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.

However, it would be too narrow a reading to see this film as another chapter in the famous Canadian narrative of the “Immigrant Experience.” Asiimwe’s observation about the “Immigrant Experience” is: “This country is full of opportunities, but if you don’t have the means to continue moving on it’s tough to survive. You can go from up and go down within no seconds because it doesn’t allow any room for errors.” This lack of room for errors is a result of the removal of social safety nets over the last 20 years or so, and it affects Canadians from all backgrounds.

The “Immigrant Experience” that Canada once took pride in has been replaced by the Poverty Experience.

Asiimwe’s experience of having to sacrifice rent for food, of incarceration, and of being unable to even think about school in absence of housing are all part of the Poverty Experience. Asiimwe’s comment about “closing the gap” between who he is and who he wants to be is also reflective of the Poverty Experience and not at all specific to being a newcomer. Research, including the At Home/Chez Soi project, shows that poverty and homelessness result in negative physical and mental health outcomes. It is near impossible to close gaps while experiencing homelessness.

Maybe one day Canada will be able to tell the positive Immigrant Experience once again. But until the issues of inadequate incomes and lack of affordable housing are addressed, the prevailing narrative will be about poverty and ill-health.