Purple Tie Gala raises funds, awareness for Cornerstone Housing for Women

Signature fundraiser for homeless women in Ottawa draws sold-out crowd to Ottawa Art Gallery venue

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2022-10-02

The foundation beneath Cornerstone Housing for Women got a whole lot stronger on Saturday as a sold-out crowd of 250 supporters turned out to donate, dance and do good — all for a cause that puts a roof over the heads of women at risk of living on the streets.

The Purple Tie Gala was back in person for its first time since 2019, returning to the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Alma Duncan Salon. Its presenting sponsor was once again Joanne Livingston and Alan MacDonald‘s Livingston MacDonald Wealth Management of RBC Dominion Securities.

Radio host Sam Laprade from CityNews Ottawa emceed the event with the show-stopping Joseph Cull (he made his splashy entrance, with Laprade in tow, to the disco classic “I’m So Excited” by The Pointer Sisters). 

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Officially, the evening opened with a land acknowledgment and an eagle song performed by Indigenous elder Irene Compton, co-founder Minwaashin Lodge.

What a bummer for Cornerstone executive director Sarah Davis that she got sick and had to miss the big night, but Amber Bramer, director of development and communications, was there with her volunteer organizing team consisting of Cull, Heidi Rodger and Delan De Silva, senior solutions architect at cloud-software company Snowflake. The evening raised roughly $100,000 with more funds expected through the matching donations campaign that continues, via phone or onine, until Oct. 14th.

The gala featured food, drinks, live and silent auction items, and music from the talented Angelique Francis Band. There were also four artists battling to each complete a painting from scratch within a two-hour period, with the finished artworks sold off to highest bidders. 

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Not lost in the fun and frivolity was the key reason everyone was gathered, and that was to raise money for Cornerstone.

Wendy Muckle, who spoke at the event, is in the process of winding down her nearly 22-year career as executive director of Ottawa Inner City Health. It was interesting to hear her reflect on all that’s been accomplished since her social service organization was first created by groups that serve the homeless. There was more stigma around mental illness in the beginning, she said, and people were literally dying on the streets from AIDS. 

Muckle spoke with passion about the right to housing, of making the community more equitable and more fair for everybody. She also spoke about what it’s been like to spend every day defending people’s basic human rights. “People don’t always agree with our perspective, and it is exhausting; it takes a lot out of us,” she acknowledged.

“But, we also in our world have wins, and one of the things we need to do is hang on to those wins and share those wins with each other. Many of the people in this room know the feeling when you see someone who is contently living in their home after many years of homelessness.”

She brought hope to the room while talking about the experience of watching someone recover from mental illness or substance use, or an individual, who’s faced misery and suffering throughout their life, have a good death, one that’s peaceful and dignified. “It’s always a feeling you can call on when you have those days when your heart is hurting from everything else.”

Muckle said there’s been great progress made. “But there is a long way to go,” she also said, adding that she feels a sense of confidence due to the community’s “refusal to accept the unacceptable”.

“I think we have done a really job of hanging on to our moral outrage. I ask you to remember to be outraged whenever it’s appropriate.”

Cornerstone is a community ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. It began almost 40 years ago as three cots in the basement of All Saints Church in Sandy Hill, said PJ Hobbs, director general of the community ministries for the diocese of Ottawa. 

Today, Cornerstone supports more than 600 women and gender-diverse people every year. The organization runs a 61-bed emergency shelter on O’Connor Street and four supportive housing locations for women who have experienced homelessness. It plans to open a fifth facility at 44 Eccles Dr. in early 2024. It will house another 46 women.

Hobbs spoke about how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has been on Cornerstone staff and residents. It saw a 102-per-cent-increase in women needing shelter over the pandemic and, in June, suffered a fire at its Booth Street residence.

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The crowd heard life-changing stories from Cornerstone women, including one client, Brenda, who went from panhandling and living on the streets to bringing stability back into her life through supportive housing at Cornerstone. “I had a home and I was safe and I was okay.”

In the crowd were numerous sponsors from the business community, including the Westboro Village BIA, represented by board chair Molly van der Schee, owner of The Village Quire, Meridian regional vice president Rafik Gabriel, and Jennifer Burns, who’s a partner, along with her two siblings, of David Burns & Associates, founded by their father, David Burns.

Ottawa couturier Frank Sukhoo told OBJ.social that he’s interested in resurrecting the annual fashion show garden party fundraiser for Cornerstone. Its spring garden parties, typically hosted by benevolent ambassadors at their official residences, were arguably the best in Ottawa.

Seen showing off some serious moves on the dance floor was city councillor Theresa Kavanagh, who’s running for re-election in Bay Ward. 

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caroline@obj.ca

 

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