It was the most expensive lunch Chuck Jeannes ever had, but he was more than happy to pick-up the tab. Five million dollars to be exact.
When Frank Giustra, an industry colleague on the Streetohome Board, asked Chuck to lunch, it was to explain the launch of a unique private/public partnership between Steetohome, the City of Vancouver and the province to address the issue of homelessness in the City.
The goal was ambitious – but if anyone could unite the private sector to get on board, it was Frank, says Chuck. “When he looked me in the eye and told me it was going to happen, I had every certainty that it would.”
“It was a pretty easy sell,” laughs Chuck, of the $5 million gift, which at the time was the second-largest donation in Goldcorp’s history. Goldcorp has an active community investment strategy in each of the communities where it has mining operations. Last year, the company donated well over $1 million per month to communities throughout the Americas.
At home in Vancouver, it had already identified the downtown eastside as a beneficiary of its charitable giving program. Over the last five years, the company has funneled $20 million into one of Canada’s most depressed postal codes to improve education, housing, and mental health and medical service delivery. “Our goal was to focus on a combination of areas – to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate, or unable, due to mental illness or addiction, to take care of themselves.”
Chuck says he was impressed with Streetohome’s innovative model of bringing the private, government and non-profit sectors to the table. “I think if you’re trying to make as significant a change as Streetohome, you have to bring everyone to the table to address the issues. It’s a model that’s certainly worked well and seen great results.”
Since 2008, when Streetohome was formed, it has leveraged more than $28 million in donor dollars to build a wide swath of housing in the city, placing more than 1,700 individuals in safe, supportive housing. And, the job is not done yet. Streetohome continues to look for innovative, cost effective and sustainable housing developments to fund while at the same time focusing on prevention initiatives so that vulnerable individuals do not become homeless in the first place.
Three new innovate supportive housing developments are already well into planning. They include supportive housing for 20 homeless individuals already living in the Grandview Woodlands neighbourhood; the redevelopment of a firehall in the Killarney/Champlain neighbourhood to provide 31 units for single moms and their children fleeing abuse, and a 198 mixed-income building in the downtown eastside with 52 supportive housing units for women-led couples.*
As a business leader, Chuck says, the first step in solving any problem is to say you’re not going to put up with it anymore. Secondly, you determine the strategy. Lastly, you commit to it and you hold yourself accountable to what you said you were going to do. “I appreciate it’s much easier when you’re a single organization with one boss, but essentially the approach is the same with brokered partnerships.”
In the last few years, Chuck has spent a great deal of time speaking with staff, investors, and the public about Goldcorp’s involvement in the downtown east side and he’s still surprised at how many people approach him to say that they have a personal connection to mental illness, addiction, or homelessness, and how much they appreciate Goldcorp’s support in those areas. “These issues just don’t touch the homeless in those few blocks along East Hastings. They stretch community-wide, city-wide, province-wide and country-wide.”
“It can be easy for people to ignore the issue and rationalize that the homeless don’t want to work, that they want to be addicted, and to live on the streets. But, people have real physiological, mental health and addiction issues. If we can help them, and at the same time provide a safe place for them to live, they can work through those issues and eventually become contributing members of society. We can’t just ignore them, by saying they choose to be there,” says Chuck.
Goldcorp’s support of the homeless and their challenges is a long-term commitment. “Our communities take care of our employees and their families – their education, healthcare, social and cultural needs – and we receive benefits that allow us to conduct our business and be successful, so it’s only appropriate that we give a portion of our success back for the benefit of those communities.”