A bold announcement to build 1000 new units of supportive housing in Vancouver was made this week.  One commentator called it the biggest drive to build social housing in a generation.The details are of course important but how it came together is more instructive for those interested in addressing the causes of social and environmental problems instead of only managing their effects.

First the details: eight new housing projects for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness; an ambitious 3 year time frame; $205 Million contribution from the BC Government; $20 Million from the business/philanthropy sector; land from the City of Vancouver valued at $32 Million; eleven non profit housing providers.  A key innovation is the recognition that housing by itself is not a solution.  Supports that make a house a home and give people a sense of belonging are as important as the physical structure.

The artistry behind this announcement is as fascinating as getting
inside the heads of Michelangelo or Leonardo as they launched the
Renaissance in Florence.  If we are to tackle tough persistent social challenges we need to be just as innovative about how we do the innovation as we are about finding innovative solutions. 

One of the key players that brought an innovative approach to bear on homelessness is the relatively new Street to Home Foundation. I have been following their creation and evolution for a number of years.  They conceptualized a comprehensive approach to homelessness that moved beyond the provision of housing – an approach with limited success – to include the needed supports to address isolation, addiction, illness and poverty.  They also began convening key players – new and old.  Streetohome
Foundation
is committed  to bringing together government,
business, citizens and non profits.  Read also their Guiding
Principles
if you are interested in how they balance addressing the immediate while going 'up stream' and breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Here are some of the elements used to ' stir it up' in Vancouver yesterday. These principles are universal and apply to other challenges and other jurisdictions:

Partnering Across Sectors: in this case the BC Government ; the City of Vancouver; businesses like Vancity; the Vancouver Foundation; Vancouver Police Department; non profits; individuals.  Have a look at Street to Home's Board of Directors.  These are not just your usual players addressing social solutions.

Leveraging: Combining existing resources in creative ways to attract new resources and leverage existing ones. This included the City of Vancouver providing the land; the BC Government coordinating various Ministries to build the housing and provide the supports; philanthropists ; non profit housing providers; and Street to Home. 

Re-framing: There is a big difference between creating homes and building housing.  Re-framing assists in focusing on the tangibles and intangibles that turn houses into homes.  And that surely is what  everyone wants including those who are homeless.

Convening: we should never underestimate the value of bringing existing and new players together to nurture trust, respect, and innovative solutions.

Non-partisanship: It was heartening to note politicians from different levels and different loyalties past and present came to together or were acknowledged at the press conference. 

Change that combines these elements accelerates, leverages and multiplies individual, organizational and sectoral contributions. 

There is a back story to this announcement.  I have met many of the individuals involved in this initiative.  Their involvement has been a labour of love.  It was characterized by humility – what we have been doing has not worked?; By curiosity – what do we need to learn to make sure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past?; By boldness – let's respond to everyone who is homeless in Vancouver AND address the root causes; By perspective – they're in it for the long haul.  What has taken generations to develop will not be undone overnight or in one year; By collaboration – let's put aside our differences to make a difference; By stirring it up – let's mix, blend, create, in ways we've never imagined; By action – the time for talking and piece meal solutions is over..

Could this point the way to a renaissance in how we tackle the persistent social and environmental challenges of the 21st century?   Will Vancouver be the new Florence? Or will your city take the lead?

One Comment

  1. Sean Moore

    Excellent piece. What an excellent story for a case study.

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