Cornerstone Housing for Women is closing in on a $1.9-million campaign to put a safe, affordable roof in Westboro over the heads of 42 homeless women or women at-risk of homelessness.
But, with $300,000 still needed before it can officially call it a wrap, the charity held a special reception Thursday for invite-only guests at the scenic headquarters of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. It's a gorgeous spot, located along the Ottawa River, with the Embassy of France and Rideau Falls as its neighbours.
Organizers were hoping that the gathering — which didn't cost Cornerstone anything — would bring in enough donations that night to finish off their campaign. "It looks promising," the charity's resource development manager, Jessie-Lee Wallace, told OBJ.social the next day.
Philanthropist Paul LaBarge, a tax lawyer and partner at LaBarge Weinstein LLP, co-hosted the event with Joanne Livingston and Alan MacDonald, who are vice presidents and portfolio managers together at RBC Wealth Management.
Attendees included Jean Chrétien, 84. The former Liberal prime minister, who was invited by LaBarge, was seen shaking hands and chatting with others while he was there. Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty also attended, as one of MacDonald's guests.
Seen by OBJ.social for the third time in a week was Emond Harnden LLP co-founding partner Jacques Emond. His firm has been sponsoring a lot of charity events as of late, including the previous night’s NAC Gala.
Cornerstone, which has been around for more than 30 years, helps some 500 women every year. It's still not able to fully meet demands, though.
The community organization keeps women off the streets or out of abusive homes by providing them with emergency shelter and supportive and affordable housing. Its new project, at 373 Princeton Ave. in Westboro, is a lovely redeveloped residence of a building once owned by a Catholic order of nuns, the sisters of Jeanne D'Arc. The facility, which has received funding from all three levels of government, will provide small bachelor apartments for 42 women who can live on their own, with some support. Ten per cent of the units are earmarked for Indigenous women.
LaBarge — who is also board chair of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute — explained how he came to support Cornerstone after looking to donate to a cause that supports disadvantaged women.
"It came as a result of a conversation with my wife, who said we need to do something for women in our community as part of our charitable giving," said LaBarge.
"The resources that are available for homeless women are very limited and it's not, quite frankly, a charity that many people focus on. I was impressed by how low their cost of fundraising was and how effective they are with what they do for this community."
The event was emceed by CazaSaikaley LLP partner Katie Black. It was surprising to learn that Black, who formerly clerked for now-retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and is a past recipient of the CCLA’s Gordon F. Henderson Award, is a survivor of domestic violence, experienced in her early 20s. “I can personally attest to the transformative power of being in a space where you are not afraid,” she told the room.
The cost of providing supportive housing to a homeless woman is $115 a day, compared to the $500 daily expense of having that same woman in jail or the $1,000-per-day cost of being in the hospital, she told the room.
The 60 or so attendees learned, via an insightful video, that many clients arrive to Cornerstone after having gone through some of the darkest days of their lives. There was one story of a former homeless woman-turned-Cornerstone client who shared a sleeping bag with someone one bitterly cold winter night, only to find he had frozen to death by morning. One woman called the charity "a beacon of light in Ottawa for women who have needs and issues” while another said that, without it, she’d “probably be dead”.
Cornerstone is hosting a sold-out event on Wednesday, October 24, to celebrate the milestone opening of its new home on Princeton Avenue. The three-hour party will feature food stations, drinks, live music and models wearing glamorous outfits by Ottawa couturier Frank Sukhoo. He's been a long-time supporter of Cornerstone through his sensational fashion show garden parties held at the official residences of ambassadors and high commissioners.