Downtown Eastside community members raise concerns about future of PHS

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      Major changes to the management structure of PHS Community Services Society have some Downtown Eastside residents fearful of the future of the programs the group operates in the neighbourhood.

      The same day that B.C. Housing released an independent audit of Portland Hotel Society spending that raised questions about executive managers’ vacation pay and use of credit cards, community members expressed uncertainty as an interim board of directors prepares to take over.

      “My biggest fear…is the political leanings of the Portland Hotel Society after this financial coup,” said resident Tami Starlight.

      “At the end of the day, the Portland Hotel Society definitely has been a strong advocate for social justice, and…providing services for the most needy people in Vancouver, and to seriously think that the so-called board is going to have that in mind, that there won’t be changes to programming and where funding goes to...”

      Vancouver Coastal Health said in a news release today (March 20) that front line work will continue once the new board of directors and leadership is in place.

      “There is no doubt that PHS has done an excellent job in meeting the needs of highly complex and challenging clients and residents across the Downtown Eastside for many years,” Mary Ackenhusen, chief operating officer for VCH, said in the release.

      "The issues raised in the audits are related to the administrative operations of PHS, not in the way it has supported client services."

      B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the province’s “primary concern” is to prevent any disruption of health-care services provided to PHS clients and residents.

      “It is imperative that public dollars–including those provided to third-party organizations under contract–are spent appropriately and in accordance with contractual requirements,” he stated.

      Andrew Ledger, representative of CUPE 1004 and detox intake coordinator for the Onsite program, said while he’s taking the province at its word that services won’t be disrupted for PHS clients, he noted “there’s a little bit of uncertainty in the neighbourhood”.

      “When we’re dealing with a stressed out populace as it is, to add stress to that is disheartening, but as a staff base we’re doing our best to reassure everyone that we serve that things are going to remain the same and that the staff that are there are committed to them as individuals, and that’s all we can do at the moment,” he said in a phone interview.

      Ledger said PHS staff are concerned about what the future holds as an interim board of directors and new management prepare to take over.

      The founding members of the society announced their resignations this week. The interim board of directors includes VCH chief medical health officer Patricia Daly, former VCH president Ida Goudreau, and current VCH board member Sandra Heath.

      “I think one of the strengths of the Portland has been its ability to be at the vanguard of understanding what the real problems in the Downtown Eastside are,” Ledger stated.

      “It’s always been very grassroots, and our approach to creating services has been from the ground up, as opposed to having individuals who might not be working in the Downtown Eastside or be as familiar with it as our former board was making decisions.”




      Mar 20, 2014 at 6:36pm

      These parachuted BC health execs will get bigger bonuses the more money they save. It's why hospitals are all loaded with management and shove old ladies in taxis to save money. Whoever slashes the most services without instigating a riot wins the big money, ask any PHSA technocrat off the record.

      Yeah, I didn't like PHS being corrupt and being loose with funds but the way it will work now is everything will be slashed and the new executives will get back whatever they saved in personal bonuses, so it's just as corrupt but with less services.


      Mar 20, 2014 at 10:32pm

      Just as corrupt but with less services. Exactly!
      A financial coup. Perfect.


      Mar 21, 2014 at 9:28am

      Does anybody else see it? The Downtown Eastside development plan gets passed, the Portland Hotel Society gets broken up, and BC Housing is raises all their rents. This is the only way government could strategically smash the current neighbourhood to make way for development.


      Mar 21, 2014 at 9:43am

      Neither of you has presented any evidence that there will be more corruption and less services. This is needless, knee-jerk, easy and smug cynicism. What government agency wants to go through a reorganization, one that is not only effortful but that will direct the hot white public spotlight towards the already highly controverial funding recipient that, as it is howlingly obvious from the forensic audit, was spending some of the money on frivolities?

      As for corruption, the books are open and the audits are always on in the government. Private societies can get away with things much longer - like PHS.

      This is not to deny that they did good work. PHS did a lot to try to make conditions better for people in the DTES. But, based on the evidence released, they also did a lot of personal gaining on the sly - that is a grotesque betrayal of the funders.


      Mar 21, 2014 at 12:03pm

      The problem with the phs was management, in spite of this the good work of the front line workers prevailed, time to move on, the workers must be allowed to carry on their tremendous dedication and work ethic to the DTES, they will have to take a lot of questions from concerned clients and in some cases abuse from ill informed residents, hope the new board and management give these dedicated workers the support that will be required to move on and complete the vision that was PHS


      Mar 21, 2014 at 12:08pm

      @Trank PHS was apparently so concerned with development that they sold the New Fountain property to a company owned by Westbank Properties: a developer. The announced Vision plan for the DES is hardly one for redevelopment with the demands for social housing places but Vision will give DES developers bonuses in other parts of the city for their work in the DES. The Province & Feds won't be funding the new social housing, that will be handled by Vision giving developers extras on projects outside the DES: build a 5 story building for "social housing" and get addional floors at Oakridge or some other development.

      There are no more threats to InSite now than there were previously: the only major opposition comes from Ottawa. Vancouver Coastal Health support the program and will not be changing it regardless of the conspiracies, fantasies or delusions of some people. The mismanagement of PHS gave VCH a chance to replace a group that believed they were above reproach and in the words of one report didn't "play well with others." This was a power struggle and VCH won because the PHS folks didn't hire a good enough accountant.


      Mar 21, 2014 at 3:12pm

      @G There is still plenty of opposition to Insite right here in Vancouver. If I give an addict support while he is doing heroin it's called enabling. If Insite gives support to an addict, it's called helping. PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS. When you coddle an addict, you tell him that he has no personal power and that's ok, because we will help you feel comfortable while you poison yourself. Would you do this if the addict was your child or a family member??? You do not help someone stop doing heroin by telling them it is ok to do heroin. There is no other place like Insite in the world because the rest of the world knows ideas like this don't work.


      Mar 21, 2014 at 5:09pm

      Click away on the thumbs down people. But will just ONE of you have the guts to try to explain the answer to my question? How is it enabling if I give aid and comfort to an addict, but if Insite does it, it's called helping?

      Annie McLeod

      Mar 21, 2014 at 5:14pm

      It's the vision of real and inclusive community that the founders and staff of Portland Hotel Society brought to the downtown east side, and to all of us I'd say. They asked the people what they needed and wanted and then acted in accordance with those voices. Cookie-cutter services which promote individualistic healing are only helpful to a point, especially with people who have continually been marginalized and disenfranchised, who have been treated as if they have no value. I worry that the critical community development work will be lost to bureaucratic out-come measurement accountability demanded by the bureaucracy.


      Mar 21, 2014 at 6:27pm


      That's easy. Insite has nurses onsite to help people to not die when they shoot up. Also, they have rehab and detox information available. This helps people who are, let's face it, not into approaching authorities about anything for any reason to relax around and maybe start to trust people who are part of the mainstream system.

      It's 'enabling' them not to die, I assume you're ok with that