Filmmaker and MSW student Cory Gordon explains below the background to Housing First in the Arctic, her film highlighting homelessness in Alaska of individuals with mental illness.
|Filmmaker Cory Gordon|
I interviewed with Corrine O’Neill, the housing clinical manager and the housing expert in my film. She was open to the idea, and we signed a practicum contract later that week. In the first semester, I learned about all the different aspects of the program. My main role at that time was to do outreach to individuals in shelters and homeless camps in Anchorage who were experiencing a severe mental illness (SMI). I assessed them to see if they could benefit from services. It was a profoundly moving experience to meet people sleeping in the snow and in the overcrowded shelters.
One of my proudest achievements was building a rapport with a young man who had spent years on the streets and was debilitated by his mental illness. I was able to introduce this man to a case manager who found him permanent housing and connected him with wraparound services. This client’s story is not unusual; I saw many individuals get help through ACMHS and the Housing First (HF) model.
The HF model is an innovative approach to house those who are chronically homeless and have a severe mental illness or co-occurring addictions. The HF model provides people with housing without expectation of psychiatric or substance abuse treatment. Research shows that it is an effective way to serve individuals, which also saves money for communities.
By the end of the first semester, I knew that I wanted to create a film to show the HF model as a solution to homelessness for the SMI population in Anchorage. I also wanted to show how ACMHS helps Anchorage’s most vulnerable people and to give a face and voice to homelessness in the community. This was very important to me because individuals who are homeless and experience an SMI and/or substance abuse disorder are highly stigmatized. It was especially important that I create a film that could educate and influence people’s perceptions of HF, because at that time in the community, there was great deal of resistance to new HF facilities.
Sidebar: Cory Gordon's Advice to Social Work Students New to Filmmaking