SHARING THEIR STORIES - Christine Steward, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Central Alberta holds up the cardboard stories they collected from homeless people, in Red Deer at an event at The HUB on Ross. Michelle Falk/Red Deer Express

Red Deer project humanizes homelessness

Viral video inspires Red Deer project to share stories

A mental health worker’s experience has led to a project that showcases the lives of clients.

Ian MacLeod’s idea came out of his experience collecting information for obituaries of clients who had passed away. As he dug into their histories, he realized that many of them had incredible stories that no one knew about until after they were gone.

He wanted to find a way to honour his clients’ achievements during their lives.

After seeing a viral video on YouTube produced by a Florida group, he was inspired to showcase the stories of his clients with the Canadian Mental Health Association of Central Alberta.

The Cardboard Stories project consists of short video clips of people who are homeless and struggle with mental illness sharing unexpected things about themselves written on pieces of cardboard.

The Association received a grant from the Royal Bank of Canada four years ago for a ‘Stigma Reduction Video Project’ and they determined this was the perfect project for the funding.

“The stories are to remind people to stop judging and think of each person as an individual and not as a collective,” said Christine Stewart, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Central Alberta.

The statements collected in Red Deer range widely, some are heartbreaking while others are encouraging.

“Recovered alcoholic clean for two years.”

“I’m 53 and I never thought it would happen to me.”

“I am a mechanical engineer.”

“I’m a community support worker, but I’m homeless.”

“I found God.”

“It’s so easy to judge, but I think sometimes we forget that if we just had two more bad-things in a row happen, that could be us too,” Stewart said.

The Canadian Mental Health Association requested the Rethink Homelessness Project of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness’ permission to use their idea and project name.

They were thrilled to share it and only asked that they get a copy of the video to share, too.

According to Stewart, there are at least 200 people in Red Deer at any time that are without housing.

You can watch the Red Deer project on their web site at http://reddeer.cmha.ca/cardboard-stories/ or on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSrD0vxQKZ4.

The original Cardboard Stories video has more than 6.5 million views on YouTube.

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