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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 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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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 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, “Open Sky” with Mary Alberti, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. Alberti has over twenty years’ experience in the non-profit sector.  She joined the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario in 2001, following work in the community and mental health fields, and the policy and government sector.

In this film we meet Anthony, an individual who is living with schizophrenia.  Anthony has been homeless and lived in shelters, but with the support of the At Home/Chez Soi initiative he has the opportunity to live in a one-bedroom apartment and then later relocates to a cooperative farm.  Anthony talks about his life story, mentioning that initially he didn’t believe his diagnosis of schizophrenia, and that the voices he heard he thought were the spirit world communicating with him.  The film introduces us to Anthony at a point in his life when he’s quite stable, he’s on medication, working at the coop farm and starting classes at university.

Anthony’s story mirrors many of the issues the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) encounters on a routine basis.  Each individual’s journey toward recovery is a personalized one and typically includes both high and low points.  Social supports, such as housing and friends are just as crucial to the recovery as medical and mental health supports.

But Anthony also embodies the statement that the SSO shares with all: with access to treatments, services and supports individuals living with schizophrenia and psychosis are able to lead fulfilling lives.

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario is a province-wide charitable organization that was founded in 1979 by Bill and Dorothy Jefferies to build awareness about serious mental illnesses and to support families and individuals living with these illnesses.  Since its grassroots beginning, the SSO has expanded and now provides support and services to individuals, families and communities affected by schizophrenia and psychosis.  These include education initiatives; awareness, information and knowledge building programs; advocacy; youth-oriented programming and a diverse research portfolio; all geared to breaking down stigma and making a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities who are living with schizophrenia and psychosis.

One of the largest obstacles the SSO, individuals and families living with schizophrenia face, is the stigma and discrimination associated with this illness.  While any mental illness must battle public misconceptions, schizophrenia faces a wealth of prejudice and discrimination and initiatives like Here At Home/Ici, Chez Soi, which shed light on the reality of individuals who live with mental illnesses, help fight these.  This film also helps support the message that the SSO works hard to communicate – that individuals living with schizophrenia, are not their diagnosis, they are individuals who, like the rest of society, have hopes, aspirations and goals.  Just as individuals living with physical illnesses are not and should not be defined by their disease, individuals living with mental illnesses are more than their diagnosis.

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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 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 Stephen Gaetz, 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.

A friend of mine, who teaches at York University, recently lamented the fact that “The students in my class, they don’t read newspapers any more”.   Well, I still like to read newspapers myself, but that’s not the only way I like to get information.  I follow twitter, I’m on Facebook, I use Youtube for everything from watching music videos, to seeing web-based comedy, to figuring out how to do a home repair. People consume information and, perhaps more importantly, learn new things in all kinds of ways, many of them mediated through technology.

You see, the world has changed, and as a researcher and an educator focused on the issue of homelessness, I am very interested in figuring out how to help the public – as well as decision-makers in government and the community – understand that in responding to homelessness, we can do things differently, and that we must. Through our work at the Homeless Hub, we recognize that it just isn’t enough to just push out academic papers that nobody wants to read; that if we really want people to engage research, we need to think differently about how people might want to consume information, and do things differently.
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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, Honestly Painful” with Lorraine Bentley, Executive Director of Options Bytown Non-Profit Housing Corporation, in Ottawa, an organization that provides housing and on-site support services to men and women with a history of homelessness, addictions and mental illness.  Options Bytown serves a population that comes from shelters, institutions, and the streets. She is also the chair of Housing Plus: The Ottawa Supportive Housing Network.

Mark’s story is familiar to the tenants and staff team of Options Bytown. As the Executive Director of a supportive housing agency, I see how challenging it is for people like Mark to find and keep their housing. And I also share their joy when they move into one of our apartments and begin to see a different future for themselves – a future that includes stable, permanent and affordable housing along with the supports they need.
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This post is the seventh 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, Evicted” with Andrew Wynn-Williams, Executive Director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. Wynn-Williams has an extensive background in British Columbia public policy, having served as Director of Operations for the Premier’s Technology Council, as Executive Assistant to three different Ministers of the crown and as Director of Policy and Communications for the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

When Here at Home asked me to blog on this video, I think they were expecting me to write about Theresa, her struggles and how in any Housing First initiative, housing is the first step on a journey that may have many twists and turns. These are all true and all evident in this video. But that wasn’t what drew me.

Instead I was drawn to Bouchra, the service provider featured in this video. Because I am new to this sector, something that has really struck me is the dedication and compassion of the front line service workers. Many may claim that it is our mission in life to help others but it is the front line service worker who is actually out there putting that mission into action.

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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 kicks off 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 Toronto film, “Landlords Like That” (above) with Michael Shapcott, Director of Affordable Housing and Social Innovation at the Wellesley Institute. Among his many duties and activities, Michael has worked with the At Home project as an unpaid research and policy consultant. He is recognized as one of Canada’s leading community-based housing and homelessness experts.

Housing is a fundamental human right… and everyone deserves a good place to call home. A lofty goal, especially as Canada’s ownership and private rental housing markets are increasingly out-of-reach for low, moderate and even middle-income people. Housing challenges are especially acute for people struggling with chronic homelessness, physical and mental health issues, addictions, and a history of institutionalization in jails or psychiatric facilities.

Housing is one of the most important determinants of personal health and there is plenty of research to demonstrate the many benefits of ‘housing first’ as an effective response for those with deep and persistent housing needs. Yet most landlords see themselves as business people (not human service providers). They are inclined to favour tenants who are ‘easy to manage’ – and quickly evict those who don’t. The At Home / Chez Soi project is the latest, and largest ‘housing first’ initiative in Canada. It builds on the lessons of earlier initiatives and provides appropriate support not only for tenants, but also for landlords. The NFB film embedded above underlines the critical importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with landlords as key to the success of ‘housing first’.

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