Leaving the Queen Elizabeth Theatre two years ago, a wealthy Vancouver couple saw a youth panhandling and decided they had to do something to help the homeless in the city.
On Friday, the city confirmed the anonymous couple had donated $30-million to pay for the operation of a supportive-housing project at Taylor Manor, a complex built by the city in 1915 to provide housing for low-income seniors. It has been closed since 2000.
Once renovated, the complex named for eight-term mayor Louis Taylor will include 56 residential units. The city is putting up $10-million of the $14-million renovation cost, with other partners helping out as well.
The couple's donation, administered through a foundation, will cover operational costs at the manor.
All this is subject to city council approval of rezoning, which will be considered in the fall. If all goes well, construction would begin in mid-2013 to be ready for occupancy in the winter of 2014 or 2015.
"Everyone thinks you can solve homelessness by building a building. They understood you have to do more to create a 'home' – and they kept using that word," said Councillor Kerry Jang, a member of the majority Vision Vancouver party that has driven a municipal commitment to end street homelessness by 2015.
Mr. Jang says the couple phoned him around the time of the 2010 Winter Olympics to say they wanted to help the city's efforts to end homelessness. They approached him because he had some medical experience: Mr. Jang, a psychologist, is a professor at the University of British Columbia.
Then the donors came to Mr. Jang's office. They said they wanted to make a donation, but it was unclear whether that was a building or some amount of cash.
"When they said the number that was potentially available, that's when I kind of blinked and said, 'Wow. Is this for real?' I listened to them and after they left, I started to do some research on my own given the information I had." Once he realized it was legitimate, he contacted the mayor.
Eventually, the couple toured shelters as part of a process of research, even taking some homeless youth to a White Spot restaurant to learn from their experiences.
When Mr. Jang asked why they wanted to make the donation, the couple told him they were leaving the theatre after a show and saw the dishevelled young man panhandling, and others sleeping on the street.
"They said, 'This isn't right.' That's why they decided to do this."
From there, the donors and Mr. Jang began looking around the city for real-estate options, leading to a discovery in 2011. "We drove around, looking at some places and saw Taylor Manor, and they said, 'That is it.'"
On reflection, they said they wanted to finance the operations, he said.
Mr. Jang was protective of the anonymity of the donors. Asked if they could afford the donation, he said they had a simple answer: "'[We] have enough money and the children have enough money.'"
Mr. Jang said he hopes the charity is an inspiration to others in Vancouver. "I am hoping this is the start of a trend because there are wealthy philanthropists out there."