New documentary highlights homelessness in region

As hard as it's been living a life on the streets, Karen Montgrand can almost imagine doing it again.

As hard as it’s been living a life on the streets, Karen Montgrand can almost imagine doing it again.

Since March, Montgrand has been a resident in Cool Aid Society’s Olympic Vista, a supported housing unit with 36 suites dedicated to seniors (55-plus) at risk of homelessness, on Carey Road in Saanich.

She arrived following a hospital stay from which doctors refused to release her back on the street.

“I miss living outside,” said Montgrand, who loves Olympic Vista and its community of residents and staff. “I have to stay away from that. If I move back out, I return to the hard life.”

Photos of family and friends are in Montgrand’s suite, along with a comfortable couch she hopes to one day upgrade.

Last week, Montgrand was visited by renowned Housing First pioneer Dr. Sam Tsemberis, who founded Pathways Housing First in New York City 23 years ago. Tsemberis came to host a public presentation and workshop on his Pathways to Housing approach at Victoria City Hall. He was joined by Krista Loughton, a local videographer who produced and directed the documentary Us and Them, being released this month.

The movie follows Montgrand’s life and the lives of three others on the streets of Victoria from 2006 to 2013.

Montgrand has seen excerpts of the film and said she doesn’t like seeing it.

“I watched it and I come away thinking [Montgrand] knows what she’s doing, she knows her stuff,” Tsemberis said. “I understand if Montrgand doesn’t like it, but it shows a lot of strength and know how. It’s hard to survive [on the streets], she’s a survivor.”

Us and Them’s importance in breaking down barriers is incomparable at a time when Victoria’s mayor and council are leading the region in seeking additional solutions to the physical and economical costs of homelessness, said Loughton.

The fact that an ongoing tent city has been erected on the grounds of Victoria’s courthouse on Burdett Avenue is merely serendipitous, said Cool Aid Society’s executive director Kathy Stinson.

“It just shows we need more housing,” said Stinson, who’s campaigning for Cool Aid to add another 360 housing units in Greater Victoria. “Cases like [Montrand’s] could be dealt with in a matter of one to two weeks [instead of two to three months, or more].”

Us and Them will be screened for the public at The Vic Theatre (808 Douglas St.) on Dec. 9. Admission is $10, doors open at 6:30 p.m for the 7 p.m. screening.