She once lived in Gastown, which she describes as a “fully gentrified area’’ in Vancouver adjacent to the downtown eastside area notorious for its open-air drug trade, sex work, poverty, mental illness, homelessness, infectious disease, and crime.
She recalls heading home one day, walking through an alley, coming across a woman who had her underwear removed.
The woman was injecting heroin into her groin.
“I couldn’t get that visual out of my head…where are you at when that’s where you go to find a vein,’’ says Loughton.
Yet she was deeply moved, not disgusted, by the sight and plight of this woman and that of the many others crumpled in the streets in dire straits.
“I knew inherently that the people were in pain,’’ she says.
“It wasn’t like ‘this is disgusting, I don’t want to look at this, why don’t you just go get a damn job, pull up your bootstraps.’ I didn’t know why and I didn’t understand how (they resonated so strongly with her) but what I did see was they’re sick, they’re in pain, they’re hurting like we could never imagine.’’
She would come to grasp not only the intense pain experienced by homeless people, but in the process come to terms with her own internal suffering that had been buried deep but was clearly far from dead.
She set out to make a film – her first film – about homeless people.
It turned into a journey of friendship, pain, compassion, understanding, confusion, suffering and self-discovery.
The film, called “Us & Them,” took 10 years to make.
The result is a compelling documentary, both darkly disturbing and surprisingly uplifting, but ultimately – and most importantly – thought provoking.
The film examines the link between trauma, like childhood abuse, and addiction through four chronically homeless people.
Loughton illuminates the heart and soul of Karen Montgrand, Eddie Golko, Stan Hunter and Dawnellda Gauthier, exploring their immense suffering in heart wrenching but always respectful fashion.
She did not simply film the foursome’s harsh journey, but became immersed in their lives.
Helping the homeless
Krista Loughton says providing affordable housing is essential to help curb homelessness. However, she is quick to add the solution can’t be just a roof.
“It has to be connections back to our families and the institutions that are there that are supposed to support us,’’ she says. “They really need care – just some help.’’
Loughton, to varying degrees of success and failure, used the medicine wheel to help try to turn around the lives of her four usually homeless friends.
She struggles to have them buy into self-improvement promoted through the medicine wheel’s approach of focusing on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Loughton, along the way, realized the healing journey had as much to do with her. She had to set the film aside for a while to work on her own issues after a 2010 interview with Vancouver author and addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté.
She was forced to confront her own childhood baggage, notably the divorce of her parents, as well as her struggle with depression.
She is in a much better place today.
Sadly, two of her dear street friends have died: Hunter in 2009, Gauthier two years later.
Today, Golko is “doing much, much better’’ and Montgrand keeps in almost daily contact with Loughton.
The endearing foursome’s spirit amid great suffering is kept alive in “Us & Them” by delivering a powerful message to those, like the captivated audience that gathered at UPEI for a special screening May 9, that are fortunate enough to watch the film.
Janice MacLellan-Peters, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at UPEI, came to watch the film because of her interest in the topic of homelessness. She is currently doing research on single mothers (she calls them Lone Moms) and their experience in homelessness in P.E.I.
She found the film gets to the root of homelessness, making the connection between mental health, addiction and trauma.
“A film like this reminds us all that it is a struggle – life is a struggle – and if you’ve got many strikes against you, it’s even more of a struggle,’’ says MacLellan-Peters.
“So I think it’s a very, very powerful film that can be used in public venues but also in educational institutions for people to understand poverty issues.’’
Loughton wants her film to be a source of understanding and healing.
She hopes to incorporate screenings as part of sharing circles and even medicine wheels “where we actually watch the film and process a bit of emotion.’’
Loughton also wants her film to leave people with a kind perspective of their fellow man, to show compassion rather than ridicule, notably towards homeless people.
“When we are in judgment of others, we’re in judgment of ourselves,’’ she says.
“So when we move through all the things we judge ourselves about, which are the negative emotions, we can look at someone on the street and have compassion for them and not judgment because somehow that judgment is mirroring something inside of ourselves and most likely on an unconscious level.’’
On a more personal note, she adds of her life-changing project: “My outer need was to heal the homeless. My inner need was to heal that homeless feeling inside me, which I really didn’t understand.’’