Portland Hotel Society audit sparks concerns from Vancouver non-profits

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      Some Vancouver groups say they’re concerned that public perception of non-profits could be affected by the findings of two scathing audits of the Portland Hotel Society's finances.

      The reports made public by B.C. Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health this week raised questions about spending by PHS executives, including expenses for international trips.

      “The recent events and the recent results of the audit of the Portland probably, in some people’s minds, cast a pall over all the non-profit groups who provide housing and other services to low-income and marginalized residents, so it’s kind of a sad day for the sector in that sense, and also I think for the rank-and-file members of the Portland Hotel Society,” David Eddy, the CEO of Vancouver Native Housing Society, said in a phone interview.

      “But the expenses, from reading the audit [and] hearing various reports, are inexcusable.”

      Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, said she has concerns that leadership of all non-profits “will be assumed to be doing the same thing, and that people will be less likely or reluctant to support our work, donation-wise”.

      “And that’s a big issue, because obviously…we count on donations from the community to help do the work we do—all non-profits do,” she told the Straight by phone. “So I worry there’ll be a period of time, and maybe a long period of time, where people are mistrustful. And I get it.”

      Abbott said she was shocked when she read through the audits.

      “There’s no explanation for the kinds of expenses that were detailed in the audit—no justification and no explanation,” she said. “I don’t understand.”

      At the same time, she added, Portland Hotel Society staff “have done a lot of creative and innovative and good work” over the years.

      “I don’t want the decisions that were made by…it sounds like a small group of people to colour how we feel about the work of the whole organization,” she stated.

      Abbott noted that Atira is required to submit annual financial audits to B.C. Housing, and quarterly reports for federal grants, for its housing and other services in the Vancouver area.

      She expects the PHS audit could result in more provincial financial reporting requirements for non-profits—a move she says she would welcome.

      “My guess is there will be changes made…I see that as an opportunity, as opposed to a problem,” she said.

      Comments

      17 Comments

      Paul Smith

      Mar 22, 2014 at 6:12pm

      Jenny has ducked the main question by paying back the family share. She was married to an executive director who was enjoying lavish travel arrangements at expense of a publicly funded agency. Even if he had paid the family share, as she believed, surely she would have thought the luxury he personally enjoyed at agency expense was an affront to taxpayers and agency clients. Surely she had a responsibility as elected official to call foul rather than to look the other way - even if it simply meant a private caution with her husband and friends.

      Ted Campbell

      Mar 23, 2014 at 9:57am

      To Janice Abbott: You are right to be concerned about the public's perception about how donations are being handled. My wife and I make monthly prepaid donations to what we hope are worthwhile charities of our choice. We'd be devastated if we learned they were being misused. I always try to find the upside in situations; the good that will come out of the PHS debacle will be a better managed society to the benefit of those most in need. Spouses will ask leading questions when unusual largesse appears. Atira (and others) could do well if they handle their response with clarity and foresight.

      bill lee

      Mar 23, 2014 at 10:24am

      What a bullshit move. I'm sure Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society WHO IS LITERALLY MARRIED TO BC HOUSING CEO SHAYNE RAMSAY, won't have to worry about any negative attention from auditors anytime soon.

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      Scott

      Mar 23, 2014 at 10:34am

      The PHS fiasco raises many concerns, one which does not get discussed is how the existing Inner City non profit sector works/or not, as a whole for the vulnerable populations who requir these services and others.As I understand it there are 178 non profits that work out of the DTES. Are these non profits actually accountable to the people they serve? My suspicion is not, while many non profit service providers claim to fully engage the citizens of the community, try and get on the board of directors of one of these agencies.Far too many professionals who work on behalf of the community do not reside in the area, and are more accountable to government/foundation funders and not the people they claim to support. For over 50 years all levels of government have funded programs in the DTES, a community which has many ongoing social and economic issues which perpetuates additional harm to our most vulnerable citizens. It is time to get funders, including First Nations to critically review the existing segregated, competitive, linear, unaccountable, and untransparent service delivery model and develop a STRATEGY that builds off the recently passed DTES Local Area Plan and embodies the principles of Vancouver's "Healthy City for All" framework. Utlizing sound civic engagement policies, evidence based research, restructuring of the government's procurement policies for awarding contracts all based on a strategy is ideal, otherwise we have much of the same old, too many friends of impoverishment and not the impoverished. We do have some really good collabroative non profits out there, but it is not the norm yet.

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      Sarah Beuhler

      Mar 23, 2014 at 10:36am

      Conference travel is a fact of life for many academics and business folks. It seems like many are either astounded or pretending to be that these things exist. They're not junkets, but opportunities to network and exchange ideas and solutions to people who work in the same field.
      It is not shocking that people go to conferences. It is not shocking that they might bring their families. I really don't understand this outrage that someone's family might come with them on a trip when they assumed their partner was paying for the family share. People book tickets for these things in bulk, it's usually cheaper and always more convenient than endless email chains about itineraries.

      It is also not shocking that execs who could be making probably triple if they left the DTES might be rewarded in ways that might buttress their own mental health. Sure, spa trips sound disgusting if done on the taxpayers dime - but it is the smallest of small potatoes in terms of corporate perks and remuneration - especially when PHS can't offer things like long-term disability or retirement planning - or shares in PHS! Executive retention and mental health are responsible things for management to be involved in. If they came from the wrong line-item in the budget, then that needs to be addressed.

      As I see it, PHS made some minor accounting mistakes in their revenue in/expenses out file from the NON taxpayer funded portion of their income. The Province and VCH have seized upon this to grind ideological axes.

      Kwan's ex-partner either lied or misrepresented these expenses to her. To put this on the same level with Duffy or Brazeau or Wallin type shenanigans reeks of political opportunism.

      This is just a backdoor attempt to shut down Insite and all the good work the PHS has done for years.

      The Public's perception should change!

      Mar 23, 2014 at 10:47am

      These NGOs are part of the elaborate system of managing the poor. Far from lifting the poor out of poverty, the social welfare state and the NGOs, which are simply privatized contractors for the social welfare state, manage the poor in a steady state of need, surveillance and inequality. There would be no need for these groups if our society was even in a state of semi-equality. Inequality requires constant monitoring and enforcement.

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      Disgusted

      Mar 23, 2014 at 6:13pm

      Sarah Beuler: 'This is just a backdoor attempt to shut down Insite and all the good work the PHS has done for years.'

      Fear mongering, much? Go to Frances Bula's blog and see what the new PHS BOD has actually incorporated into their raison d'etre.

      And if $250 haircuts in NYC don't bother you, you are seriously delusional as well as being an apologist for crap, entitled behaviour. I don't care if Townsend et al are perceived by some as the Second Coming. They have done some very, very, very bad things---at the expense of monies that should have gone to client services. That those who support some of his worthy work don't condemn THIS behaviour tells me me have MANY serious second thought about all non-profits that receive tax payer money. In fact, may be time to gather all of the services and take a good look at overlap, poor organization and see if that money can go farther.

      No one is beyond reproach.

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      Franco

      Mar 23, 2014 at 6:28pm

      Well, whose fault is it after all? not the public nor governments of any kind, that's for sure.

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      Rick in Richmond

      Mar 23, 2014 at 10:14pm

      Apologists for the wretched excess now exposed at PHS are trying to fall back on a strange defense. According to them, and to Mr Townsend, their spending on themselves is no problem because the $100,000 came from "donations" and not from the taxpayers.

      Apart from bad math (the amount in question is far greater than $100,000), theirs remains an admission of wrong-doing. How many donors to PHS understood that their gifts were going to pay for hair salons, Disneyland adventures, and trips to Paris and Vienna? How many donors wanted their money spent on limousines and $600 a night hotels? Did they really donate to the poor in order to reward staffers already making six figures a year?

      One more thing. The Canada Revenue Agency will be interested to learn that PHS apologists think that tax-deductible, charitable deductions to the poor are best spent on fine dining for the rich.

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      Trevelyan

      Mar 23, 2014 at 11:39pm

      @Sarah Beuhler

      "It is also not shocking that execs who could be making probably triple if they left the DTES might be rewarded in ways that might buttress their own mental health. Sure, spa trips sound disgusting if done on the taxpayers dime - but it is the smallest of small potatoes in terms of corporate perks and remuneration - especially when PHS can't offer things like long-term disability or retirement planning - or shares in PHS!"

      Then they can leave this sector and allow others to take their place. Other people who value the work above the fact that they're not making "triple" pay. The truth of the matter is the true PHS employees and volunteers DO this without the perks and renumeration. You're either led into this line of work by your ethics and a good heart or you're in it for yourself. Evans and Townsend and Small and the rest of the gang were in it for themselves. They did indeed create some great programs along the way but they have also made it a hell of a lot harder for the rest of the people who are trying to make things better in the DTES. They deserve their tarnished legacy.

      It boggles my mind that anyone out there can excuse their choice of luxury hotels and cruise packages and chalk it up to, 'But if they were corporate execs they'd be making thrice what they're making now.'