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Here’s the second in a series of short takes on the five trial cities. Three stills, three quotes and nine stats. Click on any of the photos to go to the Vancouver page of our webdoc.

 

The still above is from the Here At Home film “Heart of Hell.” As Josh Evans says in his guest post about it, “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.”

 

Filmmaker Lynne Stopkewich was hoping to shoot a portrait of Mr. MadDogg while he was out traplining. That didn’t work out so she ended up making the amazing film, “A Model Person.”

 

You only have to watch a few Here At Home films to realize that none of the stereotypes about homeless people are true.

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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 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 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 sixth 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, “All These Stigmas” with Abe Oudshoorn, Assistant Professor, the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University, and Associate Scientist with Lawson Health Research Institute where his research focuses on health, homelessness, housing policy, and poverty. He is also the vice-chair of the London Homeless Coalition, a committee member with the London Housing Advisory Committee, and founder of the London Homelessness Outreach Network.

In “All These Stigmas” we hear about the risk of untreated trauma, in this case childhood sexual abuse leading to the onset of major mental illness. In JM’s case, the birth of his child and conflict in a relationship was enough to send him into a spiral leading to his homelessness. Only now that he is re-housed is he able to deal with the root issue, his own trauma.

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When filmmaker Lynne Stopkewich set out to make a documentary with At Home participant Mr. MadDogg, she planned to film him traplining. But on the day of the shoot he was feeling too ill to go outside so they ended up doing something completely different with the film.

But just what is traplining? In the woods, when hunters go traplining, they’re checking their snares for catch. In Vancouver, traplining means something a little different.

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In a recent post we talked about the ethical questions raised by the At Home study. It seems only fair that we now turn the lens on ourselves and ask some of the same questions.

As Toronto filmmaker, Manfred Becker says, “there are moral questions raised at every point in this project, including the filmmaking process. What’s my moral position making money off of people who live in such precarious situations?”

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A still from Here At Home film, "A Model Person"

Yvonne Robertson’s excellent article posted on Open File today, looks into homelessness in Vancouver and the question of what happens when the At Home study ends in 2013. She focuses on the Bosman Hotel project and Lynne Stopkewich‘s Here At Home film, “A Model Person,” gets a mention.

What’s unique about the Bosman Hotel is it gives participants the chance to form consistent relationships with doctors and police officers. Just having this presence addressing issues such as addiction helps stabilize behaviours, according to Evans. But as the study ends in 2013, the fate of the Bosman Hotel hangs in the balance. If it has to shut down next year, at least 100 housed participants are back on the streets.

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Lynne Stopkewich has had a distinguished career in feature films, documentaries and TV. While it’s clear that she’s deeply immersed herself in the issues that surround this project, what has most impressed me about her work is its powerful and distinct visual style. Easy-going and thoughtful, she spoke with me over the phone from her home in Vancouver.

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Manfred Becker is a documentary filmmaker and editor based in Toronto. In addition to directing films for Here At Home, he serves as a consultant on the documentary project as a whole. He has provided a necessary critical perspective. What follows is excerpted from a longer interview I conducted with him earlier this month.

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photo by Susan Horodyska

Darryl Nepinak is an accomplished independent filmmaker who works closely with the Aboriginal community of his hometown, Winnipeg. His no-nonsense approach to the Here At Home project has resulted in films of raw, direct intensity. I caught up with him in early May as he was dealing with issues related to his latest work.

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