Stigma and Community
By Kay Roesslein, Program Director, McEwan Housing and Support Services
Stigma is “a Greek word that in its origins referred to a type of marking or tattoo that was cut or burned into the skin of criminals, slaves or traitors in order to visibly identify them as blemished or morally polluted persons.” (Healthline Network Inc., 2007) “Social stigmas can occur in many different forms… [in connection with] culture, obesity, gender, race and diseases… people who have been stigmatized feel….different and devalued by others. This can happen in the workplace, educational settings, health care, the criminal justice system, and even in their own family.” (Major, O’Brian; 2005)
McEwan Housing and Support Services recently produced a set of videos on the effects of stigma with a clear refrain: “It Hurts.”
The individuals we serve at the McEwan program come with backgrounds that include being HIV positive, having mental health issues, addiction challenges and being homeless. Behind this, there is so much more. There is racism, trauma, homophobia and the denial of services which most of us take for granted: a home, a doctor, a birth certificate and SIN card, an income and a community of support.
Our case managers have often been present with members when they were denied health care services because the health care worker believed there was an addiction issue. Whether or not an addiction is present, when pain or illness is real, an individual should have the right to be treated. Because they are homeless, or have mental health or addiction issues, our members are subjected to much judgment and real barriers to service. Unfortunately, people working in the health care system can be some of the harshest judges, and it falls to our case managers to ensure these needs are met.
So profound is the stigma, that even McEwan case managers are continually questioned as to whether their clients are taking their medications as prescribed (yes, they do and it is well documented), or whether they are simply “drug seeking” (again, yes, we can vouch for actual experienced pain).
I highlight addiction because our experience is that addiction is the most judged, because there is a perception of choice. No one chooses to become addicted. People do choose to alleviate their pain, like all of us using the health care system. The majority of McEwan clients have either a clinical mental health diagnosis or are trauma survivors. It is not surprising then that 85% of our members are “concurrent”; meaning they have both mental health and substance abuse challenges.
Interestingly, from the individual’s perspective, few speak of their mental health issues. Being categorized as “crazy” is worse than being labeled an “addict.” The complexities of stigmas are profound, and so is the effect on an individual’s self esteem.
It requires the constant, untiring work of our staff to ensure each client has access to needed supports: supports that are understanding and not judgmental. Staff must consistently fill the role of witnesses and advocates for the truth in connection with each client. Over the years, we have forged some excellent and beneficial partnerships, including health clinics and hospitals that recognize the challenges faced by our members and the care they require.
The most important thing we do to support clients experiencing stigma is to create a community that does not judge our members but embraces each individual and his or her strengths. And have no doubt; when it comes to McEwan members, the strengths are many. In the end, the McEwan program works because clients and staff work together as a true community of care and support, and even of challenge. “If community exists, both freedom and security may exist as well. The community then takes on a life of its own, as people become free enough to share and secure enough to get along.” (Putnam, D. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, p. 19.)
The McEwan videos about the impact of stigma are the products of our community. They feature our community members courageously sharing their personal stories of the pain of stigma. More than that, they are conceived, produced, directed and filmed by community members with financial support from the M.A.C AIDS Fund.
The goal is to try to give some insight into what it feels like to be stigmatized and how much it hurts. Hopefully, after viewing the videos, people will think twice and not add to the hurt, but look past their assumptions to see the real person.
To see the videos, please visit the Resources page on our website.
Please join us at the Diversity and Equity in Mental Health/Addictions Conference 2013 on May 3 and the AFHTO Addictions and Mental Health Conference May 28 where McEwan members will be presenting on Stigma & Community.
22nd Annual Christmas Concert
The 22nd Annual Home for the Holidays Christmas Concert this past December was a night filled with stellar performances and audience caroling. St. James Cathedral served as the setting and the Dean of Toronto and Rector of St. James Cathedral, The Very Reverend Douglas Stoute, warmly welcomed everyone at the beginning of the concert. The Christmas trees twinkled and the lighting “on stage” was spectacular.
This concert is LOFT’s signature fundraising event. We rely on the generosity of our corporate sponsors, the artists who volunteer their time and talents for our cause and all the wonderful people who purchase tickets and make donations. Thanks to all of our supporters, this year’s concert raised close to $80,000! These funds are critical in helping us fill funding gaps and allowing us to continue to provide the excellent services for which LOFT is known.
Thank you to the outstanding performers of this year’s concert: soprano Joni Henson, pianist Yuval Fichman, singer Ben Dyck, jazz singer Lauren Margison, tenor Richard Margison, singer Micah Barnes, singer Thom Allison, actor/singer David Keeley, soprano Jean Edwards, and organist Tim Elia. A special thank you goes to Kelly Walker, Master of Ceremony and Artistic Director, who puts together a great line-up every year.
This year we were lucky enough to hear client stories from two residents. The first was a story from a a young man from Beverly Lodge, and the second came from a woman who is a resident at one of our seniors programs, Crosslinks Seniors Housing and Support Services. These were touching moments during the concert and each story garnered a standing ovation from the audience.
This night would not have been possible without the great technical support provided by the students from the Ryerson Theatre School, and our faithful volunteers Ted Krawchuk (Front-of-House Manager), Bill Corcoran (Production Designer), and Stephan Gustajtis (Technical Consultant). Two board members, James Anok and Michelle Henry, acted as greeters and Ryerson students and volunteers from LOFT staff acted as ushers.\
We hope you enjoyed the night as much as we did! Make sure to mark the date for the 2013 concert. Our 23rd Home for the Holidays Christmas Concert will take place on Monday, December 2, 2013!
View sponsors from the 2012 Christmas Concert
Thank you Stephan!
1) Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I own my own design and consulting firm called Creative LX Ltd. , which provides lighting design and implementation solutions to a wide variety of clients. I do a lot of work on various concerts and shows and permanent installations including the Much Music Video Awards, Big Brother Canada and the McNeil Avian Center at the Philadelphia Zoo.
2) How did you become involved with LOFT and the concert?
I was in my last year at the Ryerson Theatre School when I got the role of Technical Director for the LOFT concert in 1999. The following year, Peter Fleming, RTS’ Production and Operations Manager, called and asked if I would like to be a consultant on the 2000 concert. Since then I have tried to help out every year.
3) What is your role in the concert?
I am there for the students and act as a reference manual and resource for them. My role is primarily to ensure the successful implementation of the lighting system. I am there for the production meeting as well as the load-in on Sunday evening and I try to stop in on Monday, which is the day of the concert.
4) Why do you continue to help out every year?
I really enjoy the experience – both in helping the students learn and in helping LOFT.
5) What do you enjoy most about your experience with us?
I like seeing the students take a vision they have in their minds and watching it become a reality through their hard work. Knowing that what I’ve taught them will help them when working on future productions is a good feeling.
The Donor Corner featuring Kip Southam
LOFT: Thank you for speaking with us today, Kip. We’d like to begin by asking how you first become involved with LOFT?
KS: It really goes back to the 1980’s. A friend of mine was involved with LOFT and she told me about a kind of “befriending” program at John Gibson House, where they were matching volunteers with clients. I thought it sounded interesting so I signed up.
I have never been able to think in terms of “us” and “them” or “those people.” I have always felt that that line between mental health and mental ill health is very thin, and that anyone can cross into mental ill health. I have never thought, for example, that “it will never happen to me.”
I was matched with a guy named Dan McDonald and it turned out that he and I had very similar lives: we had both worked in advertising, we both loved jazz. He was a most interesting character, with a fabulous sense of humor, and a very wry and insightful perspective on his own mental illness and on the metal health system.
To this day I still think about him.
LOFT: What do you think sets LOFT apart from other charities?
KS: I have been impressed by a number of things about LOFT. The organization is very inclusive; nobody ever seems to be turned away. I have been impressed by the wide variety of services and the wide variety of people who receive services; people with addictions, with HIV/AIDS, seniors. Yet, LOFT does it well. It isn’t spreading the money and talent too thinly. In each area, there is a real focus.
Also, LOFT is about as far away as you can get from institutionalizing and warehousing people.
LOFT: What prompted your first gift to LOFT?
KS: I am drawn to agencies that do grass roots work and that may not get the kind of funding some more high profile organizations get.
And of course, the stories you hear of the clients are always extremely interesting. I am always moved by the clients who share their stories at the annual LOFT Christmas Concert, for example. The things they have had to deal with and their spirit never ceases to amaze me.
When Making Your Will, Consider the ‘Charity Child’ Concept
“If I had to choose between giving a portion of my estate to the government in taxes or to a charity like LOFT, which would I prefer?”
The concept is simple. Here is an example. Through their estate planning, a couple with three children divides their estate into four. Upon the death of both spouses, each of their children will receive one quarter of the estate. The fourth quarter is dedicated to their favourite charities.
A gift to a ‘Charity Child’ – a charitable bequest – means the estate will receive a charitable tax receipt. This will help offset taxes to be paid. Their three children will not only receive the portion allotted to them, they will also be able to celebrate the impact of their parents’ philanthropic legacy, and the difference it will make in the community.
When you become a donor to LOFT, you have a direct impact on people in need. Most LOFT clients have complex challenges including mental health issues, physical illness, addictions, poverty and homelessness. In this world of ‘specialization’, people with complicated needs sometimes just don’t fit.
This is where LOFT comes in. Thanks to our donors, LOFT is able to reach out to people in great need who cannot get access to services. Charitable bequests help to ensure that LOFT will continue to fill this role for many years to come.
For further information on how to make LOFT your ‘Charity Child’, please contact Jane Corbett, Director of Development at 416-979-1994, ext 227, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Something & Nothing
Something and Nothing met in a crowd.
“Hi, Something,” “Hi, Nothing,” they both said aloud.
Something gave Nothing something so proud
that Nothing, now having something,
said to Something out loud,
“My friend, I am no longer nothing,” and he bowed.
Homegrown: The Journey Home
By Gena Macoretta
I became affiliated with LOFT Community Services when I was going through a rather difficult time in my life. As it turns out, I was a part of their Mental Health and Justice program for six years (2005 – 2011). They were there for me when others weren’t. I feel grateful for having found this organization.
They help so many who may not seem on the outside as being injured, but a lot of us had our wings clipped by unpleasant situations we experienced growing up. So for this, I say thank you LOFT for helping me find my wings again. And a special thanks to Laurie Snyder (ed note: Gena’s worker) for her guidance, help, support and understanding.
What also came out of the experience was the opportunity to keep working on my book. It took me twenty years but I finally finished and it has been published. I am in new territory now…but I did it, my dream has come true. My book Homegrown: The Journey Home is an exploration of possibility, human potential, spirituality and self-empowerment.
It is my hope that when people read my book, it will give them some positive encouragement and make them want to be a better person and to never give up on yourself or your dreams. Keep going no matter what, because dreams really can come true.
Here, I have a family…
“I was not so powerful before I moved here. I struggled like hell. I really, really struggled. Somehow I managed to land into something solid. It is not perfect, and I have had many trials and tribulations. But it is better than I have ever had since I arrived in Toronto in the mid 60′s. The reason being is, here, I have a family. I have solidarity with a bunch of my sisters. I was so handicapped because I didn’t have the language in this society, which was a foreign society to me to negotiate [in every way] and now it appears that this foreign language I am able to negotiate. It has everything to do with this magnificent family that I have found. I could not be richer than I am now. If a big ball of fire was to consume me, I would leave this earth elated and blessed.”
M., a client of Wilkinson Housing and Support Services