April 5, 2018

Social Work prof's research into older homelessness is in running for digital storytelling grant

Your vote by April 6 could help Victoria Burns produce film on vulnerable older Calgarians
An image still from University of Calgary social work professor Victoria Burns's pitch for Beyond Housing. Over half of emergency shelter users in Calgary are over 50.

An image still from social work professor Victoria Burns's pitch for Beyond Housing.

Victoria Burns

The magic of film often comes down to the ability to immerse people in an experience — not just tell them about it. “Film brings stories to life,” explains social work professor Victoria Burns. “It shifts the narrative from the often inaccessible language of ‘academese’ to film, which is the universal language of the heart.” 

Using visual methods to present and share her research allows Burns, PhD, RSW, to combine her research passion with her passion for storytelling and the arts. “Visual methods,” she explains, “are a really powerful medium to start a conversation. In my most current research project, we are using film to raise awareness about older homelessness, a growing population that is largely invisible.”  

Shining a light on a hidden and growing issue

More than 235,000 people experience homelessness in Canada every year, and this population is rapidly getting older. Burns, who has been working with vulnerable older adults as a social worker and researcher for over a decade, points out that while homelessness is traumatic at any age it’s particularly difficult for older people who often suffer from more health issues, are less mobile, and more socially isolated than any other subgroup of people experiencing homelessness.  

The drive to tell this story led Burns and her team to enter to enter the Telus STORYHIVE digital short competition. Teams that receive the most votes win one of 40 $10,000 production grants, along with mentorship and training. Besides helping to finance the films, winning projects will also be distributed on TELUS platforms, which helps achieve the research awareness goal.  

Promotional cover for Victoria Burns's pitch video. The project attempts to bridge the gap between academia and community, reflecting a decade of research. You can vote for Burns's video until Friday at noon.

Promotional cover for Victoria Burns's pitch video. The project attempts to bridge the gap between a

Beyond Housing (have you voted yet?)

Burns’ project is called Beyond HousingThe short builds on Burns’ Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada-funded project, which uses visual methods to bring awareness to the issue of older homelessness. Beyond Housing would share the intimate stories of two formerly homeless, extraordinary older Calgarians, Hilary and George.

The short would allow them to tell their own story, and to show, first-hand, what their lives are really like finding a sense of home after homelessness. “My hope is that by giving voice to older homelessness,” says Burns, “this short film would raise awareness, challenge stereotypes, and give hope to the thousands of older homeless adults who continue to suffer in silence.”  

Burns and team have a not-so-secret mission

Burns, with the help of local filmmaker Joe Kelly, and her crew of social work collaborators (which includes fellow professors Jennifer Hewson, Christine Walsh and PhD student Natalie St. Denis) have another agenda in making the film.  

“We are on a mission,” she declares. “We’re looking to find creative ways to share research beyond academia. It can be difficult to obtain mainstream research funding for this type of project, so winning this STORYHIVE grant might help facilitate the long overdue bridging of academia and film."

Cast your vote before noon Friday, April 6

You can help Burns and her budding social work filmmakers win the STORYHIVE competition by viewing their pitch video and voting for the project if you think it’s worthy. You can also help by sharing her pitch in your own social circles. Voting is open until noon, this Friday, April 6. You can cast one vote every day.