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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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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, “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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 The Mental Health Commission’s “At Home” experiment has been over for nearly two months now. Here at the NFB, we’ve been following the experiment via a cutting edge webdoc called Here At Home. In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a final series of films and preparing to update and archive the site. In the process, we’ll be removing some of the statistics about the beginning of the study to make room for new data. But some of that info is too interesting to lose, so it’s moving here, to the blog. This will be the first in a series of short takes on the five trial cities. Three stills, three quotes and nine stats each. Click on any of the photos to go to the Winnipeg page of our webdoc.

The still above is from the Here At Home film, “I’d Rather Not Talk,” featuring a study participant named Viola. As Michelle Coombs of Elizabeth Fry Toronto noted in an earlier blog post, Viola manages to say as much with her silences as with her speech.

Winnipeg is one of the coldest cities in the world.   In “3 Hots & a Cot” Robert explains how to survive homelessness in a city where winter temperatures can dip as low as -40 C.

Lukas, a service provider with the At Home project, worked for years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Returning to his hometown of Winnipeg, he found that circumstances for the city’s most vulnerable were just as bad there as they were in Vancouver.

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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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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 Julia Gonsalves who supervises Adult and Senior Community Services at The 519 Church Street Community Centre. The 519 is a multi-service agency in downtown Toronto serving the local community as well as broader LGBTQ communities. It runs a weekly drop-in program for homeless, under-housed and vulnerable LGBTQ people and their allies, the first drop-in with this focus in Toronto. Julia wrote a regular column for Xtra! Canada’s largest and most widely read gay and lesbian publication from 2001-2012. 

I just watched Simon seeing his apartment for the first time – his genuine excitement and optimism – and I think about the handful of folks who bounce into the drop-in to tell me they’ve “found a place”- it’s too far and maybe it’s got bugs and the people upstairs use crack and pound on the ceiling – but they’ve found a place. There is pride in that. At the same time, we both recognize, there is risk in that. Once you’ve got something, you’ve got something to lose. There is a component of tragic freedom in having nothing because you’ve got nothing to lose. In a tiny, enormous, painful way, you’re free. Going home – to a house – there is risk in that.

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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, “Money Changes You,” with Naheed Dosani and Adam Whisler. Naheed is a Family Medicine Resident Physician with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto and is training at St. Michael’s Hospital; Adam is a Research Coordinator for the At Home/Chez Soi Demonstration Project at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital.

While the At Home study focuses on mental health issues, often participants, like James in “Money Changes You,” have physical health problems as well. Picking up on this element of the film, Naheed and Adam discuss the experiences of one such participant and propose better ways of addressing the problems he faced.

Sayid is a 65 year old South Asian man from Toronto. He has schizophrenia, but with the proper medications and supports, his illness is well controlled, allowing him to work full-time in a manufacturing job. For years, like many of Toronto’s working poor, he lived paycheque to paycheque. When his company underwent downsizing, Sayid lost his job and then his home. Shunned by his cultural community due to stigma and without a network of support to rely on, he turned to Toronto’s shelter system for a safe place to stay. After suffering an assault and robbery one night at the hands of others living at the shelter, Sayid was left without any of his belongings, including his medications. Fearing for his safety, Sayid fled from Toronto’s streets to seek shelter in a tent in the Don River Valley, where he has lived on and off for the past ten years.
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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, Not Chosen” with Kate Mechan, an anti-poverty activist who co-founded the Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition. The Coalition aims to manage Housing First programs for Whitehorse’s chronically under-housed citizens. Kate has been doing frontline outreach work with street-involved youth and adults for the better part of 10 years.

Life is a complex place. Some of us, for whatever reason, are faced with having to navigate through rougher waters. What exactly enables some of us to weather tougher times more gracefully than others is equally as complex as life. What remains true is that no matter how defeated one may feel there is always that gnawing inside us. I’ve had it described to me as the human spirit.

Valère Rioux – Not Chosen. At the whim of a computer in the beginning stages of the At Home/Chez Soi project, he is just 1 of the 970 individuals who is not provided with housing. Despite this, he manages to find himself a place to lay his head. With the support of SIDA Secours and a sense of being ready to try something different, his resilience is the momentum forward.

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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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