Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: Here At Home

I've recently been made aware of a really cool project by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).  Filmmakers decided to follow the At Home project, a four year study funded by the Government of Canada to learn about the effectiveness of a "housing first" approach compared to traditional programs and supports in place to address homelessness.

I have written about some housing first strategies before.  It's a model that I strongly believe in.  The basic premise is that by providing people with an affordable place to live (by subsidizing the rent) and bringing supports to them, individuals are more likely to recover from mental illness and addiction, and be less of a drain on expensive services such as hospitals and homeless shelters.

The Here At Home film project starts as a website that shows you a map of the cities where the study is being conducted and provides stats about homelessness.  When you click on a city, there will be an associated video you can watch.   When one video finishes, it will direct you to the next one.  Videos chronicle  the stories of study participants including tenants, support workers, and people in the traditional stream of homeless services.

These people are extremely familiar to me, but may not be to most Canadians.  I work in a supportive housing program (not one involved in this study) and the stories in the videos show a good reflection of the people and issues I see every day.  The filmmakers have not glossed over anything, and I think they have done a good job of showing the successes and the service gaps, the happy stories and the sad.

The best part is that this project isn't over.  The study will be completed in March 2013.  More videos are being posted in real time as the study continues.  The website also features a blog about the project, a timeline of Housing First in Canada and information about the study.  The site is interactive and engaging.  If you have a chance, I strongly encourage everyone to check it out.  I will be following along for the next year or so, and eagerly await the report when the study is completed.

Canada is the only G8 nation without a National Housing Strategy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What it's worth, will it work?

Sometimes (often) we feel we just can't do as much as we'd like for clients.

One client of mine was facing particularly difficult financial straits this month for reasons outside of her control.  I offered to provide some grocery gift cards to help bridge the gap.  I was only able to get a $25 card, and felt a little sheepish giving it to her - I mean, you have a $0 bank account balance and need to eat for a whole month - how far is $25 bucks gonna go?  When we met again she told me she really appreciated my help and the card.  The day she went to the grocery store with it they had a "dollar sale".  How perfect!

Sometimes we worry that the situations our clients are facing are too difficult, and we worry about the barriers they face.

I helped this same client make a call for emergency rent bank help.  We were both surprised to find out how long it would take to complete the assessment and get help approved and processed.  She let them know the homeless deadline she was facing and they actually called her back really quickly.  She got in for an interview and to receive her money.  She called me several times that day distraught because it was a very dehumanizing experience for her.  But she got the money.  Got it to the landlord and secured new housing.

The next day the workers who called her back so quickly and processed her request went on strike.  If someone had not deigned to give her priority, what would have happened?  Sometimes when we think we face the impossible, the improbable happens.

When we work hard, sometimes it just might work out.