Many women are fleeing domestic violence, living in poverty – and that means living on the streets, with their children. Homeward Bound, a program by WoodGreen Community Services, changes all that – and gives a new life for them and their children. A new study shows that this program is working. Ed Clark, former CEO of TD Bank, and long-time supporter of WoodGreen’s Homeward Bound program speaks with Kim Parlee about its success.
Many of these women are fleeing domestic violence, living in poverty, and that means living on the streets with their children. Homeward Bound changes all that. It gives these women a chance for a new story, a new way of life for them and their children. And WoodGreen just released a study showing that this program is working, and it's working really well.
I spoke with Ed Clark. He's the former CEO TD Bank and a longtime supporter of WoodGreen's Homeward Bound program. And here is that conversation.
I want to start with your involvement. How did you get involved with Homeward Bound?
Well, you know, at one stage in our life, Fran and I sort of said, well, we're giving money away. But I think we're giving it to what other people want to do with their money, not what we want to do. And we should try to figure out something to say what would we like to focus. And so we focused on homelessness.
And Anne Golden had done a report on homelessness. And we said, well, that's a good place to be. I'd like to work on something that other people aren't that interested in but actually is very meaningful to us.
And so I did a kind of unusual thing, because I thought, well, why don't I take and treat this like a business? So I put a call for proposals and said I'll give a million dollars to any agency that can come forth with a really good idea. And WoodGreen came forth, and they were clearly head and shoulders above everyone else.
I mean, they have a great combination of a huge heart but really great business skills. So they got the discipline but the big heart. And then they had a whole range of capabilities they could bring. And so then, fundamentally, they pitched the idea as-- could we permanently get women who are in shelters out of shelters, out of the welfare trap, and start their lives all over again?
I want to I touch a bit on that discipline you talked about. Because I think it's one thing to wish to want a problem to go away. It's another for them to actually say, here's the ingredients, for lack of a better word, to make that. What do they do?
Well, they do have all these different capabilities that they can bring. Because that was the theory is, as you worked through, what would it actually take? And the truth is that it took us some time to learn what to do. I mean, the basic program is the women come in. We built them a very nice apartment building. We now have two of them.
So they have a place to live.
So they have a place to live that gave them an apartment that was better than what the welfare rent, whatever, normally paid for. We had daycare and child support programs. We paid for their college tuition and their books and transportation costs. And then over time we learned, OK, but their kids also need tutoring, because they've often been moved around, and they were falling behind in schools. So then we added that. So we keep modifying the program.
And what's great about WoodGreen, and I'd say, well, what about doing that? Oh, yep. We can do that. And so as we found things that made a difference to our success rate, they were able to adapt the program to supply it.
At the same time, you know, they were very supportive of the women, but they also said you got to play by the program here. If you're not going to invest in it, we're not going to invest in you. So they had that great combination.
Yeah. A bit of accountability to be, look, here's the resources. And here's what we're asking at the same time.
You know, it's an incredible program. And every time I talk about this, every time I even read the brochure, I actually tear up. So my job at this conversation is not to tear up right now. I know when some of these women get through the program, you have a graduation ceremony, I know, for many of them. Tell me what those are like.
Well, you definitely tear up. I mean, everybody is crying as they go through this because the women describe the journey that they went through. And I'd say the fundamental message that comes through is that they were beaten down. In many cases, you know, they did actually suffer abuse. But what was really beaten down was their spirit, their sense of self worth, their confidence.
And so what the program does, if it does one thing, is it says, we have your back. We believe in you. We are going to support you to get through this program. And you hear them turn themselves around. And they describe how they feel about themselves now and how they felt before they went into the program, and how their kids will feel about the kids themselves and about their mother having gone through this experience. And it just-- it brings you to your tears.
Can you tell me-- I know that you've worked and have been working with some of these women yourself, quite closely. Any particular stories that stand out to you?
Yeah. Well, I mean, I remember one when we first built the building, and we were touring with one of the people we were going to take here, one of the places. And they walked in the apartment. And they looked, and they said, it has a closet. I have never had a closet in my life. My mother was on welfare. We lived in shelters. So this is the first time in my life that I had a closet. And you just sit there and say, wow.
Another example, one woman said, you know, I got tired of making stupid decisions. And when I got tired of making stupid decisions, I could get into your program and turn my life around.
You know, it's resilience at a whole different level. And I don't think people-- I mean, to break that cycle of poverty, which is, you know, talk about having a closet for the first time. I mean, it takes so much work.
So the reason-- part of the reason we're talking today is because WoodGreen has come out with a study talking about the results and the successes of some of the program. And I want to run through some of these numbers because they're fantastic. You know, they're just great. So they worked with a number of graduates. I think they surveyed 50 graduates. And these are people who had come through the program two years ago. I'll run through a few.
So shelter situations, where they're living, before, 46% of the people, the women, were homeless. After, 92% were either living in rentals, subsidized housing, and 5% own their own homes.
Yeah. It's terrific.
It's just amazing.
Yeah. Education-- 68% had a high school education or less. At graduation, 100% have a college degree.
Employment-- this is a big one. 94% unemployed.
6% employed. 87% employed afterwards.
Yeah. Right. Exactly.
And finally, income-- I think before, 90% were getting their income from Ontario Works, those types of things. After the fact, you know, about $43,000 per year was the average with benefits.
These are incredible numbers.
Yes. Yes. And again, it's because, I think, you had this kind of comprehensive-- as I say, we were finding that the students were having-- the kids were having trouble in school. So that's when we started the tutoring program. So every time-- we actually were very disciplined-- and that's-- WoodGreen is fantastic that way. And so every time a woman failed, we'd say, OK, we've got to go through our whole program and say why did she fail. Because that means we failed, because that's what we're trying to do.
I think another feature of the program that's quite unique is we guarantee them a job. So as they're going through this, we say, we'll get you a job. And so we set up an Industry Council of companies that said, we're committed. People can do-- they work their summers at the different companies. They get training. They actually-- for many of these women, they would not have actually held a job before. And so you have to train, as you know.
Yeah. Learn how to work in a work environment.
But because they knew we would get them a job at the end, I think that makes it a tremendous incentive to finish it. And then you end up getting these kind of results.
The one number here, too, and again, this is more, I'll say, a kind of a policy number versus the kind of the day-to-day stuff. But I remember when we talked about this program, you had Boston Consulting Group coming in, something called social return on capital. So every dollar you spend, what is that, first of all? What does that mean, the social return capital?
Yes. Basically you look at what would have it cost if they had-- the women had continued to be in the situation they were. What would the welfare cost be, all the costs incurred. Then what did we spend? And what you found originally, I think it was $4 for every dollar we spent, the government, in effect, got $4.
Which is great.
And now they're going to get $6.
So this is--
As we've got better at doing the program and our success rates got better, we increased that number by 50%.
So I guess, last question for you is incredible program, great results. You've had, I think, it's 251 children go through, 394 children looking at the numbers. And then you kind of see, OK, there's still, I saw, there's 1,000 mother-led families in shelters in Toronto today still. What do you want to see happen now?
Yeah. So I think, first off, I think when Fran and I got into this, you know, if we had said, oh, you could change 650 lives, we'd say that's pretty amazing That is an unbelievable thing. But you're not curing world poverty, you're making a little dent. And I think what we were trying to do is to say, OK, this kind of regime can work.
You actually can change people's lives in this way. So we're hoping across the province that other people will say, well, why don't I get involved in this? Why don't we have a Homeward Bound in all the major cities in Ontario?
And certainly for Homeward Bound, what I've said to WoodGreen, I'm certainly up to say, well, let's build another. Let's have a third building. Let's add and show that you can keep scaling this program up.
And thank you.
Well, it looks as though Ed Clark is getting his wish, as well as a whole lot of women as well. We have some good news. Brigette Chang-Addorisio, who is the daughter of the late Raymond Chang, is committing $1 million-- this is just coming out now-- to Homeward Bound on International Women's Day to inspire investment from public and private sector into programs that are really, truly breaking the cycle of poverty. Women investing in women on International Women's Day.