At Funders Together, we make it a goal to share the work of funders across the country so you can learn what's working and adapt these strategies to your own community. One way we do that is through our Featured Members. Some are featured because of their innovative grantmaking. Others are featured because they are making connections and bringing new people into the conversation about ending and preventing homelessness. Still others are featured because they are challenging the very systems that allow homelessness to persist. In each case, our Featured Members are an integral part of the solution to homelessness.
Since 2009, The Home Depot Canada Foundation has helped improve hundreds of homes and communities across Canada. The Foundation works to end youth homelessness and focus on supporting housing initiatives that benefit Canadian youth because safe, stable, affordable housing matters. It is the cornerstone of vibrant, strong communities and is directly linked to helping youth realize their full potential and build brighter futures.
We spoke to Amanda Cornelisse, Community Affairs Manager, about the Foundation's focus on youth homelessness in Canada and their response to the issue through The Orange Door Project.
1. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today! Could you explain a little bit about The Home Depot Canada Foundation and in what capacity it is involved in homelessness issues?
Amanda Cornelisse (AC): You’re welcome!
The Home Depot Canada Foundation believes that good neighbours make great neighbourhoods. We are dedicated to sharing our time, knowledge and resources to support affordable housing and build strong communities for Canadians in need. Our primary focus is supporting initiatives that help put an end to youth homelessness.
2. You are heavily involved in supporting initiatives and programs that are working to end youth homelessness. What lead the foundation to this focus area?
AC: In 2011, our colleagues at The Home Depot Foundation (based in Atlanta, GA) shifted their focus to supporting housing for military veterans. That got us thinking about what the focus of our work should be here in Canada.
We researched a number of demographics to determine where the greatest need existed, and were startled to learn about the growing incidence of youth homelessness.
We recognized that if we could help young people get the support they needed in a timely manner, we could ensure they didn’t become chronically homeless.
3. As a corporate foundation, what is your grantmaking strategy when providing funds to these programs and initiatives? Which grants have proved to have the most impact?
AC: The Home Depot Canada Foundation provides support to our national partners and other registered Canadian charities that share our commitment to developing affordable housing and completing community improvement projects that make lasting physical improvements to the neighbourhoods we serve.
Of course, we give funding priority to projects that benefit youth experiencing homelessness. This includes repairs, refurbishments and/or modifications to housing accommodations or other support facilities that benefit homeless youth (i.e. shelters, transitional homes, job banks, drop-in centres). Common projects include window replacement, weatherizing, painting, enhancements to the outdoor landscape (i.e. trees, gardens, seating areas), lighting or fixture upgrade projects, insulation improvements, small kitchen or washroom renovations.
No one grant has a greater impact over any other as the requests we receive are unique and offer benefits to the recipients.
4. Could you speak to the foundation’s The Orange Door Project?
AC: The Orange Door Project is The Home Depot Canada Foundation’s response to one of the most urgent social issues facing Canadians today – youth homelessness.
A design agency came up with the design and tagline to illustrate what we do and who we help. The orange door is symbolic of positivity and hope; the colour radiates warmth and offers emotional strength. And the opening door represents new opportunity/potential, the crossing of a threshold, a new start towards a brighter future.
This initiative comes out of our three-year, $10-million pledge to support long-term solutions that will help to put an end to youth homelessness in Canada.
It has led us to collaborations with Eva’s Initiatives which lead to the development of the A Way Home coalition as well as Impakt Corp and Workpolis to support the development and launch of HireUp, the only national hiring portal dedicated to helping employers hire youth who've experienced homelessness.
5. What were some of the opportunities and challenges you’ve experienced with this initiative? What strategies have you been using to make sure this project is successful?
AC: The Orange Door Project has allowed the Foundation to generate awareness about and demonstrate our commitment to the urgent, social issue of youth homelessness amongst The Home Depot Canada’s suppliers, customers and associates.
It has also provided great opportunity to build relationships with (and learn from) sector leaders and youth-serving organizations (YSO) who provide essential services to youth experiencing homelessness every day.
Through our programs, we interact with sector leaders, YSO’s, youth with lived experience of homelessness and other businesses providing support in this area, and this helps us determine what role we can best play in ending youth homelessness.
Our biggest challenge is that we want to do more (raise awareness, provide funding, etc.) but are limited by our available resources.
6. Advocacy can seem a bit untouchable to many funders. What role does advocacy play at The Home Depot Canada Foundation?
AC: Our work is focused on building awareness, raising funds and delivering our programs (i.e. grant programs) rather than targeted advocacy efforts. However, we do support our partners in their advocacy efforts where it makes sense. For example, we support the efforts of the A Way Home coalition and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, two organizations actively engaged in advocacy for the cause.
7. What advice would you offer to other corporate foundations who are just starting to focus on homelessness? Where do you suggest they start?
AC: It is essential to ‘learn the landscape.’ This starts with building strong relationships with those who know the sector most. Talk to them about existing gaps and what resources you have to offer so you can build out an effective plan to address them.
8. How can groups like Funders Together support the work of foundations like yours?
AC: Funders Together can help generate awareness about the work of the Foundation (i.e. mention key initiatives/programs in social media feeds, etc) and create forums for funders to discuss innovative ideas and/or opportunities for collaboration. It is through collaboration that we will move to a future without homelessness sooner rather than later!
Interested in past featured member profiles? Check out our archive here.
Photo from The Home Depot Canada Foundation