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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 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 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 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 Montreal film, A New Lease, with Julia Gonsalves who supervises Adult and Senior Community Services at The 519 Church Street Community Centre. The 519 is a multi-service agency in downtown Toronto serving the local community as well as broader LGBTQ communities. It runs a weekly drop-in program for homeless, under-housed and vulnerable LGBTQ people and their allies, the first drop-in with this focus in Toronto. Julia wrote a regular column for Xtra! Canada’s largest and most widely read gay and lesbian publication from 2001-2012. 

I just watched Simon seeing his apartment for the first time – his genuine excitement and optimism – and I think about the handful of folks who bounce into the drop-in to tell me they’ve “found a place”- it’s too far and maybe it’s got bugs and the people upstairs use crack and pound on the ceiling – but they’ve found a place. There is pride in that. At the same time, we both recognize, there is risk in that. Once you’ve got something, you’ve got something to lose. There is a component of tragic freedom in having nothing because you’ve got nothing to lose. In a tiny, enormous, painful way, you’re free. Going home – to a house – there is risk in that.

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