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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 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 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 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 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, “The Wound Inside,” with Julia Christensen, Research Fellow with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research in Yellowknife and SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Geography at the University of British Columbia. Born and raised in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, she explores colonial continuities in the Canadian North and their role in shaping northern homelessness.

The first time I watched “The Wound Inside” by Darryl Nepinak, I was struck at the outset when the film’s protagonist, Lukas, reflects on coming back to Winnipeg, only to be confronted by deep-seated racism he was perhaps naïve to in his younger years. I can relate to the discomfort and disappointment of realizing, for the first time, that a beloved place is flawed and not immune to the kinds of prejudice and exclusion that are easy to say exist somewhere else but not here. Growing up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, I always felt a strong sense of community, and a kind of together-ness that stitched tight seams between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous inhabitants of the city. But more recently, when I moved back to my hometown, I saw the city with new eyes and understood for the first time that, like Winnipeg, the deep wound of colonialism persists unhealed.

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This post is the sixth 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, “All These Stigmas” with Abe Oudshoorn, Assistant Professor, the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University, and Associate Scientist with Lawson Health Research Institute where his research focuses on health, homelessness, housing policy, and poverty. He is also the vice-chair of the London Homeless Coalition, a committee member with the London Housing Advisory Committee, and founder of the London Homelessness Outreach Network.

In “All These Stigmas” we hear about the risk of untreated trauma, in this case childhood sexual abuse leading to the onset of major mental illness. In JM’s case, the birth of his child and conflict in a relationship was enough to send him into a spiral leading to his homelessness. Only now that he is re-housed is he able to deal with the root issue, his own trauma.

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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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This post is the second 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.

For today’s post we matched the Winnipeg film, “3 Hots and a Cot” with Tim Richter, President & CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH). Richter led the implementation of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness – the first plan of its kind in Canada. With the CAEH, he is now working to create a movement to prevent and end homelessness nation-wide.

The traditional approach to homelessness is grounded in an ideology that people should be self-sufficient and ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’ earning housing through good behaviour, compliance and sobriety. It’s no small irony that this approach has had precisely the opposite effect to the one desired.

The entrenched worldview in so many of our social services today (aptly named the ‘Sorrow Systems’ by an Aboriginal speaker I once heard) presumes disability, dysfunction and worthlessness in those it is supposed to care for.

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Poet and memoirist, Nick Flynn started working in homeless shelters in his hometown of Boston back in 1984. “I was doing carpentry on these single-room occupancy apartments that were being converted into condos. Every night I would walk out and see masses of homeless people on the streets. These were the same people who were getting evicted from the places I was renovating. It left a bad taste in my mouth and so I started working part-time at a homeless shelter.” Part-time quickly became full-time as homelessness reached crisis proportions in Boston.

A few years later, Flynn’s father, a con-man, bank robber and aspiring poet who had been absent for much of his son’s childhood, was evicted from his lodgings and ended up in the very shelter where Nick worked.

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