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.”