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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 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.

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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 Here At Home.

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.

Because the study recently came to an end, we asked the Chair of the Mental Health Commission, Dr. David Goldbloom to reflect on the project as a whole. Besides his role at the Commission, Dr. Goldbloom is the Senior Medical Advisor at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

It’s hard to believe that just five years ago, the federal government made a decision to invest in the cause of homelessness among people with mental illness in a major way. And they turned to the newly created Mental Health Commission of Canada to design and run an unprecedented social experiment.

And make no mistake – this was a research study, carefully designed and executed, but one that had the potential to change the lives of the participants and to generate knowledge that could help many more people long after the study came to an end (as it did April 1, 2013).

If you were looking for a justification of the creation of the Mental Health Commission, At Home/Chez Soi was one. Here was a national body – not a federal, provincial or territorial government – who could operate outside of the constitutional framework of health to stimulate and lead an amazing collaboration.

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Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk

There’s no denying that we’ve cultivated a serious tone Here At Home. Just look at the sombre chalkboard background to the site. After all, this is troubling subject matter we’re dealing with; the participants in the At Home project have lived some extremely hard times. A quick scan of the study’s baseline statistics reveals lives full of violence, depression, psychosis, fear, pain, despair… what’s to be cheerful about?

Appropriately, the language used by the Mental Health Commission (which is running the experiment) is extremely sensitive to the difficult circumstances experienced by project participants. And those of us involved in the Here At Home webdoc have followed suit, taking our our cue from the Commission. Mental illness combined with homelessness is no laughing matter. Or is that the whole truth? At the risk of damning myself out loud on the internet, I’m going to admit to something here: when I first watched the latest film Life Isn’t Easy, I laughed out loud.

 

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A still from Here At Home film, "Honestly Painful"

In the Here At Home film Honestly Painful, Mark Wroblewski remembers the elation he felt when he learned he was going to be housed. But his happiness has since been tempered by anxiety about what happens when the study ends. “I wish this program could continue for another ten, twenty years,” he says, “because it’s giving me a secure home.”

His caseworker, Bouchra Arbach tries to comfort him by suggesting that he concentrate on his present reality rather than worry about the future. But later she confides in a voice-over, “Those expressions of anxiety are very real. I don’t know where the project is heading. I don’t know whether the funding will be renewed. What I do know is they [the participants] have housing today.”

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Director, Louiselle Noël

Louiselle Noël’s low-key, realist films reflect her Acadian identity. With this project, she turns the camera on a little-known, but rapidly growing, problem – rural homelessness. Her first two films for the web documentary are gentle portraits of Lise and Hector, two participants who have benefited enormormously from the At Home study. What follows is a Montreal-Moncton phone conversation about beauty.

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