What I learned from the effort of seeking novel solutions

28 07 2009

By: Arita Liu

First of all, this Social Innovation course opens up a door for me to see a different world, which otherwise could never come across my life. While I have been aware there are all kinds of social problems, it never occurred to me that I could have a chance to deal with some of them in depth and try to come up with solutions to help. The guest speakers, who are the experts dedicated to solving various social problems, brought me much insights into those issues. It is a valuable chance to be able to share their knowledge and experiences. They are admirable in their brilliance and persistent efforts in trying to making this world a better place.

Working on the issue of homelessness has been an especially valuable experience. I get to understand better the causes of homelessness and how groups of people have been working hard against difficulties to help the homeless persons. The more I know about this issue, the more problems as well as opportunities reveal themselves: lack of funding, federal and provincial policies on tax credit, economic incentives, social stigma, physical and psychological drawbacks all came to board at different levels of the process. The width and depth of the issues  that we need to research into and tackle with make the experience a bit frustrating and stressful, as we were trying to explore into the fields where we have little knowledge of. However, it was also a perfect learning process. I think my research ability is much better, and I learned to critically think about the issue by addressing its different facets and seeking information from various sources. What makes the experience more enjoyable is the fact that people do care about what we are doing and are more than willing to provide help.

I also learned from my teammates, who are intelligent, enthusiastic and supportive. The model is the result of our collective efforts and the combination of the skills from each of us. Our professor has always been there for us, which makes the entire process a lot more easier. Sincere thanks to everyone who have been involved and kindly offered help.

Coming up with a novel solution turned out to be hard, but not impossible. This course is precious in that it initiates us into a journey of seeking novel solutions and learning in the process, not only learning knowledge, but also the society and people.


What a Journey it Has Been…

28 07 2009

by: Jackie Go

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

I would like to reflect and share some of the amazing things I have learned during our social innovation course as we developed a solution to homelessness. I have learned so much about the complexities of social problems, the many different perspectives that each person can have on an issue, and I have been hugely inspired by the many people I have met who are  committed to making a difference in their community.

I think it’s really interesting how life sometimes leads you in a certain direction and I find that I was really pushed to explore the homeless issue more this semester. I have always been interested in working to solve homelessness and was the coordinator of the Cold Wet Weather Shelter Program in the first year of its operation at Coquitlam Alliance Church in the winter of 2007.  After that I lived and studied in Vienna, Austria for one year and when I came back to SFU to finish my last term of university, I had no idea that this social innovation course would teach me so much about business, social issues, and how to make change happen. Ever since choosing to explore the issue of homelessness once again in my life, I feel so thankful for the many people who have given their feedback and helped us develop our idea. Our professor helped us get connected with homeless advocates, I knew several from my work with the Cold Weather Program and the more I delved into the project, the more names and people I recognized. I have realized how small a community can really be – especially when we started meeting various members of the community to get feedback on our project. We heard about the Port Coquitlam Mayor’s Action Team on Homelessness (MATH) and when I looked on the list of members, I realized that one of them was one of my high school teachers! What a small world it is indeed, and I was luckily able to make contact with him and invite him to our final class presentation as well. So I have definitely learned about the power of personal networks and networking in order to broaden our reach and get feedback from as many different perspectives as well. I am interested in pursuing a career in corporate social responsibility, and this project has taught me a lot about stakeholder engagement, and the different needs and desires that each unique stakeholder has with regards to their interest in the homelessness issue – from outreach workers interested in getting people out of homelessness, to bankers who want to ensure the financial viability of the project, to potential property investors who want to know how they can get a return on their investment.

One thing that really impressed me was the desire to help the homeless that came from each person that we asked feedback from. I definitely see potential for us to develop a solution using the knowledge and skills of a community of people who want to help the homeless. Creating a link between the different stakeholders and creating a platform for dialogue and sharing ideas in order to develop, modify, and customize the model has been an exciting journey and I hope to continue it as we take advantage of the connections which have already been made. Thank you to everyone for following our blog – your support and encouragement have been invaluable.

Life Lessons and Beyond

27 07 2009

by: John Gill

The last six weeks has made me frustrated, sad and enthusiastic all at the same time. To come up with a novel solution to the Homelessness issue in the Tri-Cities was quite demanding.

I learned that in Theory an idea may sound fiscally sound and feasible, but when you actually put the pen to the paper there is a lot of planning involved and obstacles to overcome. Having met with various professional in the field such as outreach workers, investors, and city councilors each provided valuable feedback and insight, but along with a new set of questions and concerns. This usually led us back to the drawing board to come up with better solutions or alternatives to satisfy all parties concerns.

I found that whenever a new problem arises, having an open discussion within your team tends to lead to greater ideas; this is where true collaboration occurs.  One key thing I learned is that a problem needs to be looked at from all angles, it may sound simple but when you talk to each stakeholder and dig deeper, you tend to get more questions and ideas from their point of view.

Another thing that I found very interesting was that to propose this model to landlords.
We would need to meet them in person and provide them with specifics and clear up any preconceptions. Although this is a huge obstacle I see it overcome with persistence.
A model like this cannot be explained through the phone or via emails.

I found out that although many landlords would like to help, it just seems like a risk to them to house a homeless individual. It is understandable they have many concerns and we as a group will have to address them because after all they are opening their home to a stranger, even if it is for rent.

Overall, I learned that sometimes a simple solution has many complicated steps involved and requires you to think outside of the box. At times it gets discouraging thinking our ideas will not be implemented or feasible at all, but if you reach out and talk to different individuals, I found that there was always a different way to look at a problem and come up with a solution collectively. Indeed the last six weeks has taught me a lot about the social problems in my neighborhood and a deeper appreciation of individuals working to make a better society.

Lastly, I would like to thank all the individuals that helped us along this project and all the feedback that we received on our blog!

Key Learning’s – Hannah

27 07 2009

By: Hannah Kim

Over the last six weeks, the most valuable lessons that I have learned come from the various community stakeholders I have spoken to about the homelessness issue in the Tri-Cities as well as my team’s giving circle model of funding supported housing. Taking all of their feedback together, the biggest lesson of all would be that developing, testing, and implementing a social innovation that addresses the needs and concerns of all of these community groups is a task that takes time, perseverance, and conviction in the solution.

Here are the comments and questions that I will take to heart the most in order to improve our model.

Peter Kobayashi, Port Coquitlam Branch Manager, G&F Financial Group:

  • Decide on who will actually be taking out the mortgage from a bank. Will it be the foundation or the group of investors?
  • Prepare a budget for the program to show its viability

Linda Reimer, Councillor, City of Coquitlam:

  • Participation of provincial and federal governments is needed at some point, since housing is in their jurisdiction (in terms of funding)
  • Consider a more permanent housing for homeless clients than a 6 – 12 month period

Erin Ireland, REACH Program Coordinator, Buxton Consulting:

  • Get homeless clients involved in repairing and refurbishing the supported housing units
  • Hiring the homeless to paint/repair/refurbish the supported housing units is an incentive for them to participate in the program as tenants

Ian Duke, VP of Corporate Development, Onni Group of Companies:

  • Exit strategy for investors may be tough
  • Best approach may be to focus more on the philanthropic (with charitable status) approach than the pure investment/return model. A charitable fund that acquires and manages housing units for the purposes of providing homes for the homeless. Donations could be made anonymously or on a named basis. This deviates from the ‘giving circle’ model you’ve outlined, but helps to obviate the need for a profitable exit strategy.

What I have Learnt – Ryan Chahl

27 07 2009

This project has been a very big part of my life for the past six weeks. It has provided me with the opportunity to meet many interesting people and I have learned a great deal from them. The biggest change for me was my view of the homeless. Instead of ignoring them, I will approach them and talk to them. Most of the time they enjoy just the simple experience of someone being civil with them.

I have also learned a vast amount about the real estate market, thanks to our realtors who we have been in contact with. Not only this I have had the chance to experience ideas about why people invest in certain projects and more importantly why they would choose not to invest!

Another eye opener for me was the vast network of people who are already working on the homless situation in Vancouver. All of these people are very willing to help and this has made our project far more feasable than I ever could have imagined. I would personally like to thank everyone we have met and for all of their support. I hope this project can carry on and something good can come of it.

Craigslist Housing Search Response

27 07 2009

By: John Gill

One approach our group took to find housing for the homeless was through Craigslist.

Craigslist being the online version of a newspaper lists available homes to rent and homes for sale. What we hoped to achieve by contacting these individuals was that we could get a sense of the availability of homes in the Tri-Cities areas and listen to some of the landlords main concerns first hand.

Four people were emailed and their responses are as follow:

2 said No.

1 Said that she was looking for students only.

1 is no response.

Eight people were contacted by phone and their responses are as follow:

5 said definite No’s and that they were looking for couples or full time students as renters.

1 had no comment

2 Individual’s requested additional information, such as if a premium was offered and if a recognized charity would be on the rental agreement as well? They were quite receptive to the idea of the Church helping out and supplementing the rental rate.

However, they also listed some additional concerns:

If the homeless individuals were unemployed again, what would happen? What are the services that will help them and how will they help and monitor them? is it going to be like a half way house? Will social workers come and go often? Will they attract other homeless individuals to stay at the suite? What will happen if they start to use drugs and alcohol again? Who would they call if there was a problem with the tenant?  What if damages were caused to the suite, who would be liable? What about landlord’s safety, if they have a issue with the tenant, what should they do? What steps would they (landlord) have to take to evict the homeless? Are they stuck with them for a long period of time? Are there any special tenancy contract that needs to be filled out?  Mainly they were concerned with the legal aspects of housing a homeless and if by allowing this pilot study are they committing themselves for an indefinite time frame.

The idea of having to evict the homeless seemed problematic to the landlords as they have the perception that the current laws and tenancy boards are usually heavily favoring the tenants, not the landlords. So they are extremely careful on the types of people they rent their suites out to. Another aspect that was difficult to overcome what the initial stigma of being homeless, what and why they were homeless was often brought up in the conversations. It was difficult to explain and trying to change people’s mind on their own prejudices and preconceived notions on why people were living on the streets.

From this small sample size it seems that landlords have some common conditions that need to be met before they would consider renting to a homeless individual.

1)      Preferably employed, if not on government assistance.

2)      Criminal and Background check needs to be provided

3)      Tenants must not be addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

4)      List of requirements and who is going to oversea such tasks.

5)      Church/Charity/Government agency co-signing for the tenants and being on the rental agreement.

6)      Church/charity/ government agency that will pay for damages incurred in the suite.

7)      Assurance on how to evict tenants if need be.

8)      Lawyer’s drawing up binding contracts that protect the interest of Landlords.

9)      Services such as home renovation and tax exemptions’ needs to be approved before hand.

10) They have to interview the tenant and have the final say of


The landlords understand that there is a fine line of respecting the privacy of tenants and being overly controlling. But it seemed they were especially concerned about homeless individual peer’s visiting and bunk in their suites. Also, if they start to sell drugs out of their basement suites was a enormous concern.

It seems there is a huge ignorance gap between landlords and the awareness of the profile of a homeless person. The common connotation is that they are drug and alcohol users and that is why they are on the streets still exists. It feels like landlords view renting to homeless a huge risk rather than an incentive. So if we could outline or provide some sort of additional landlord benefits, it would help a long way to convincing them to consider renting to a homeless individual.

3 Variants of the Giving Circle

26 07 2009

By: Hannah Kim

For clarification, I would like to distinguish between three variants of the giving circle that are at the centre of our Homeless Sponsorship Model.

Investment Giving Circles

As explained in previous posts, the 5 investors in this type of giving circle pool their dollars for a down payment on a property unit that is rented to 2 – 3 homeless clients. The collective rent paid by the tenants (using their social assistance housing allowance of $375/month per person) will cover the bare minimum monthly costs, such as mortgage payments and property taxes. Investors receive a moderate ROI as property is an appreciating asset. Potential additional incentives to investors include lower mortgage rate from a local bank, lower taxes and utilities fees from government, and local businesses’ donations of services and in-kind goods for repairing and refurbishing the housing unit at regular intervals.

1) Silent Investors Giving Circle: The investors contribute their dollars towards the down payment, and take a hands-off approach in terms of any interaction with the homeless clients.

2) Hands-On Investors Giving Circle: Members of this giving circle offer their time, talents and skills in addition to capital funds. They may interact with the homeless clients, providing companionship and mentorship; they may bring their own innovative ideas to the Homeless Sponsorship Model using their expertise. This type of giving circle is also a great way for members to network with like-minded investors by volunteering as a group.

3) Donation-Based Giving Circle

Members of this giving circle pool funds to simply subsidize the rent for a homeless client for a designated period of time. This means that we must find an existing landlord who is willing to rent empty space (e.g. basement suite, apartment suite) to homeless people.