Ending the Stigma Around Homelessness: Christine from A Tin A Day

Ending the Stigma Around Homelessness: Christine from A Tin A Day

Christine is the founder of A Tin A Day, an organization that provides self-care tins and mental health resources to homeless populations in the Edmonton area. A Tin A Day is committed to breaking the social stigma and misconceptions associated with homelessness. In this guest post, Christine shares personal stories and experiences she’s heard while working with the houseless community, discusses the importance of accessible mental health care, and describes what motivated her to create A Tin A Day. Keep reading to learn about Christine’s inspiring story and the work she is doing to end the stigma around homelessness!

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reported roughly 25-50% of the homeless population in Canada suffer from one or more mental illnesses. This statistic alone is distressing to hear.

Let me introduce myself: hi, I’m Christine, a Social Work student at MacEwan University on Treaty Six Territory. The 25-50% is only increasing. I work directly with the houseless in my city, Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton). The way our homeless populations are currently treated is unspeakable. The number of conversations I have had with my friends on the streets who shared how many times their items have been discarded or destroyed by EMS and social workers is worrying, to say the least.

I grew up worrying about money and living paycheck to paycheck. My father figure was a fantastic human. On one occasion, we were walking to McDonald’s and he saw a man outside begging for money. My father figure asked the man what he would like to eat, then bought him food. We chatted with him for some time. At that moment, I wanted to destigmatize how people saw homeless individuals.

Then A Tin A Day was born!

I started to create an idea at 1AM with my ADHD brain, and wanted to give back to my community while reducing waste in our city. I started to find cookie, tea, and coffee tins that I would collect before they ended up in the garbage, and I filled them with essentials for those on the streets. Each tin is unique, but regular items inside contain protein bars, bar soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, bandaids, sunscreen, and hand warmers. Whatever our houseless community members ask for, we try our best to provide them with what they need. We also created mental health resources in paper and QR versions for each tin to provide the most accessible and helpful information so that mental health support can be accessible for all.

The conversations about mental health in the community, especially within the houseless community, are stigmatized. A majority of folks have explained that they cannot afford to get their medication because they don’t have identification of any sort, the cost of healthcare is not affordable for everyone, and the pandemic has only created further barriers for the houseless to navigate.

The 2018 Public Health Ontario consensus stated, “addictions or substance use was the most common reason for being homeless for the 24 to 49 years age group” (2019, p.3).

Addictions and substance use are both common factors for mental health challenges. With no support and a system that has never valued the houseless individuals, statistics prove that homeless people experience worse health than housed populations.

In 2005, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shared that 140,000 people with mental illness live in inadequate housing.

This increases their risk of homelessness due to employment and educational barriers, in addition to a lack of personal and professional support systems. It is a domino effect of the colonized environment that we all reside in.

One way to help support our folks on the streets is to treat them like humans with worth. For far too long, the houseless populations in Canada have been mistreated and valued as “less human.”

ATAD has given over 700 tins in the last two years since it was created. As the number of folks on the streets increase, the need for the homeless populations to be treated fairly and equally among the housed populations is needed. With ATAD and many other services and organizations all across Edmonton, we can listen and learn from the most vulnerable.

The stories I have been told will always be something that I hold deep in my heart. My father figure passed away, I believe six years ago now. Last year my cousin, more like a brother, died from an overdose. This has been the push for me to continue advocating for those who feel like they don’t have a voice, nor have someone who showed me humanity as my father figure did.

Changes in systems across Canada are needed. While dismantling systems in place, building connections and just being human has been wholeheartedly fueling this.

Now, COVID-19 has shown the impact that a pandemic can have on mental health. Koziel et al. suggests that individuals experiencing homelessness “will be twice as likely to be hospitalized and two to four times more likely to require critical care than the general population . . . in addition to a higher infection and fatality rate” (p. 4).

The reality is that since this pandemic began, more people have a greater likelihood of being homeless. Recognizing that anyone can be houseless at a given point is scary, and yet we tend to ignore those suffering on the streets.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health and know someone on the streets, feel free to share our resource website. You may find QR codes this summer placed across Vancouver. Keep an eye out!

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