When Heather and Lloyd Craig’s lives intersected with homelessness more than 40 years ago, they had no idea it would become a lifelong preoccupation. She was a public health nurse working on the downtown eastside; he was a commercial banker working in the city core.
Over the years, they have become even more passionate, and impatient about solving the issue of homelessness.
“We’re supposed to be a civilized country. We’re an extremely wealthy country, and there’s people living on the streets – that’s completely unacceptable,” says Lloyd, a former CEO of Coast Capital Savings.
He first became involved with Streetohome in 2009, “We’ve had a Vancouver east side problem for more than 100 years, so it’s been a real challenge, and I believed Streetohome might be the catalyst to finally get this job done.” Lloyd and Heather made a considerable donation and a conscious decision to jump in with both feet.
More than a decade ago, after the death of their son Gavin from mental illness, Heather and Lloyd became more involved in the issue and, as a result, have a keener appreciation for the other two challenges often closely aligned with homelessness: mental illness and addiction.
“Probably 85 percent of people on the street have mental health issues, and drugs and alcohol complicate the situation,” says Lloyd.
Their desire to destigmatize mental illness and learn more to help those afflicted led them to raise funds for a Chair in Depression Research at UBC. Heather, a former adjunct professor in medicine at UBC, lectured second year students on the subject, and she also chaired the advisory board of the Institute of Mental Health at UBC. Lloyd led the BC division of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health and is a pioneer in advocating for workplace mental health.
Learning about the brain is the last frontier according to the Craig’s, “There’s such little we really know about it, and how to treat people who are brain injured, but we’re starting to learn more,” says Heather.
They’re both strong believers in research and knowledge informing practice. “It’s relatively new thinking that everything begins with stable housing. Years ago, people said you have to show individuals are responsible and working, before you give them a home. We know that’s the wrong way around now. All the research says you need to start with a roof over your head and have supports built in – a housing first strategy – before you can even begin to address the other issues,” says Lloyd.
Streetohome is currently fundraising for Fire Hall #5. This innovative development involves a partnership with the City of Vancouver and YWCA Metro Vancouver. Supportive housing will be built on the upper floors of an existing fire hall and be designated for single mothers and their children who are fleeing abuse and are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Women – once secure in the new homes – will be provided with support services so they can begin to get their lives and the lives of their children back on track.
Although their impatience is palpable, Lloyd and Heather do see positive progress, “There’s fewer people sleeping on the street and the awareness of the issue has grown. I believe the private, government, and non-profit sectors want to finish the job, and build the infrastructure, so people don’t have to live on the streets, and they can move through the continuum of housing – from shelters and SROs to supportive and commercial housing,” says Lloyd.
As for their commitment to Streetohome, they both say they’re going nowhere anytime soon, “We haven’t solved the problem yet. We want to know how the story ends,” says Heather.
However, they are counting on it not taking another 40 years.