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Life and Death on the Streets

Margaret Jacobson was a sweet-natured young girl who played the accordion and had dreams of becoming a teacher until she had a psychotic break in her teens, which sent her down a much darker path. Her Name Was Margaret traces Margaret's life from her childhood to her death as a homeless woman on the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. With meticulous research and deep compassion author Denise Davy analyzed over eight hundred pages of medical records and conducted interviews with Margaret's friends and family, as well as those who worked in psychiatric care, to create this compelling portrait of a woman abandoned by society.

Through the revolving door of psychiatric admissions to discharges to rundown boarding homes, Davy shows us the grim impact of deinstutionalization: patients spiralled inexorably toward homelessness and death as psychiatric beds were closed and patients were left to fend for themselves on the streets of cities across North America. Today there are more 235,000 people in Canada who are counted among the homeless annually and 35,000 who are homeless on any given night. Most of them are struggling with mental health issues. Margaret's story is a heartbreaking illustration of what happens in our society to our most vulnerable and should serve as a wake-up call to politicians and leaders in cities across Canada.


Her Name Was Margaret is an unforgettable chronicle of loss and neglect, and a haunting indictment of how we as a society have failed the vulnerable in our midst. We want to cheer for Margaret as she encounters continual challenges and tragedies and somehow finds a way to survive, and yet we know that there are no happy endings in store for her, and many like her. Instead, we descend with Margaret into the darkest, most neglected corners of our cities, and endure every failing attempt to force her into narrow definitions of wellness instead of helping her live with a dignity all her own. 
Exceptionally well researched and engaging, Her Name Was Margaret is a remarkable achievement that compels us to not look away.

—Brent van Staalduinen, Author of Boy and Nothing But Life

Riveting and heartbreaking, Denise Davy’s Her Name was Margaret is a compellingly researched story of mental illness and homelessness. With brilliant attention to detail, Davy takes us inside Margaret’s world, and the result is unforgettable. A must-read for all Canadians with a conscience.

— Ann Dowsett Johnston, Author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship

Between Women and Alcohol

Denise Davy tenderly and compassionately chronicles the painful, abusive and too often inhumane and cruel life and death of Margaret Jacobson. As I read, I was reminded of stark realities endured by those who struggle with disabling mental health, past trauma and other cognitive challenges. And, so many youth, men and women I have had the privilege to know — too many of whom have also died in egregious circumstances. 
I was also repeatedly struck by the parallels between the ways the current pandemic has fully exposed racist, classist and misogynist chasms in our economic, social and health systems and the manner in which the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals laid bare the near simultaneous evisceration of community-based supports. 
Then and now, long existing and horrendous realities of the inadequacy of institutional care, whether for seniors and others in long-term care or those in psychiatric facilities, exacerbated by economic, health and racial inequalities have led to many more people being forced into poverty and homelessness. 
This book makes a valuable contribution to the policy and legislative work we need to remedy systemic and ongoing inequalities — the inherent inhumanity of systems which far too often, render the lives of the most marginalized and vulnerable as disposable.

—Senator Kim Pate

Behind every homeless person you might cross the street to avoid is an untold story. The compassion and rigour that Denise Davy brings to Margaret's story serve as both an epitaph for countless other lives of lost potential, and an indictment of a system that neglects its most vulnerable.

—Rona Maynard, Author of My Mother's Daughter, mental health advocate

Growing up in a loveless but well-intentioned family Margaret Jacobson battled life-long symptoms of mental illness. Davy has written a devastating portrait of a woman who floundered in the Canadian medical system seeking an elixir that couldn't be distilled. Despite the ravages of homelessness, endless hospital stays and boarding houses, the reader will cheer Margaret's indefatigable will to survive, her humour, her humanity.

This is a book every social worker, every psychiatrist, every caring heart will read and re-read. A triumph.

—Susan Doherty, Author of The Ghost Garden

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Praise for Her Name Was Margaret

You will never forget Margaret’s tragic story as rendered here with meticulous research and unflinching compassion. Denise Davy shines a light straight into the heart of the national disaster of mental illness and homelessness in Canada. We have to do something and we have to do it now.

—Diane Schoemperlen, author of This is Not My Life:A Memoir of

Love, Prison, and Other Complications

Being sick with mental illness shouldn’t lead to homelessness and premature death. Let the intimate story of Margaret touch you, make you weep, motivate you to rage against government’s inaction; then inspire you to work for change.

—Olivia Chow, former MP, Founder of Institute for Change Leaders

Read this book. Open your heart to the human beings in front of you surviving, against so many odds, on the streets. Think critically about where your judgement - and your silence - comes from when you walk by somebody’s mother, father or child.

This story will help you find your humanity again. We have become comfortable with judging and blaming the most vulnerable - this important story shows clearly these reactions should be targeted at the government who fails the most vulnerable people. The unhoused. The conveniently forgotten.

—Clara Hughes, six-time Olympian, Spokesperson for Bell Canada's Mental Health initiative and the "Let's Talk" campaign

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Davy tells two stories in this fine book - the riveting, but tragic story of Margaret and the bigger story about the failure of our social services to care for people with chronic mental illness. Davy helps us understand the point of view of homeless people and increases our empathy and desire to act on their behalf. I recommend this book to all who want to make the world a kinder place.

—Mary Pipher, Author of bestseller Reviving Ophelia

Her Name was Margaret is a moving portrait of a real life human being - Margaret Jacobson - who lived with a mental illness on the streets of Hamilton. The book documents the many ways that Margaret was cruelly treated by the “system,” and also explains in detail what public policies and programs are needed to solve the problems which people like Margaret face on a daily basis. Regrettably, governments still resist adopting these policies and programs.
This book is a must read for anyone with a social conscience. Hopefully the events it describes will motivate readers to pressure governments to finally seriously address the growing problem of homelessness in Canada.

—Michael Kirby, former Senator and author of Out of the Shadows at Last

Denise Davy’s fascinating yet terrifying account should have everyone storming the bastions of power to demand the government deliver on a 60-year-old promise to provide generous, robust support systems as part of its policy of deinstitutionalization. Instead it threw people out of their psychiatric beds and left them on the streets.
Against the tragic story of a woman named Margaret, Davy applies journalistic rigour to the great taboo of our times, homelessness. She disabuses the myths and explains the complex issues that cause many to tumble into life on the street. Homelessness is never a choice, it’s a desperate last resort, one that is largely ameliorated by the thankless hours, patience and kindness of doctors, healthcare workers, and volunteers. Such compassion, however, is no solution: it effectively shields from action the political will necessary to wrestle the problem. Successful programs and solutions exist—Davy cites them—so why are they not implemented? Never has society been more prosperous; never has it been so ostrich-like when it comes to the great unnatural disaster of homelessness. Readers, be prepared to ride a wave of emotion from shame to anger to profound grief. Her Name Was Margaret is a reminder that the messy lives we see daily are indeed our responsibility.

— Jane Christmas, author of Open House

Margaret's story chronicles bureaucratic and  institutional failures to provide adequate and evidence-based solutions to homelessness and deinstitutionalization. It is also about the kindness of strangers and the opportunity to spread and scale proven solutions to homelessness.

—Steve Lurie, Executive Director of the Canadian

Mental Health Association, Toronto

Margaret Jacobson was an icon and a mentor to those of us trying to understand mental health and women’s homelessness in the 1980s and 1990s. Denise Davy has impeccably researched Margaret’s life, death and legacy and written with compassion yet also bluntness about ‘victims of a plan gone mad.’ Her Name Was Margaret reads like a mystery story even though we know the ending.

—Rev. Bill MacKinnon, former shelter worker and Chaplain at Alexander Place retirement home

I was moved to tears at several points. This was a very moving book for me. How little did I know of those horrible years.

—David Jacobson, Margaret’s brother



Thank you so much for caring enough about the issue of homelessness to read Margaret’s story. I hope you were as moved by her story as I was. It means a lot to me to know that so many people do care. I’d love to get the word out about my book. If you could help by writing a short review on Goodreads and Amazon that would be so appreciated. 


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