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Mental Health

Editor's Message

Sarah Hamid-Balma

Reprinted from "Housing: Discrimination and Inclusion" issue of Visions Journal, 2015, 10 (3), p. 4

After a class I took last fall, I overheard my instructor Jo* chatting to her peer. Jo happened to mention she was moving and her colleague asked where. Jo answered, “The Woodward’s building! I’m so excited. I’ve been on the list for awhile.” [For those outside Vancouver, this is a historic and recently re-developed mixed-use complex on the edge of Gastown downtown]. Her colleague, not hiding her disgust, said something like “God, why would you want to live there? It’s full of junkies and psychos and sl**s.” Jo said, “It’s such a cool, historic building in a funky part of town. And full of different kinds of people. I’ve just always wanted to live there.” That snippet of conversation sums up a lot about this issue. All across BC, housing isn’t just about four walls and a roof; it’s about attitudes, assumptions—and neighbours.

Housing has been in the news a lot lately, most recently when Vancouver ranked as the second least affordable housing market in the world (several other BC cities made it into the list too).1 The result? The more that the rich do better and the poor do worse, the farther apart they seem live from each other. And among those who are vulnerable income-wise are people with mental illness and/or substance use problems (though not always; these health conditions don’t discriminate, even if we do).

Acceptability. Us and them. The stories in this issue all feature some aspect of us-and-them and are sure to move you—some to anger, some to hope, hopefully all to reflection or action. The good news is that one 2012 Metro Vancouver poll2 found overwhelming support for the statements that people facing homelessness deserve supports and to be treated with dignity and respect. The bad news: when pressed, over half of respondents also agreed that “housing in my community should be there for the people who can afford it.”2 In other words, if you didn’t get on this street the way I did, you shouldn’t get to be here. And that is the universal nature of NIMBYism [Not In My Back Yard]. While we may think that people with mental illness and addictions have it especially bad because of other stereotypes and fears related to these health conditions, we should remember that NIMBY is an issue for most any group moving into a neighbourhood, including seniors.2 It’s about fear but it’s also, let’s say it out loud, about us wanting to live among neighbours in the same ‘situation’ as us. We should really think about that and about our tolerance for difference. Though it’s not perfect, a bit more of the Woodward’s mix3 in all our neighbourhoods would probably do us a world of good.


  1. Vancouver's housing 2nd least affordable in world. (2014, January 21). CBC News. Retrieved from

  2. Woo, A. (2012, October 4). NIMBYism based on ‘fear of the unknown.’ The Globe and Mail [BC edition]. Retrieved from

  3. Woodward’s Building. (2015). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from

About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division

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