PHS housing director Andy Bond promoted to lead the Vancouver nonprofit through challenging times

Bond has worked for the Downtown Eastside social-housing agency since 1998 and is the first executive director hired from within the organization since its founders resigned in 2014

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      The Portland Hotel Society (PHS) has named Andy Bond its interim executive director.

      Early reactions suggest the appointment could finally end a tumultuous period in which PHS has burned through no less than six executive directors in barely four years.

      Bond was unavailable for an interview Friday (November 30). Reached by phone, the organization’s board chair, Allen Garr, told the Straight that Bond was selected for his extensive experience working for PHS Community Services Society (as PHS is known officially).

      “The staff who work for us are under particular stress, because of the opioid crisis,” Garr said. “We needed someone like Andy to let them breathe a bit and then put their shoulder into it for the next few months.”

      The nonprofit supportive-housing provider is one of B.C.’s largest provincial partners on social services. In 2017, its annual revenue exceeded $36 million, according to Canada Revenue Agency filings.

      In 2014, PHS’s founders and entire management team were forced to resign amid accusations of financial improprieties. In the year that followed, Ann McNabb, Dominic Flanagan, and Ken Bayne provided leadership under appointment by the provincial government or otherwise cycled through the organization’s top position in quick succession.

      By 2015, Ted Bruce brought a brief period of calm to PHS’s upper management team. He was executive director for 14 months. Eamonn O’Laocha took over next and lasted eight months. Then Jennifer Breakspear was named executive director in January 2017. She came to the position with some experience running a large nonprofit, Qmunity. That raised hopes the organization’s Game of Thrones imitation had come to an end.

      Alas, Breakspear resigned without warning at the end of October, after 22 months on the job. Garr declined to discuss her departure and Breakspear did not respond to a request for comment.

      In May 2016, the Straight reported on a PHS internal memo that described the preceding years as “some very difficult times”. More recently, mid-level managers and lower-level PHS staff have consistently complained to the Straight that the executive directors hired from outside the organization simply did not understand PHS, or how it provides care to people who struggle with severe mental-health issues and long-term drug and alcohol addictions.

      Bond is different from his six predecessors. Since PHS's founders resigned in 2014, he is the first executive director who holds strong ties to those founders, Liz Evans and Mark Townsend, and to the team who established PHS in the early 1990s.

      Bond joined the organization in 1998, working in one of PHS’s supportive-housing buildings on East Hastings Street. He later headed operations at the New Fountain Shelter, which catered to Vancouver’s hardest-to-house homeless people. Bond was eventually named PHS’s senior director of housing and, in 2017, led the organization’s expansion to projects outside of Vancouver.

      In addition to running more than 15 supportive-housing projects on behalf of the provincial government and the City of Vancouver, PHS operates Insite, which was established in 2003 as the first sanctioned supervised-injection facility in North America. It also owns a bank for low-income clients and manages social enterprises that provide jobs to people recovering from addictions.

      Andy Bond has been appointed interim executive director of the Portland Hotel Society at a time when staff are stretched thin responding to an epidemic of drug-overdose deaths.
      Travis Lupick / B.C. Coroners Service

      Since news of Bond's appointment became public on Wednesday (November 28), several PHS staff members have shared reactions with the Straight on background. "Bam!" reads one text message. "Finally," another says.

      Garr similarily reported that PHS’s current management team has responded to Bond’s appointment as interim head with enthusiasm.

      “I’m very much aware…that people have been hired [to the position of executive director] from outside the organization,” Garr said. “It’s important that the leadership should have a sense of the culture of the organization and a good connection with the community that we are serving.

      “Andy is known to the staff, he’s respected by everyone in the area where he works, and we believe he has the skills to come in on an interim basis and help us out in what is traditionally difficult, around Christmas.”