Stephen D’Souza’s focus on helping his community to better address housing and homelessness issues just got sharper.
Participants of the first United Way Public Policy Institute (PPI) celebrated completion of their sessions in June, 2011.
Stephen participated in the Public Policy Institute sessions as Executive Director of Burnaby Community Connections. He worked with public policy experts and others to hone his policy project.
Stephen’s roots in the not-for-profit sector are deep, nurtured by a longstanding family passion for community work. “At a young age I saw my parents volunteering. They taught me how important community is to our life. When I started to look at what I wanted to do career-wise it seemed I was bred for it. It felt right.”
At Burnaby Community Connections, a non-profit society committed to connecting people, services and community since 1971, Stephen and his colleagues know that issues of housing and homelessness are common challenges for many people served by the agency. “Our role takes us across a lot of different sectors. It takes us from childcare, to immigrants to seniors. Housing is an issue across the board.”
While at the United Way Public Policy Institute, Stephen focused on developing a housing strategy covering emergency, transitional, affordable, and market housing options for Burnaby.
“When I started to think about the impact our agency could have strategically moving forward, this is an area where we thought we could really change the dialogue in our community. It had become very entrenched and no one was talking. I thought our agency could bridge that and come forward with solutions that everyone could get behind,” he says.
He also realized that the PPI presented an opportunity to personally develop as an advocate for change. “It came at the right time for me. I applied on a wing and prayer. When I heard back, I was gleefully surprised that I was accepted. I took the opportunity and ran with it and researched this issue with a lot of support from the mentors in the program. I was able to learn so much about housing and homelessness and build what I think is a pretty strong case for solutions in our community.”
At the PPI, Stephen also learned a lot from others. “A number of participants were focusing on housing and homelessness. I got to hear about the issue from across BC and what they were struggling with and what they were doing and the successes they were having. There’s a lot we can do together. The opening up of perspectives was great and I fed off their passion.
“For the last three years it has been hard in this sector. We’ve been fractured, competing against one and other and pulled in so many directions. For six months (at the PPI) as we developed friendships and relationships, we asked, ‘Why aren’t we doing this together? We could be doing this together across many communities through collaborations,’” Stephen says.
He intends to advance policy work on housing and homelessness through the many networks he participates in. For example he is with the Burnaby Board of Trade. It has taken an active role on homelessness. “They’re looking at trying to come up with a Burnaby-based solution,” he says. With the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, representing a group of citizens, service providers, government agencies, he and other members are connected regionally.
Stephen’s participation at the PPI allowed him to explore policy alternatives and approaches. “I understand the process a lot better now. We had been going to the ministers, the mayors, but we didn’t do the research on the people that are going to implement on behalf of the ministers, so that when we go to the ministers or mayors they have a document that they can approach right away.
“For a continuum of housing you need to have a layered approach. You need federal and municipal support but for them it’s a potentially losing cause. You can invest a lot of money and not come up with a result that’s positive. There are a lot of pilot projects that are struggling and there are a lot that are succeeding and I think we need to approach what’s working and look at how we scale it up and move it forward. No one wants to own it. We need to convince them as to why they need to step up. Here’s the benefit, here’s the role you can play and here’s how it’s in your mandate. Let’s do this together,” he says.
Stephen’s advice for anyone considering joining the next PPI sessions: “Be willing to commit your time, your passion, your brainpower. It takes a lot of thinking and listening if you want to get the most out of it.”
Former BC premier Mike Harcourt will be joined by four public policy experts to present 2012 sessions. The non-profit, non-partisan institute is the first of its kind in British Columbia.
Joining Harcourt to present sessions in 2012 are:
• Dr. Liz Whynot, former president of BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre
• Brenda Eaton, chair, BC Housing Management Commission and former Deputy Minister to BC Premier Gordon Campbell; former BC Deputy Minister in Finance and Treasury Board, Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, and Social Services
• Elizabeth Cull, former BC Minister of Health, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations
• Ida Goodreau, former president and CEO Vancouver Coastal Health.
This unique learning opportunity is designed for non-profit organizations grappling with dynamic challenges in social and health services, and, for individuals eager to help change the future by shaping public policy.
Participants will be mentored on an applied project targeting a public policy issue strategically relevant to their organizations.
Sessions will be delivered once a month over a two-day period between January and June 2012. This program is open to participants from across the province. Tuition, accommodation and travel expenses will be subsidized.
With only 25 participants selected, space is limited.