The Streetohome Model to Combat Homelessness

Jan 14, 2016

Everyone should have a home. It’s what is right, and what our community wants. To bring this basic truth to life, Streetohome Foundation was founded in 2008 as a partnership between the Vancouver Foundation, the City of Vancouver, and the Province of British Columbia. The foundation’s model is to find solutions for homelessness in Vancouver by helping create safe, decent, affordable housing for those on the streets and those at risk in the city. Streetohome’s role is to work with the community to increase permanent, supportive housing and create social change that will help prevent homelessness and improve quality of life. Streetohome began with a 10-year plan, a $200M commitment from the province, land from the City, and a promise that it would kick in $26M from private sector donations. Since it was established, it has funded 19 supportive housing projects throughout the City and directly helped more than 2,000 vulnerable individuals.

As the lead for fundraising, Radcliffe founder Frank Giustra donated $5 million to the campaign. In 2012, he was also quick to provide capital funding for the Vancouver Rent Bank, which provides short-term interest-free loans for those at risk of eviction or utility cut-off. His involvement has taught him many lessons. One of the first was that homelessness is a complex issue and there are many different reasons people become homeless, including mental illness. “I understood for the first time that the homeless were on the street because they didn’t have the capacity to care for themselves,” Mr. Giustra says. “So, you couldn’t just put them in housing and expect them to do well, because they need supports to help them manage.” Only robust partnerships can navigate these complicated waters. “We looked at what other jurisdictions were doing, and one of the key lessons we learned was that if there was going to be a workable solution, it had to start with public/private partnerships. It had to be a collaborative effort with the nonprofits who were already working in the field and knew what they were doing, with the City, and with the provincial government,” he says. Frank Giustra has taken that lesson on the value of strategic partnerships to many of the Radcliffe Foundation’s philanthropic activities.

“If you want to do something effectively, you have to bring in all the partners who have a stake in the issue, so they can each do their part. It’s the approach we’ve taken to help Syrian refugees fleeing civil war to Lesbos, Greece. We can be so much more effective by engaging in partnerships than trying to do it on our own.” “When you see people suffering, and you hear their stories firsthand - whether it’s the homeless, refugees, people living in poverty in Latin America, or young boys who need mentors because their parents are alcoholics, or they’re deeply troubled - you can’t help but be drawn in, and want to make a difference.”

Background: The work of Streetohome is based on similar models that have successfully reduced homelessness in other cities such as Calgary, Toronto, Portland and New York. Its 10-year plan to break the cycle of homelessness is based on three key goals:

  1. Prioritize homes, not shelters The cost to our social services and health care system of caring for a homeless person on the street is estimated to be $55,000 a year, compared to only $37,000 when housing is provided with supportive services.
  2. Anticipate who is vulnerable Research shows that children who grow up in families that experience homelessness are more likely to become homeless themselves as youth or adults. Many such children end up in foster care and youth raised in foster care have a higher likelihood of ending up homeless.
  3. Motivate community involvement This is not a problem limited to homeless people. The entire community suffers the costs of homelessness through health and shelter costs, crime, and the loss of valuable citizens. We must motivate the public to donate to this cause and to speak up to break the cycle of homelessness.

The Streetohome Foundation is making sure to fulfill its promise to the community that it would measure and share its achievements each year. Read its annual reports to learn more about the foundation’s impact on the city.