When Doreen was an adult, she became a resident at Deerhome, a provincial facility for adults with disabilities, and was periodically employed as domestic help for rural families in the Red Deer district. Working with families piqued her interest in learning more about her own, and from that point forward, she made a concerted effort to learn about her mother, and her older and twin sisters. Doreen nonetheless continued to have strong ties with the institutions that she had lived in, and in which she had many friends.
In the late 1960s large-scale Canadian institutions came under pressure to reduce patient populations. Doreen’s formal discharge into the community was part of this transnational trend. In the mid-1970s the renamed Training School, the Michener Centre, was home to 2,300 residents, and by 1977 the numbers had dropped to 1,800. Not everyone took up residence in the community, as new facilities were built to house patients as well.
In Doreen’s case, her life outside the institution evolved gradually. She first moved into a half-way house with a number of other former residents of Deerhome, but after a year she lived on her own, which set her apart from many of her peers who required some help at home or remained in institutional care. She returned periodically to both Michener and Deerhome to see friends and to revisit familiar settings even as she began building new friendships and engaging in new routines in the community. In doing so, she often encountered friends who were struggling with life on their own, and she tried to help them as they sorted through bus schedules, or tried to make home improvements, or learned how to use the public library system.
Doreen’s willingness to help seems to have given her a sense of independence and pride, which further encouraged her to speak out about the problems that her friends faced. She wrote to the local newspaper about these difficulties, arguing that the fault lay with a mental health system that failed to ease the transition to community living by providing the companionship and patience that people needed as they grew into their new lives.