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Left to right: Rudy Verhoeven, Chris Cleary of Cleary Homes, and Ross Allen of Grace United Church. Courtest of Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes.

StreetCity Film Screening Prompts Larger Discussion on Homelessness

Written by
Owen Harrison
and
and
April 18, 2023
StreetCity Film Screening Prompts Larger Discussion on Homelessness
Left to right: Rudy Verhoeven, Chris Cleary of Cleary Homes, and Ross Allen of Grace United Church. Courtest of Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes.

On Friday March 31, 2023, Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes (PATH) partnered with Trent University to host a film screening of Bay Weyman’s 1998 film StreetCity. After the film Marion Burton from PATH discussed the group’s current initiatives for Peterborough inhabitants who are currently unhoused. The main aim of the event was to raise awareness for unhoused folks in Peterborough and to draw attention to the work PATH is doing to create housing for these individuals. 

StreetCity is a film that follows the stories of a variety of homeless individuals who are living together in an experimental housing project called StreetCity, designed for homeless people in Toronto. Despite the film being twenty-five years old, the issues that it explores are relevant today, especially in the Peterborough community. Many people prefer to ignore homeless people when they see them on the street. Often, we walk past and likely think nothing more of them as we go on with our day. By acting this way, we ignore the fact that these unhoused individuals are real people who are struggling to live life in the way that we take for granted. The film does an excellent job of challenging these perceptions of homeless individuals by humanizing the unhoused individuals in the film. While watching the film, I challenged many of my own unconscious perceptions of homeless individuals. StreetCity is a powerful film that I would recommend everyone watch. It allows us to challenge our perceptions and develop a stronger understanding of unhoused individuals in our community. This was Weyman’s motivation for making the film in the first place. He wanted to create a mode through which housed people would be able to relate to unhoused individuals, and his film does just that. 

I spoke with Bay Weyman after the film, and he explained to me that there were two main reasons to share this film at the event. The first was to demonstrate the various challenges that homeless people face and how these challenges are often contributing factors to them being unhoused. These challenges can include physical and mental health issues and drug or alcohol addictions. People who face these sorts of challenges often struggle to maintain a stable job which can lead them to be unable to afford to support themselves. Additionally, Weyman aimed to provide some insight for PATH to understand potential challenges they may face in their ongoing efforts to create temporary housing for Peterborough residents. He believes that the current plans PATH has are like the plans that were used at StreetCity in 1998.

After the film screening, the PATH spokesperson for this event, Marion Burton, discussed the current projects that PATH is implementing to assist Peterborough’s growing homeless population. One of the projects aims to construct sleeping cabins that will be available to the homeless population in Peterborough. It is a two-phase project with the first phase having a goal of providing fifteen sleeping cabins. These cabins are eight feet by twelve feet and will cost $7000 each to construct. The second phase aims to develop a village of fifty sleeping cabins. As noted in a letter to the editor written by PATH member Sheila Nabigon-Howlett and published in the Peterborough Examiner on December 29th, 2022, the sleeping cabin communities will be providing mental and physical healthcare to the residents. The goal of these services is to provide the residents with the opportunity to recover from addictions, mental health challenges, or physical injuries which may be preventing them from being able to hold down a job. 

The sleeping communities will have trained staff and/or volunteers on site 24/7 including one in ten residents being a trained person who is not unhoused that chooses to live on site. There is also going to be a sort of allowance system in which residents will pay for their housing. Property maintenance will be provided through partnership with the Elizabeth Fry Society, PATH, and the residents of the community. 

It is important for the city to recognize that the projects to shelter the homeless that they are currently funding are not effective. The only way for them to hear that these projects are not working is for housed folks to let them know. The system works in a way that people who have a home hold more influence when sharing opinions with the government. Therefore, if we want to help, we need to make Peterborough’s city council aware that changes must be made. 

It is also important to understand that homelessness is often not a choice. There are usually extenuating circumstances that an individual experiences that lead them to become unhoused. These sorts of circumstances could be an addiction, injury, or mental health challenges. Whatever it is that unhoused individuals are dealing with, they should not be ignored. Watching the documentary StreetCity reminds us that these people are real, and they matter. Instead, they are struggling people who deserve to have assistance from those of us who have the privilege to help them. 

The solutions that the city currently offers for homeless individuals are emergency responses, not preventative measures. Further, these projects do not and have not worked since 1998 when StreetCity was active. Therefore, we must try a different solution that works in helping homeless people overcome their challenges. These sleeping cabin communities proposed by PATH should do just that. 

If you are interested in donating to PATH to assist them with their sleeping cabin communities projects then you can send a cheque to The Brock Mission, P.O Box 1445, Peterborough ON. K9J 7H6 “For PATH” or visit The Brock Mission website.

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