Thunder Bay·Audio

Us and Them: documentary challenges stereotypes around homelessness

'Us and Them' challenges perceptions around homelessness and addiction by showing the compassion, intelligence and wisdom of people living on the street, says filmmaker Krista Loughton, who is screening the documentary in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Wednesday night.

'There is no us and them, there's just us and for me that's where social change begins,' says filmmaker

Krista Loughton produced the documentary Us and Them, which is screening in Thunder Bay, Ontario on Wednesday night. It uses a compassionate lens to raise awareness about issues of homelessness and addiction. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

Using a compassionate lens to challenge stereotypes about homelessness and addiction is the goal of the documentary Us and Them, screening Wednesday night in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

A trip to Africa as a teenager, and the poverty she witnessed there, transformed the life of filmmaker Krista Loughton. She always thought she would return there to "do something," but "eventually I realized I don't have to go back to Africa to help people, I just have to go downtown."

For Loughton, that meant spending hours at the local drop-in centre in Victoria, British Columbia.

'Unconditional love', no judgement

She was inspired by the centre's mission statement, which she said was "we are giving unconditional love, in a non-judgemental way, for all who walk in the door." Loughton was moved to start adopting the same principle in her own life.

Before long, she had encountered the four people whose stories she would tell in the film:

  1.  Karen, who was grieving the death of her husband "and I was just pulled into her pain in that moment," recalled Loughton, explaining that the two became close when they would frequently run into each other at the centre.
  2.  Donalda, who was 4 feet 7 inches tall, about 90 pounds and "physically the person who was in the worst shape at the centre and she was angry and feisty," said Loughton. The source of the anger became evident when a staff member explained that Donalda "had witnessed her son being murdered by a police officer and her life just fell apart."
  3.  Eddie, who had been in and out of jail for most of his adult life, but had a wonderful way with words, said Loughton. She remembered him saying that even when he was inside he felt cold and "he was always shivering, it was like the cold was in the heart of his bones and he couldn't' figure out if it was physical or psychological."
  4.  Stan, who had "a big fur coat and this incredible sense of humour and I was warned he was a tough nut to crack, but I cracked him," said Loughton.

She filmed Us and Them over a ten year period, and during that time one of the four died. While grieving that death, she said her perspective changed dramatically on who was helping who.

Who was helping who?

"Their level of intelligence, their level of humour, their level of compassion, their level of wisdom, like there's a scene where I set out to help them but they end up helping me, so my emotional issues become part of the plot and it's their wisdom, they are counselling me."

That is the message Loughton hopes to share through her documentary — everyone suffers, and everyone has the capacity to help someone else.

"There is no us and them, there's just us and for me that's where social change begins," said Loughton.

The Thunder Bay screening of Us and Them was presented by the Copperfin Credit Union, in partnership with the United Way and the Lakehead Social Planning Council. The event at the Finlandia Hall was expected to be sold out by its 7 p.m. start time.