Attention turns to new Portland Hotel Society management and questions of what will change

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      With the dust beginning to settle on the bombshell financial audit of the Portland Hotel Society, community leaders are beginning to speculate on the nonprofit’s future.

      PHS’s outgoing team of executive managers, headed by Mark Townsend and Liz Evans, had a reputation for pushing up against the government’s comfort zone on harm reduction and affordable housing programs.

      Wendy Pedersen, a Downtown Eastside community organizer, told the Straight that the newly appointed interim board’s “developer-friendly” character means PHS’s days of progressive public-health initiatives are likely a thing of the past.

      “The foxes are now in charge of the henhouse,” Pedersen said. “So I do not believe that they’ll be doing anything innovative or protecting of Downtown Eastside residents’ rights on housing or health in this community.”

      On March 19, PHS’s executive management team and board of directors resigned amid accusations of financial mismanagement. An interim board was appointed, which has strong ties to B.C. Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), as well as the Vancity credit union. In the near future, that eight-member team will appoint a permanent board, which will then select a new management team to oversee day-to-day operations.

      In the meantime, a pair of bureaucrats selected from PHS’s two largest government donors have assumed managerial responsibilities. Those individuals are Anne McNabb, director of mental health and addiction services at VCH, and Dominic Flanagan, executive director of supportive housing and programs at B.C. Housing.

      Andrew Ledger, PHS steward for CUPE 1004, which represents approximately 300 PHS workers, told the Straight that he didn’t want to speculate on how a new team might proceed, but he noted that a more conservative approach is a possibility.

      “They [outgoing managers] were always at the vanguard as global leaders on harm reduction,” Ledger said. “And part of doing that is being aware of what people are doing on the streets and the needs of the community, and addressing them in creative ways. Whether or not they [incoming managers] are invested in being global leaders in harm reduction, only time will tell.”

      On March 25, B.C. housing minister Rich Coleman told the Globe and Mail that the province would no longer fund PHS social enterprises, such as a laundry service and a café. “We’re not going to subsidize all this stuff,” he said.

      Faye Wightman, chair of the interim board, B.C. Housing board member, and former head of the Vancouver Foundation, told the Straight that the process of selecting new executive managers will focus on candidates with experience in a nonprofit environment, fiscal accountability, and a background of working with the homeless.

      Asked whether there would be an emphasis on ties to the Downtown Eastside, Wightman said it was too soon to say.

      Irwin Oostindie, a community organizer who’s worked in mental-health services, described the interim board as a missed opportunity to restore grassroots participation and accountability to PHS. “There have to be board members from the community and from the client base, and there isn’t right now,” he said.

      Outgoing PHS executive director Mark Townsend cautioned against operating with insufficient flexibility in a neighbourhood
      like the Downtown Eastside.

      “Everybody’s going to want for it to be run more like a bureaucracy,” he said. “But for it to do the job it needs to do, you need someone that’s going to be able to understand that it has to look a little bit different.”

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      Mar 26, 2014 at 11:32am

      Dude I promise to only spend 50% of what they spent in fact don't pay me just give me one of their no limit no accountability Credit Cards :)

      Why the Fuck aren't the PHS via Civil Suit in the BC Supreme Court and/or the Director of Civil Forfeiture going afeter these people and their personal Assets ASAP?

      Travis Lupick

      Mar 26, 2014 at 11:43am

      On March 21, outgoing PHS executive director Mark Townsend told me that at no point was he ever part of a discussion where the possibility of criminal charges was raised, and that so far, no one has asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement. BC Housing Minister Rich Coleman has said that severances are being paid, but at the minimum amounts allowed under B.C. labour laws.


      Mar 26, 2014 at 11:50am

      All the PHS have to do on their next round of hiring is ask this one easy question:

      What are you going to do if you cure addiction on the downtown eastside?

      If anyone answers "I'm going to Disney Land!" then they should look at someone else.


      Mar 26, 2014 at 12:40pm

      Seriously, Mark Townsend should just keep quiet. He is THE cause of this mess. He has no credibility. Unless he wants to repay all the money he wasted. Doubtful that would happen as he hasn't even had the guts or respect for all those he hurt to even admit making a mistake. And he has the nerve to even take severance pay. GO AWAY!!!!!

      CRA CraCroC

      Mar 26, 2014 at 2:39pm

      There is TOO MUCH MORE not even found out about yet.
      Please somebody do a forensic audit. Rotten to the core.


      Mar 26, 2014 at 9:09pm

      Mark Townsend - whether on camera or in print - is making it worse. The last thing he should be doing is cautioning others on what to do or what not to do. Cripes! The lack of foresight and forethought exhibited is beyond insane. How was this man a director?

      PHS always knew they were pushing the envelope with their programs. Insite and the Supreme Court case guaranteed that. You'd think they'd tread carefully.

      Which brings up the topic of insularity at PHS. Their programs were known mostly only to those who are involved somehow in harm reduction or poverty alleviation. The general public had no idea about the art gallery, the coffee shop, or the beekeeping until the audit blew things up, so most people hearing about it now are thinking, 'PHS created a Disneyland in DTES.' Had they been clued in properly from the beginning (why and how these businesses help recovery), the support might be there now. Optics, damn it. Again, it's doing a real whammy on my mind that the executive board never considered how precarious their footing was.

      Perhaps that's it: They didn't understand the reality of their situation and the massiveness of their responsibility. Another nail that just goes to prove that their priorities were a shambles and they self-appointed themselves with fancy titles. With all that expensive schooling, was there not even one person in their right mind to stay vigilant and awake? Look at what they had ... and look at how they ruined it.

      This is how the truth appears to be: They were perhaps the perfect people to startup the PHS (they had the gall), but they lacked the clear-sighted level-headedness required to maneuver such a ship gently through precarious waters. Helms are not good places for slumber.

      As for the interim board, maybe having to fight for program creation will keep things honest. True advocates are in it to fight.

      Wendy Pedersen

      Mar 26, 2014 at 9:30pm

      Faye Whiteman was responsible for setting up Streets to Home. Maybe someone from that ridiculous formation of charitable and P3 elites who aspired to manage visible homelessness in Vancouver will take over PHS? Coleman said he doesn't build social housing and won't contribute a dime to housing in DTES. These are his people taking over....more homelessness guaranteed regionally. Maybe we'll see a P3 jail in the next Vancouver Agreement.

      Concerned Vancouverite

      Mar 26, 2014 at 10:05pm

      Government should not be in the business of dismantling Non-profits. Bureaucrats should not be at the helm of the province's most progressive services group. No! Please bring in a board of advocates and individuals outside the public sector!


      Mar 26, 2014 at 10:13pm

      This will definitely be a "don't know what you missed until it's gone" story

      Grain Of Salt

      Mar 27, 2014 at 11:02am

      I can't comment on any infractions or problems with monies spent by PHS but I will say this whole affair is ringing alarm bells. Why did the government wait so long to conduct an audit? Be wary of the Libs, they've messed with too much for their own gain with hidden agendas everywhere. What easier way to dismantle Insite and disband activists who have so long been a thorn in their side? Easy for the government to draw attention away from their own self-inflicted problems that are costing taxpayers big time by turning focus on the Downtown Eastside. Don't trust them as far as you can throw them.