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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