Between February and April of this year, we had the opportunity to carry out a project with Toronto Public Health, we ended up calling “It’s Home”. In October 2016, TPH released their report “Housing and Health: Unlocking Opportunity” and we were awarded a contract to further develop these themes to a wider audience.
Around this time, American President Donald Trump was on the radio with one of his many blunders: “You wouldn’t believe it” he said “but healthcare is incredibly complicated”. The same can be said about housing. Comprehensive housing solutions span government jurisdictions and despite countless reports, Canada still does not have a National Housing Strategy. And housing solutions are difficult in another way. Shortly after helping open a Supportive housing building, one worker told me “there is a real intimacy in housing people”.
But when I go to the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) and talk to people most vulnerable to the housing crisis, the connection between housing and health could not be more clear. As many people told me during the project “if you don’t have a safe place to live, you don’t have anything”.
Between the glaring simplicity of the problem and the complexity of the solutions, there seemed to be an impassable chasm. As we spent weeks using various art projects to explore this question, one concept seemed to be able to bridge this divide. The concept was “home” or what we began to call “the hearth and the hard realities of home”.
The epigraph for Toronto Public Health’s recent report comes from a seminal text on slum housing by Toronto Medical Officer of Health Charles Hastings a century ago: “It is homes we must give our people, not merely shelter.” (1918) We followed in Hastings’ line of thought to think through some of the key themes of home and health that we must address today.
The Toronto Public Health report on Housing and Health described six characteristics of home: the social; the physical, design (doormats and stickers), and the surrounding area. The Its Home installation included an element for each of these characteristics.
The structure of the tent became an inspiration for our project. Tents at once offer comfort and separation from the rest of the world, but also gesture to the tenuous, perpetual precarity of shelter and indeed, making a home one’s own. In and aroundour central tent, we find different projects by PARC members and neighbours which reflect — and further elaborate — some of the key themes of Housing and Health.
Inspired by the old houses of the neighbourhood, The Fabulous Doors of Parkdale open to our inner landscapes — what we see in ourselves when no one else is looking. The Parkdale windows connect us to the world and neighbours outside, and reflect the ups and downs of living, socializing and coexisting in close proximity.
The Well Come Mats use the the geometric concept of tessellations, where every piece fits together just right, as a riff on the design elements of home making. Lead artist Sophie Schneider designed the mats to reflect how we bring visual and spatial design into our spaces, intentionally and unintentionally.
The Books of Not-Quite-Relief were a project by lead artists Joel W. Vaughan and Jonathan Valelly in collaboration with residents and friends of Edmond Place, the supportive housing apartment building owned and operated by PARC. The books are made of plastic printmaking plates showing images and words which gesture, however obliquely, to the physical and psychological struggles of precarious housing and the possibility of a home in the making.
The Parkdale Clothesline reflects on the neighbourhood itself and the need for a variety of different housing options, and the level of access we must maintain and defend if our neighbourhood is to remain a welcoming and inclusive place for people to call home.
The findings and directions contained within the Housing and Health report are crucial, and been a powerful and generative material with which to work. Please feel encouraged to explore, open, and reflect back on the work displayed here as a part of It’s Home.
photo credits: Liam Coo