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.