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 “Pray and Cry” with Jenna Sunkenberg, Senior Lecturer at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.  Sunkenberg coordinates and teaches in the Cornerstone Program in Social Justice, a program focused on community engagement, student reflection and engaged dialogue.  Her current research and teaching practices integrate cultural theories of trauma and radical pedagogy.

The smile on Paul’s face in the last shot of this film is a testament to his spirit of humanity and survival.  To have experienced the trauma he suffered 25 years ago and still live with its aftermath in physical and psychological pain, the returning nightmares and body’s pains, yet to speak with such joy gives voice to his faith, perseverance and the success of programs such as At Home.  Programs of its kind are invaluable to contemporary culture, because they seek to remove the stigmas attached to mental health while simultaneously repairing the systemic injustices that our institutionalized power structures so often end up perpetuating on individual and societal levels.

Efforts to bridge stigmatized and marginalized populations by integrating alternative and community practices of education within institutional spaces of learning can open up discussions of trauma rather than closing and silencing them.  Like all institutions, educational systems perpetuate trauma and injustice if they are not integrating structures or practices for survivors to discover the support and safety necessary to rebuild the trust taken from them through experiences of abuse, domestic and systemic, personal and intergenerational.  In order for change to occur, paradigms of “success’’ and “intelligence” must be allowed to shift and open room for voices and stories other than those normalized, and often fictionalized, by the long standing dominant power structures that govern most of our educational models.  In doing so, we offer a means of teaching children and adults the self-awareness that promotes respect of oneself and others through reflective and engaged communication. We create change from within and attempt to break the cycles of oppression that are fully integrated into many of our cultural beliefs and systems of power.