For the next three days more than 500 participants are converging on Tulsa Oklahoma for the 2012 National Zarrow Mental Health Symposium & Mental Health America Annual Conference. Among the guest speakers will be Jessie Close, anti-stigma advocate, mental health consumer and sister of actress Glenn Close. And we’ll be there too! Sam Tsemberis, Housing First founder and At Home consultant, is introducing Here At Home this evening. We’ve provided an interactive video presentation featuring two of our films. We hope you can make it to the conference, but if you can’t, at least you can watch the docs – just click the link!
a still from the Academy Award-winning film "Ryan" by Chris Landreth, produced by the NFB and Copper Heart Entertainment
We know what to do if we see somebody fall down the subway steps or crash their bike into a lamp-post – call 911 and try to provide some comfort until help arrives. But what about this scenario? Walking down the street you pass somebody talking to the air about aliens and it’s obvious they’re experiencing an episode of mental illness. I, for one, never know what to do and end up trying to avoid the person. But this is a sorry response born of fear and ignorance. Our culture sensationalizes the (rare) acts of violence committed by people with mental illness when, paradoxically, it’s this population which is the most vulnerable. As a result, we, or at least I, end up shunning those who may be deeply in need of help. So, what’s the right thing to do?
Poet and memoirist, Nick Flynn started working in homeless shelters in his hometown of Boston back in 1984. “I was doing carpentry on these single-room occupancy apartments that were being converted into condos. Every night I would walk out and see masses of homeless people on the streets. These were the same people who were getting evicted from the places I was renovating. It left a bad taste in my mouth and so I started working part-time at a homeless shelter.” Part-time quickly became full-time as homelessness reached crisis proportions in Boston.
A few years later, Flynn’s father, a con-man, bank robber and aspiring poet who had been absent for much of his son’s childhood, was evicted from his lodgings and ended up in the very shelter where Nick worked.
A still from Here At Home film, "The Wound Inside"
1. The experiment: Sometimes it’s referred to as a study, sometimes a “national research demonstration project,” sometimes a, “randomized controlled trial.” We just like to call it, “the experiment.”
2. The big idea: find the best way to help people who are homeless and have mental illness. (more…)
A still from the Here At Home film, "Evicted"
The Housing First approach at the heart of the At Home study was created by Dr. Sam Tsemberis in NYC back in the early 90s. He was born in Greece, immigrated to Montreal with his family when he was eight, and later moved to New York for graduate studies. In addition to his many other duties, he is now serving as a consultant to the At Home study. A charismatic and engaging personality, he agreed to speak with me over the phone a few weeks ago and I’ve excerpted a portion of that conversation.