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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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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 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 Vancouver film, “A Model Person” with The Centre of Research, Policy & Program Development at the John Howard Society of Ontario. The Centre engages in research which contributes to the evidence-based literature in the criminal and social justice fields, policy analysis and rigorous program evaluation.

 “I do brunch once a month.”

If this were uttered by a well-to-do urbanite, you’d probably take it as a given; banal, even. However, context matters. When MadDogg says it, it’s given entirely new meaning; to ‘do’ brunch, is to prepare a meal for 100 people. Many take for granted their disposable income, that they have a roof over their heads every night, that if they had a mental illness or addiction, they would never wind up in a shelter, let alone jail. ‘It couldn’t happen to me’. Stability is taken for granted. Unfortunately for thousands of Canadians, instability shapes their daily lives.

MadDogg, through the supportive housing he resides in, is experiencing stability and continuity for the first time in a long time. Homeless individuals face numerous challenges. Here’s some context: poverty, lack of social supports, unemployment and lack of stable housing all increase an individual’s likelihood of becoming homeless. Homelessness, in turn, is linked with mental illness and addictions, poor health outcomes, victimization and criminal justice system involvement. Due to a lack of community treatment options, many people with mental illness and/or addictions are ‘housed’ in overcrowded jails. And if these individuals were not homeless entering jail, they have a good chance of leaving homeless, which in turn increases the likelihood of re-incarceration. Not having housing arranged prior to release from jail creates, in criminal justice parlance, a ‘revolving door’.

A recent study by the John Howard Society of Ontario found that providing justice-involved homeless individuals with supportive housing, with staffing approaches that are client-centered and strengths-based, works to address the many challenges underlying homelessness. Client-centered care provides that client plans are individualized based on each client’s unique goals and capacities. MadDogg notes that the staff in his building see the qualities of a role model in him. What’s more, he enjoys working in the kitchen and receives modest compensation for his work. These types of experiences and interactions, which enhance self-sufficiency, self-esteem and structure, are invaluable steps toward recovery and integration. To someone who has not experienced mental illness or homelessness, this may not seem like much. But context matters.

Housing is a critical piece of the complicated homelessness puzzle; without a stable home and a fixed address, an individual’s ability to access social services, healthcare, treatment for mental illness and/or addictions and employment will be compromised. MadDogg’s story shows us what promise housing first approaches hold.

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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 the Here At Home webdoc.

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 invited Sandra Dawson to write about the Here At Home site as a whole. Dawson is a mental health and homelessness advocate from Vancouver, and was an At Home/Chez Soi peer advisor (2009-2013). Creator of the Unsuicide Online Suicide Help Wiki, she can be found at @unsuicide.

I had a friend over for dinner who complimented my dishes. I told him I acquired the soup bowls in a thrift store for $2 each, after losing my wedding china long ago in one of my bouts of homelessness. On a disability pension I can’t afford to replace an entire set at once but since last regaining housing I’ve put together a mismatched but coherent set of blue glass pieces I can be proud of. Four dinner plates that match the bowls were $5 at a yard sale, tumblers I’ve bought one by one, and two beautiful mugs with First Nations designs were just $3 each. They look great together.

So although I still have a low income, I’ve learned ways to thrive in recovering from the trauma and loss that accompanies homelessness.

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This post is the seventh 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 offering 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, Evicted” with Andrew Wynn-Williams, Executive Director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. Wynn-Williams has an extensive background in British Columbia public policy, having served as Director of Operations for the Premier’s Technology Council, as Executive Assistant to three different Ministers of the crown and as Director of Policy and Communications for the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

When Here at Home asked me to blog on this video, I think they were expecting me to write about Theresa, her struggles and how in any Housing First initiative, housing is the first step on a journey that may have many twists and turns. These are all true and all evident in this video. But that wasn’t what drew me.

Instead I was drawn to Bouchra, the service provider featured in this video. Because I am new to this sector, something that has really struck me is the dedication and compassion of the front line service workers. Many may claim that it is our mission in life to help others but it is the front line service worker who is actually out there putting that mission into action.

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

For today’s post we matched the Vancouver film, “Heart of Hell” with Josh Evans, assistant professor of Human Geography at Athabasca University. Evans’ research focuses on housing, urban social policy, and spaces of care. He has published widely on topics such as harm reduction, supportive housing and homelessness. 

“Living here has been kinda hell, so I’m really glad I’m moving.” These simple, poignant and affecting words aptly describe the beginning of a new chapter in Leanne’s life. Leanne’s story resonates with the experiences of many homeless people who often feel trapped, stuck and hopeless. Iain De Jong, a Housing First specialist, often compares this entrenchment to that of a ‘black hole.’ 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.  Housing First works against these gravitational forces and offers an escape.
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Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk

There’s no denying that we’ve cultivated a serious tone Here At Home. Just look at the sombre chalkboard background to the site. After all, this is troubling subject matter we’re dealing with; the participants in the At Home project have lived some extremely hard times. A quick scan of the study’s baseline statistics reveals lives full of violence, depression, psychosis, fear, pain, despair… what’s to be cheerful about?

Appropriately, the language used by the Mental Health Commission (which is running the experiment) is extremely sensitive to the difficult circumstances experienced by project participants. And those of us involved in the Here At Home webdoc have followed suit, taking our our cue from the Commission. Mental illness combined with homelessness is no laughing matter. Or is that the whole truth? At the risk of damning myself out loud on the internet, I’m going to admit to something here: when I first watched the latest film Life Isn’t Easy, I laughed out loud.

 

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When filmmaker Lynne Stopkewich set out to make a documentary with At Home participant Mr. MadDogg, she planned to film him traplining. But on the day of the shoot he was feeling too ill to go outside so they ended up doing something completely different with the film.

But just what is traplining? In the woods, when hunters go traplining, they’re checking their snares for catch. In Vancouver, traplining means something a little different.

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a still from the Academy Award-winning film "Ryan" by Chris Landreth, produced by the NFB and Copper Heart Entertainment

We know what to do if we see somebody fall down the subway steps or crash their bike into a lamp-post – call 911 and try to provide some comfort until help arrives. But what about this scenario? Walking down the street you pass somebody talking to the air about aliens and it’s obvious they’re experiencing an episode of mental illness. I, for one, never know what to do and end up trying to avoid the person. But this is a sorry response born of fear and ignorance. Our culture sensationalizes the (rare) acts of violence committed by people with mental illness when, paradoxically, it’s this population which is the most vulnerable. As a result, we, or at least I, end up shunning those who may be deeply in need of help. So, what’s the right thing to do?

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At Home is only one of many Housing First projects in Canada. Not only do programs in Toronto and Calgary predate the study, there are also Housing First organizations in places like Waterloo, Ontario. Lindsay Klassen, program manager and support coordinator for Supportive Housing of Waterloo (SHOW) says that the program has a 30 unit apartment building with large, fully-furnished apartments for single men and women.

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