “should be the safety net for everyone”, there for those who need help transitioning out of a bad situation, and also there for those who simply cannot live successfully in traditional market housing. Its structure is highly aligned with the principles of ‘housing first’, where people are provided with the basic support that they need in terms of housing and support, which then enables them to take positive steps towards improving their own lives.

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes. For today’s post we matched the Moncton film “Pray and Cry” with Jenna Sunkenberg, Senior Lecturer at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.  Sunkenberg coordinates and teaches in the Cornerstone Program in Social Justice, a program focused on community engagement, student reflection and engaged dialogue.  Her current research and teaching practices integrate cultural theories of trauma and radical pedagogy.

The smile on Paul’s face in the last shot of this film is a testament to his spirit of humanity and survival.  To have experienced the trauma he suffered 25 years ago and still live with its aftermath in physical and psychological pain, the returning nightmares and body’s pains, yet to speak with such joy gives voice to his faith, perseverance and the success of programs such as At Home.  Programs of its kind are invaluable to contemporary culture, because they seek to remove the stigmas attached to mental health while simultaneously repairing the systemic injustices that our institutionalized power structures so often end up perpetuating on individual and societal levels.

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Here’s the second in a series of short takes on the five trial cities. Three stills, three quotes and nine stats. Click on any of the photos to go to the Vancouver page of our webdoc.

 

The still above is from the Here At Home film “Heart of Hell.” As Josh Evans says in his guest post about it, “After prolonged periods without housing, individuals pass a point of no return, becoming so adapted to street life that escape, from their point of view, is unimaginable.”

 

Filmmaker Lynne Stopkewich was hoping to shoot a portrait of Mr. MadDogg while he was out traplining. That didn’t work out so she ended up making the amazing film, “A Model Person.”

 

You only have to watch a few Here At Home films to realize that none of the stereotypes about homeless people are true.

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Toronto film, “Getting There,” with Gautam Mukherjee, Director of Program Development and Partnerships at Fred Victor, a multi-service organization in Toronto that has been working to address the needs of people living in poverty for almost 120 years. Gautam has worked in and managed programs to address homelessness for over 10 years.

I was asked to write a response to this video about this remarkably insightful and resilient young man in part due to my personal and professional experience with issues facing newcomers to Canada.

And certainly the video is about a newcomer, opening and closing with Asiimwe telling the immigration part of his story. In the opening moments of the film, Asiimwe tells us he came to Canada from Uganda at the age of 20 to live with his father and was kicked out of his father’s place after a couple of years. And toward the end of the film, Asiimwe talks about his separation from his mother when he left Uganda.

It is very common and normal for immigrants to have a sense of dislocation. Asiimwe is dislocated from family; the sadness in his face as he talks about his mother in Uganda is heartbreaking. He also expresses a sense of internal dislocation, describing his mental health as a process of “closing the gap”, suggesting he feels dislocated from normal.

So it is clear the film is framed in terms of Asiimwe’s experiences as a newcomer to Canada.
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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Toronto film, “Find My Way” with Eric Weissman, an ethnographic filmmaker whose recent book, Dignity in Exile, stories of struggle and hope from a modern American Shantytown, (Exile, 2012) recounts time spent in North America’s only legal shantytown, Dignity Village, Oregon.  His documentary film series, Subtext-real stories was featured as part of the Housepaint Phase II exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (2008).

In the summer of 2001, I was gathering video interviews with homeless folks on the streets of Toronto. That’s when I met Butch who had been in and out of jails and on the streets for several years. He had told me that the streets were not the same anymore; in 2001, there were a lot of “sick people,” people who needed psychiatric help but who had been all but deserted by the retraction of social and health services for the poor. Butch took me to the 24 acre plot of land at the foot of Cherry Street and Lakeshore Blvd. It was there that he and a handful of street people were building shacks in which to live. That they were building structures from waste materials and scrap, devising ways to heat their structures, living without plumbing, and more or less managing to keep up their crude homes was astonishing. Tent City as it came to be known, housed 115 people by the summer of 2002.  But the bad press that Tent City received focused on drugs, misreported children being born there, and painted the residents as undeserving criminals, a stroke of indifference that still colours conventional attitudes towards the street poor.  Tent City was hastily evicted and the grounds swept clean of any evidence of their existence in the Autumn of 2002.

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 The Mental Health Commission’s “At Home” experiment has been over for nearly two months now. Here at the NFB, we’ve been following the experiment via a cutting edge webdoc called Here At Home. In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a final series of films and preparing to update and archive the site. In the process, we’ll be removing some of the statistics about the beginning of the study to make room for new data. But some of that info is too interesting to lose, so it’s moving here, to the blog. This will be the first in a series of short takes on the five trial cities. Three stills, three quotes and nine stats each. Click on any of the photos to go to the Winnipeg page of our webdoc.

The still above is from the Here At Home film, “I’d Rather Not Talk,” featuring a study participant named Viola. As Michelle Coombs of Elizabeth Fry Toronto noted in an earlier blog post, Viola manages to say as much with her silences as with her speech.

Winnipeg is one of the coldest cities in the world.   In “3 Hots & a Cot” Robert explains how to survive homelessness in a city where winter temperatures can dip as low as -40 C.

Lukas, a service provider with the At Home project, worked for years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Returning to his hometown of Winnipeg, he found that circumstances for the city’s most vulnerable were just as bad there as they were in Vancouver.

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Winnipeg film, “I’d Rather Not Talkwith Michelle Coombs, Executive Director of Elizabeth Fry Toronto, an organization that supports women who are, have been or are at risk of being in conflict with the law. Michelle has over 20 years experience working directly and in leadership positions with marginalized communities including homeless and at-risk men and women, as well as with adults living with mental health issues.

Like so many women in similar situations, Viola barely has a voice and it is not surprising that we can hardly hear her speak her name.  Many Aboriginal women, especially in western Canada, share a similar story. We can only put together Viola’s story through the bits and pieces that she can share with bearable pain and fill in those terrible gaps that she can’t talk about. We know that Viola’s been on the street since she was a girl, that on the street she ‘did things she shouldn’t have’, that she has been in and out of jail and the foster care system where a foster parent went to jail for what he did to her and she ‘overdid it while using’ resulting in sickness. What we don’t know and only can imagine is why she can’t talk about her old man and what she did on the streets. We need only to look to NWAC Sisters in Spirit project to realize the violence that many Aboriginal women face.

There is an incredible void in Viola’s life. It is not solely because she has so many things that are too painful to talk about. For most women relationships are critical. For Viola most relationships seem to be a place of pain and violence. Her only friends are still using and she feels ‘left out’ as she moves on. Her only wish moving forward is that she can see her children again. She seems so disconnected from her family and her community – something that is so important and taken for granted for most of us. She does not know what her future holds and she is afraid of getting old, getting hurt but she is taking it day-by-day until she is ready to change something. For women, having an apartment is only part of having a home. For Viola there is a lot of healing to do and healing requires the support of people who are respectful and understanding of Viola and her story, can develop a trusting relationship with her and be there if, and when, her silences can be spoken.

 

 

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Moncton film, Where I Belong” with Lisa Brown, Founder and Executive Director of Workman Arts in Toronto. Workman Arts is an arts and mental health company known internationally for its artistic collaborations, presentations, knowledge exchange, best practices, and research in the area of the impact of the arts on the quality of life of people living with mental illness and addiction.

I am very encouraged by Lise’s story and how the At Home/Chez Soi project has supported her in the way in which she wanted and needed the support.

The creation of art is often an isolating experience, particularly that of a painter. Most artists need quiet, calm psychologically safe spaces to work in.

Lise has found through having her own home and a supportive arts community, the perfect combination to a healthy and creative life.

For over 25 years, Workman Arts has provided a supportive arts community to artists living with a variety of mental illnesses. Like Lise’s mobile home and arts community, Workman Arts provides a psychologically safe space for artists to train, create and present. The artists develop their arts practices in a variety of disciplines from the Visual Arts and Media Arts, to Performing and Literary arts. Like Lise, these artists sell their work to the public as works of art.

Workman Arts member Melissa Bender says it like this:

“Show me a person with mental illness and I’ll show you a person with mental illness. Show me an artist with mental illness and I’ll show you an artist.”

And Lise, you have done just that. Your paintings are gorgeous. You are a fabulous artist. Please let us all know how we can see your portfolio and how to buy your work.

I would be privileged to have one of your works hanging in my home.

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Moncton film “Tea or Salt” with Susan McIsaac, President and CEO of United Way Toronto. In 2007 McIsaac received the National Award of Excellence from United Way of Canada–Centraide Canada and in 2012, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in recognition of her ongoing community service work.

Listening to Robert speak so candidly about living with schizoid personality disorder and the struggles he faces really drives home how important it is to have access to the right social supports and services.

Living with mental illness is challenging, especially when you are homeless and living without help. Robert talks about sleeping in parks, being exposed to the elements and fighting hunger many times. His reality has been one where he has had no money to afford the most basic of necessities like food or clothes. These challenges have only worked to intensify his situation.

Robert, like many others, is dealing with complex and often-times life changing issues.  Issues like inadequate income, education and social supports. Having access to vital supports and services that help people live healthy, strong lives makes the difference. Through the At Home/Chez Soi program we see why. The shift in tone and demeanor when Robert talks about the program is obvious. He credits it with saving his life. He’s had a place to sleep for the last two years – a home where he is building a life. He’s been able to take cooking classes which have given him new, and potentially employable skills. And he now has regular access to food from the local food bank. We see that Robert is not only surviving, he’s thriving in this new environment.

We all recognize that the causes of mental illness are deep-rooted. And while they are complex, support doesn’t have to be. We can develop and extend educational programs to foster awareness. Build stronger collaboration among agencies, communities, individuals, and families. Learn from our challenges and move forward on our successes. And provide greater resources to support key social services and programs. Everyone’s life is touched by mental illness in some way. And we each have a role in being more mindful, accepting and empathetic to others. Only by supporting one another can we build a stronger, healthier community for us all.

 

 

 

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by Here At Home.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment was the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it tested: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

Because the study recently came to an end, we asked the Chair of the Mental Health Commission, Dr. David Goldbloom to reflect on the project as a whole. Besides his role at the Commission, Dr. Goldbloom is the Senior Medical Advisor at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

It’s hard to believe that just five years ago, the federal government made a decision to invest in the cause of homelessness among people with mental illness in a major way. And they turned to the newly created Mental Health Commission of Canada to design and run an unprecedented social experiment.

And make no mistake – this was a research study, carefully designed and executed, but one that had the potential to change the lives of the participants and to generate knowledge that could help many more people long after the study came to an end (as it did April 1, 2013).

If you were looking for a justification of the creation of the Mental Health Commission, At Home/Chez Soi was one. Here was a national body – not a federal, provincial or territorial government – who could operate outside of the constitutional framework of health to stimulate and lead an amazing collaboration.

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This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Moncton film, “Open Sky” with Mary Alberti, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. Alberti has over twenty years’ experience in the non-profit sector.  She joined the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario in 2001, following work in the community and mental health fields, and the policy and government sector.

In this film we meet Anthony, an individual who is living with schizophrenia.  Anthony has been homeless and lived in shelters, but with the support of the At Home/Chez Soi initiative he has the opportunity to live in a one-bedroom apartment and then later relocates to a cooperative farm.  Anthony talks about his life story, mentioning that initially he didn’t believe his diagnosis of schizophrenia, and that the voices he heard he thought were the spirit world communicating with him.  The film introduces us to Anthony at a point in his life when he’s quite stable, he’s on medication, working at the coop farm and starting classes at university.

Anthony’s story mirrors many of the issues the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) encounters on a routine basis.  Each individual’s journey toward recovery is a personalized one and typically includes both high and low points.  Social supports, such as housing and friends are just as crucial to the recovery as medical and mental health supports.

But Anthony also embodies the statement that the SSO shares with all: with access to treatments, services and supports individuals living with schizophrenia and psychosis are able to lead fulfilling lives.

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario is a province-wide charitable organization that was founded in 1979 by Bill and Dorothy Jefferies to build awareness about serious mental illnesses and to support families and individuals living with these illnesses.  Since its grassroots beginning, the SSO has expanded and now provides support and services to individuals, families and communities affected by schizophrenia and psychosis.  These include education initiatives; awareness, information and knowledge building programs; advocacy; youth-oriented programming and a diverse research portfolio; all geared to breaking down stigma and making a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities who are living with schizophrenia and psychosis.

One of the largest obstacles the SSO, individuals and families living with schizophrenia face, is the stigma and discrimination associated with this illness.  While any mental illness must battle public misconceptions, schizophrenia faces a wealth of prejudice and discrimination and initiatives like Here At Home/Ici, Chez Soi, which shed light on the reality of individuals who live with mental illnesses, help fight these.  This film also helps support the message that the SSO works hard to communicate – that individuals living with schizophrenia, are not their diagnosis, they are individuals who, like the rest of society, have hopes, aspirations and goals.  Just as individuals living with physical illnesses are not and should not be defined by their disease, individuals living with mental illnesses are more than their diagnosis.

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