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Changing the status quo

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has – Margaret Mead

Almost 70 years ago, 14 families in Vancouver banded together with their own limited funds to start the fledging financial cooperative, Vancity Credit  Union. It was in response to a time when banks were refusing to lend money to buy homes in certain neighborhoods deemed too risky. They couldn’t have imagined that their upstart venture would become the largest credit union in Canada.

It’s the same spirit that brought a group of successful business people along with the public sector together in November 2008 to solve the issue of homelessness. Concern about the increasing numbers of homeless in the City and the human and economic cost of not taking action were at the top of agenda. At the time those business leaders didn’t have a plan – however, they were united in their conviction that the status quo had to change. By 2010, they had developed a 10 year plan and Streetohome was well on its way to leveraging more than $28 million in private funding to provide housing for more than 1,700 vulnerable people in the city.

It was the values of those individuals and what they hoped to accomplish through sheer determination, ingenuity, and principle that attracted Vancity to Streetohome.

“I think it was important to see prominent citizens who hadn’t necessarily been around this issue before, step forward and say, we’re committed to doing something about this. We’re putting our money up and we’d like others to join us. I think that was a unique approach,” says Andy Broderick, Vice-President, Community Investment, Vancity.

“Streetohome’s mandate aligns very much with Vancity’s commitment to social justice and we believe people having a safe and decent place to live is fundamental to that commitment,” adds Andy.

Vancity’s $1.2 million donation was one of the first through the door in those early years and it was earmarked for Taylor Manor, the renovation of a heritage building at Boundary and Adanac. The building will provide 56 supportive housing units for people living with mental illness and addictions. The building is expected to open by the end of the year.

“Vancity wanted to support the work of Streetohome because we saw it as a credible, audacious model,” continues Andy, “And what better way than actually stepping up to contribute financially.”

The Kettle Society will operate Taylor Manor. The Kettle uses a client-centred philosophy and will work with each resident to develop individualized goals, supports and services so tenants can live as independently as possible.

Andy discovered long ago how important it is to provide supportive housing for individuals to successfully transition to a more stable life. In the early 1990s, he was working in Vermont for a low-cost housing provider, doing double-duty as a property-manager, when he came into contact with tenants with mental health and addiction issues. Andy distinctly remembers one young woman with mental illness desperately struggling to maintain the balance in her life. “She didn’t have the right level of support and services for the problems she faced. That’s when I realized that the problem is way more complicated than providing a roof over somebody’s head. It takes a comprehensive, whole person approach to making sure you address the health challenges many homeless people suffer from.”

It’s an approach Streetohome supports to help individuals live up to their full potential. Streetohome is currently fundraising for three innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable projects including a 26 unit project to be built on a church parking lot, in collaboration with Salsbury Community Society and Grandview Calvary Church. Twenty units are planned for homeless people, or those at risk for homelessness, and six units for co-residents who will pay a reduced rent in exchange for helping other residents develop independent living skills.*

Projects like this are an example of the accountability for outcomes that Streetohome brings to addressing one of the most important community challenges in society, says Andy. “It’s not bureaucratic, it’s solutions-oriented, and it’s been effective. If I was a corporation wanting my scarcest philanthropic dollars to do the most, I’d be attracted to that.”

*See Streetohome’s website for a description of each of these projects.