One of the key organizations in the Filipino community is the Vancouver-based Multicultural Helping House Society.
Commonly referred to either as Helping House or its acronym MHHS, it was built from the ground up by well-meaning volunteers to support Filipino newcomers in Canada.
The organization has been around for more than two decades, starting out as the Filipino Canadian Support Services Society in 1996, and eventually renamed to reflect its multicultural clientele.
With funding from the city, provincial and federal governments, Helping House provides a range of services, from immigrant settlement to employment, training, respite housing, legal assistance, and education.
However, things haven’t been going well at Helping House in recent times.
For a number of years, there had been questions about how the nonprofit and charitable organization is being managed.
On July 27 this year, Mable Elmore, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, attended what was supposed to be the 2019 annual general meeting of the organization. She has a natural interest because of her Filipino heritage.
The meeting quickly became a forum about unresolved issues within Helping House.
“I would characterize it as a crisis,” Elmore told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview about what is happening at the nonprofit.
The issues “run the gamut” of what could possibly go wrong, according to Elmore.
There are “conflict of interest claims on the board”, the NDP MLA said.
There are “questions around governance” as well.
She also cited the “relationship of the board, and how they interact with clients”.
“Then of course, you know, these stories about how…newcomers and people who went to MHHS for help. They were all approached to buy insurance…an expensive insurance product, $200 a month, so very expensive for a caregiver or newcomer,” Elmore stated.
Elmore also said that there are questions as well about the 2018 annual general meeting, when some members in good standing were not allowed to vote. Others signed up for membership on the day of the meeting, and were allowed to cast votes.
Based on a report filed with the B.C. Registries and Online Services by Helping House lawyer Martha Rans, three directors left the board as of July 31 this year.
The now ex-directors were the same people who have attracted considerable attention within and outside Helping House, partly because of their family ties.
These include former president and CEO Tomas Avendano Sr., known in the community as Tatay Tom (tatay is Tagalog for ‘father’).
Also gone is Avendano’s son Benedicto. The younger Avendano served as internal auditor.
Tomas Avendano’s brother Demetrio has also left the board.
Elmore claimed that she doesn’t know the circumstances behind the decision of the Avendanos to step down from the 11-member board.
At the July 2019 meeting, accountant Michael Cayetano suggested that the formation of a caretaker board to put the affairs of Helping House in order.
Helping House has been a registered charity since 2002.
Based on its latest report with Canada Revenue Agency, the charity had a total revenue of $692,078 and expenditures of $678,784 in 2017.
Most of the revenues came from three levels of government: $442,860 from the federal government; $97,000 from the province; and $64,024 from the city.
On Saturday (August 17), Elmore is convening a public meeting to discuss what can be done.
“It’s a good opportunity to get people together, and share their experiences, and talk,” Elmore said.
The meeting will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Elmore’s constituency office at 6106 Fraser Street.