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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, “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 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 is the fourth 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.

For today’s post we matched the Montreal film, “Mother to 400” with Victor Willis, the Executive Director of PARC (the Parkdale Activity – Recreation Centre), a drop-in centre in the west end of Toronto that works on individual issues of poverty, mental health, addictions, homelessness and food security. Among his many responsibilities, Willis is Co-Chair of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre mental health & addiction population panel and Chair of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre  Strategic Population panel.

The short film “A Mother to 400” opens with a view of a highway and the sounds of vehicle traffic situating the apartment in a location that may not be the first choice for someone with financial mobility and yet as we hear from Valerie Couture the venerable (but remarkably youthful) “Mother” it becomes clear that her apartments are well maintained – not always a hallmark for housing for men and women who have spent significant time on the street.
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This post is the second 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.

For today’s post we matched the Winnipeg film, “3 Hots and a Cot” with Tim Richter, President & CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH). Richter led the implementation of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness – the first plan of its kind in Canada. With the CAEH, he is now working to create a movement to prevent and end homelessness nation-wide.

The traditional approach to homelessness is grounded in an ideology that people should be self-sufficient and ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’ earning housing through good behaviour, compliance and sobriety. It’s no small irony that this approach has had precisely the opposite effect to the one desired.

The entrenched worldview in so many of our social services today (aptly named the ‘Sorrow Systems’ by an Aboriginal speaker I once heard) presumes disability, dysfunction and worthlessness in those it is supposed to care for.

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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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