Last weekend, I spent a day on the streets, getting a better idea of what it means to be homeless in Boston.

It was an interesting experience.  I found some of the resources that Boston offers to the homeless, and got a better idea of how it feels to be alone on the street without knowing where you'll spend the next night.  
Check out the video, and tell me what you think.  My experience was in a lot of ways not representative; as I mention, having nice, warm clothes and a bicycle make a big difference.  Not having the time to integrate into a culture, too, means that I was more alone than most of Boston's homeless are on a daily basis. It wasn't easy, but it was enlightening, and gave me a much better idea of the problems, perceptions, and lifestyle of Boston's homeless population.

I'm looking at Housing First programs, and it seems like a lot of good work is being done in Canada.   The Globe and Mail of Toronto, ON publishedthis story on Thursday, March 21.  According to it, research on the Canadian "At Home" Program has had promising results:
"With the proper supports, many mentally ill homeless people are able to not just stay off the streets, but also get the rest of their lives in order." - Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press 

Just last week, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s spring budget included funding for a homelessness eradication program that is shifting towards a Housing First focus, so most of the buzz on Twitter about Housing First has been from Canada these days.
Housing First initiatives have gotten more and more attention lately. Studies have been showing for years that the models work to decrease homelessness, and that they save money in the long run. Canada's government just ran what Scoffield calls the world's largest study on Housing First, and since the results were promising, it looks like policymakers there are getting on board.
This is a fantastic video posted by Streetohome, a foundation in Vancouver, Canada working to end homelessness.  They pursue the same Housing First approach that I've been looking into in Boston.   
They emphasize "safe, decent, affordable housing" as well as transitioning people between levels of  support once they're in the Housing First program.  It seems like they have good ideas, and probably do a pretty good job.  Does anyone have experience with this organization? 

 In any case, it's excellent inspiration for the video project I'm beginning, More on that soon,

Check out this podcast, in which I talk to Ronald Brown, a homeless man at the Pine Street Inn shelter in Boston's South End.

Defining mental illness is categorically difficult. Knowing a few facts about how those definitions and diagnoses are arrived at can help a layperson understand exactly what kind of issues are at stake, and how to address and deal with an individual struggling with a certain disorder. 

The current manual of psychiatric disorder is the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, text revision). The next version, the DSM-5, is currently being finalized, and will be released later this year; it is expected to include some definitive changes, but the four definitions here are adapted from the current manual. Schizophrenia begins the list, as the most often misunderstood of mental disorders.

So far, I've had some mixed experiences hanging out around the Pine Street Inn. 

I've talked to some great people working their way through the system.  "There are some good guys here," one of them told me, and I've found it to be true.  I'm working on putting their voices together in a radio broadcast. 
I've also been harassed by a shelter worker who had the idea that I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the building from the street.  I tried to politely disabuse him of the notion, but he wasn't having any of it.  "You're telling me I'm not allowed to stand on this public street and take pictures of this building?" I asked.  No, he said, I was not allowed, it was private property, I would have to speak to someone inside. 

Here is a picture of the building (which I obviously took anyway).
The weather has been bitter lately, and you can see the snow piled up all inside the fence.

Hello again! The blog is back up and running now - so let me tell you a little about the project I've been working on this past month.  

Pine Street Inn is an emergency shelter in downtown Boston.  More than seven hundred homeless men and women go there for shelter each night.  Almost a thousand more are scattered across the area in the system's housing programs, working their way back into independent life.

I've been talking to people who live at Pine Street, and listening to their stories. I've been finding out what they think about the shelter system, the mental health resources available to them, their lives and prospects and histories.  Some of their stories are very sad.  Some are frightening; some don't make much sense.  But they're all worth telling, so I'm working on doing just that.  More to come in the next few days ... keep reading.

The New Orleans Street Exchange is launching a street newspaper tomorrow.  Listening in on this Twitter discussion and others like it, I'm interested in the ways homeless individuals use and engage with social media, and how that may help them succeed in becoming housed and on track.


This interview, captured in 2011 by InvisiblePeople, is from Brotha BlueStocking of Boston. He's an interesting voice, alternately challenging and conforming to stereotypes -- which demands, of course, that he be considered and engaged as an individual. 

This afternoon I had a fascinating conversation with Joe Finn, the President and CEO of the Massachussetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.  Not only did he give me a lot of great insights into the Boston homelessness/mental health situation, he also lent me this book by Jay Levy.  I finished the first few chapters tonight, and it's well worth a read if you can get your hands on it.

I've also been working through a few blogs: