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BC Premier Gordon Campbell, John McLern with Street to Home and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson during an announcement regarding new supportive housing units for the homeless in Vancouver May 25, 2010.John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail

Four years ago, Vancouver mining magnate Frank Giustra got a suggestion from local minister Tom Cooper that he think about the city's homeless situation if he was looking for a place to focus his charity.

"He was trying to think through what was the best way to do this," said Mr. Cooper, who then helped link up Mr. Giustra, famous internationally for his contributions to former U.S. president Bill Clinton's charitable endeavours in Africa and elsewhere, with former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan to talk about homelessness.

On Tuesday, Mr. Giustra showed one of the best ways he had figured out to help, with a personal contribution of $5-million through his Radcliffe Foundation to create housing for the homeless.

His donation will kick off the first two projects in an unprecedented, $225-million social-housing construction binge in Vancouver, reported on Monday in The Globe and Mail, aimed at housing 1,000 of the city's poorest.

His contribution is also intended to be the spur for another $20-million in private contributions that he'll be raising as campaign chair of the Streetohome Foundation, the group of business leaders who came together with Mr. Giustra to look for ways to solve homelessness.

That additional private money will get another six social-housing projects off the ground in the next three years.

The private contributions are said to have helped convince the Liberal cabinet to come in with $200-million of government money for the eight projects, the biggest expenditure any regional government had made on housing in years.

Mr. Giustra was absent, as is his style, from the news conference where Premier Gordon Campbell and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson unveiled the projects that will also benefit from $32-million in city land.

But he did provide a statement, saying he'd made the commitment because the issue was personally important to him.

"Every night, thousands of men, women and children in Vancouver live without a basic necessity most of us take for granted," said Mr. Giustra, who researched the issue at one point by going out on a midnight walk with the city's homeless specialist, Judy Graves.

He was also present in the minds of many there.

"He is a real believer and strong supporter and it's great to see a clear demonstration of that commitment that's helped to catalyze this deal closing," said Mr. Robertson, who picked up the torch from previous mayor Sam Sullivan in maintaining close ties with Mr. Giustra on the city's homelessness initiatives.

The foundation is hoping to raise the additional $20-million over the next couple of years, said Streetohome honorary chair John McLernon at the announcement. Mr. Giustra will be joined by Intracorp CEO Joe Houssian, Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman, Business Council of B.C. CEO Virginia Greene, and Carraresi Foundation director Penny Nardelli in raising the money, along with leaders at the Vancouver Foundation.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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