Charities are big Downtown Eastside employers that generate significant revenues

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      I've always admired people who work to improve the lives of some of the most troubled residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

      But I also recognize that there's often intense competition for funding between groups in the area. And some of these organizations are significant employers.

      To provide a snapshot into the size of these operations, I went to the Canada Revenue Agency website this morning to look at financial filings of some registered charities active in the neighbourhood.

      I discovered that PHS Community Services Society—which provides housing and care for 1,200 people and manages the city's supervised injection site—generated $26 million in revenue last year. Nearly $18 million came from the federal and provincial government. (A relatively small amount, $15,984, came from municipal and regional governments.)

      There were 202 full-time and 180 part-time positions at the charity.

      Four employees of PHS were paid between $160,000 and $199,000 in 2011, according to its filing with the Canada Revenue Agency. Another two collected $120,000 to $159,999. The exact salaries aren't listed.

      Union Gospel Mission and its satellite ministries offer free daily meals, groceries, clothing, and furniture. The charity operates four drop-in centres and alcohol- and drug-recovery programs, as well as educational training and employment counselling.

      Last year, Union Gospel's revenues were $15.2 million. Only $29,000 came from governments. It had 176 full-time and 36 part-time positions in 2011.

      Two employees of Union Gospel Mission were paid between $120,000 and $159,999. Another four received between $80,000 and $119,999.

      Atira Women's Resource Society, which provides housing, advocacy, and support, generated $14.6 million in revenue in 2011. Of that, nearly $9 million came from the provincial government.

      One employee was paid between $120,000 and $159,999, with another receiving between $80,000 and $119,999. There were 88 full-time positions and 136 part-time positions at Atira Women's Resource Society last year.

      St. James Community Service Society provides meals, hospice care, housing, and adult-guardianship services to more than 2,000 people per year. In 2011, it generated revenues of $12.7 million, with $9.6 million coming from the provincial government.

      Last year, there were 128 full-time and 78 part-time positions at St. James. One employee was paid between $120,000 and $159,999. Four others collected between $80,000 and $119,999.

      RainCity Housing and Support Society provided three emergency shelter plus housing for people with mental illness and addictions in 2011, generating $13.5 million in revenue. Of that, $11.8 million came from various levels of government.

      One RainCity employee was paid between $120,000 and $159,999, with two others collecting between $80,000 and $119,999. There were 91 full-time and 68 part-time positions.

      Vancouver Native Housing Society, which operates 15 housing complexes, generated $8.2 million in revenue last year. There were 49 full-time and 20 part-time positions, with one person being paid between $80,000 and $119,999.

      Vancouver Native Health Society—which runs a medical clinic, dental program, and other services—had $7.2 million in revenue last year. There were two employees who were paid between $80,000 and $119,999. There were 85 full-time positions and 35 part-time positions last year.

      One of the smaller groups, the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, offers hot meals, showering facilities, nursing care, literacy programs, and referral services for survival sex workers in the area.

      Last year, it generated revenues of nearly $1.1 million; just over $700,000 came from various governments.

      There were 12 full-time and 33 part-time positions last year. One WISH employee was paid between $40,000 and $79,999 last year. All other full-timers received less than $40,000.

      (Not all of the charities mentioned here conduct all of their activities in the Downtowntown Eastside.)

      Charity Intelligence Canada is a Toronto-based organization that investigates the amount of money that charities spend on services as opposed to on administration.

      Last year, it chose WISH Drop-In Centre as one of its two "top picks" among women's charities.

      It was the only Vancouver organization that made the list, which included 32 charities from other parts of Canada.

      It's more expensive to ignore poverty

      For many years, it has been apparent that while the cost of alleviating homelessness isn't cheap, it can be far more expensive for society to do nothing.

      In 2001, a report for the B.C. government demonstrated that homeless people in its study cost, on average, 33 percent more than housed individuals in health-care, criminal-justice, and social-services costs.

      "The findings of this exploratory research examining government costs for a small illustrative sample of homeless and housed individuals in Vancouver suggest that decent, adequate, supportive housing not only ends homelessness, but may reduce the use of costly government services and ultimately save money," the researchers reported.

      In 2008, academics at SFU, UBC, and the University of Calgary reported in a more extensive study that each homeless person in B.C. costs taxpayers $55,000 in health-care, criminal-justice, and social-services costs.

      In 2011, a study by SFU researchers concluded that substance abuse is "strongly associated with prolonged and persistent homelessness among people with mental disorders".

      PHS, which is the largest of the charities mentioned in this story, specializes in providing homes for these hard-to-house individuals. While $26 million might sound like a lot of money, it's likely significantly less than what it would cost society to deal with these unfortunate people if this charity didn't exist.

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      The Mighty Zeus

      May 18, 2012 at 2:03pm

      With salaries like that, maybe I'm in the wrong line of work...

      Rick in Richmond

      May 18, 2012 at 2:21pm

      A lot of people make a lot of money in the DTES.

      They do it by defending the status quo. They don't want change. They want perpetuity. They don't want progress. They want more of the same. And a fat pension.

      Some of the loudest opponents to change in the DTES are the ones with a vested interest in keeping it like it is. If any of the problems with drug dealers were actually solved what would they do for a living?

      If the drug addict culture was actually ended, who would hire them?

      Some of these salaries are huge. Just huge. No wonder the people who get paid that much money want to keep the DTES just like it is.

      Who would employ them anywhere else? No way they'd make that much $ working at The Bay.

      Good article, Charlie. Bad news, Vancouver.


      May 18, 2012 at 2:36pm

      Sounds like poverty is a booming industry. Maybe we should commodify poverty so we can trade poverty futures, like carbon credits. Then we can invent poverty default swaps and trick European governments into buying them. Finally, we could then bet against and implode the poverty swaps, resulting in us amassing a giant pile of worthless paper rectangles.

      Bill Briscall

      May 18, 2012 at 4:29pm

      Hello, Charlie. I wanted to add that with the three temporary shelters, our permanent shelter, our 425 units of housing, our outreach programs, the Housing First ACT Team, and meal and medication programs, RainCity Housing provided support and housing to almost 2000 individuals in 2012. Also, our staffing numbers are actually closer to 310, including our casual staff. Just trying to provide accurate information.

      R U Kiddingme

      May 18, 2012 at 4:46pm


      Do you really think people go into social services for the dough?

      Think about it. You want to make dough, so you spend 8 years getting your BA and MA so you can be a Registered Social Worker trying to talk sense into DT-riddled loonies knowing that well over half of them think you're an alien and/or sent to steal their children. Entry level salary is what, 35K?

      If you wanted easy money, why wouldn't you just be a realtor, that takes about a Grade 3 education

      Charlie Smith

      May 18, 2012 at 4:58pm

      Bill Briscall,

      Thanks for the information. The staffing numbers were taken from RainCity's filing with the Canada Revenue Agency, which is on the CRA site. If the employment numbers are wrong, you should consider correcting the tax return so others in the media don't repeat these numbers.

      I will stick with the official filings until the official filings change.

      Charlie Smith

      Nathan Crompton

      May 18, 2012 at 5:45pm

      Dear Rick,
      There are numerous people making up to 6 figures from high-paying jobs in the DTES. They're also the ones currently pushing for neighborhood change and gentrification. Whatever your opinions are about the latest renoviction, the notion that poverty professionals are the "loudest opponents" to change is profoundly false. The opponents you speak of are poor -- the poorest of the poor of Vancouver. More than that, they are building new organizations and a new and unpredictable type of collective dignity by fighting by alone, with no help from the people you have in mind, like Janice Abbott, Mark Townsend or Liz Evans. Those latter people have all thrown their weight behind the gentrification effort and the Vision/BC Liberal plan to revitalize, despite the rapid disappearance of affordable housing in the lower mainland.

      Jerome Layton

      May 18, 2012 at 8:24pm

      What surprises me is how much money is spent on such a tiny segment of the population. I'm not saying it's wrong, but just that it's much more than I expected, and that doesn't include Federal programs and health care costs, which are often high for people suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. I'm sure there's always more that could be done, but you can't say that they are ignored or forgotten. Far from it.

      S Firn

      May 18, 2012 at 9:28pm

      If only half of that salaried money was invested in the future of the people they are claiming to help.

      If only the people they are trying to help could be trained to do those jobs instead, thus ending the cycle.

      If only those programs weren't for the workers to just retain their position of privilege.


      May 19, 2012 at 8:18am

      Excellent article that only touches the surface.

      The existing model of service delivery is founded on competition between the organizations. Many of these agencies have become so large and accountable to the communities they operate in, in fear of a take over by the membership or community.

      This system perpetuates bad paternalism and yes colonialism.

      As Indigenous people we make up to 2% of vancouver's overall population, just over 11,000 people. Yet we around 40% of the street sex survival workers, 40% of the homeless, well over 50% of the missing and murder women, the list goes on. How much money is just spent on the Aboriginal service agencies? How many Indigenous people actually use services (Aboriginal or Non Aboriginal)? I think when the math is done it will show a very high per capita amount is spent on just urban Indigenous peoples. Why does Vancouver not have a specific strategy to address these very issues? The federal government has even spent well over $10 million to create a urban Aboriginal strategy here, yet all the money went into more programs, which is sustainable for the industry around poverty, but not to actually change the system.

      We have more Indigenous children in care today then the height of residential schools of the the 1960's. Now we have Aboriginal agencies scooping up our kids and creating greater family trauma. Our children continue to be pushed out of the schools, especially at the grade 10-12 level, our graduation rates are appalling around 30%. If the Non Aboriginal population had these numbers there would be an uproar.

      As Indigenous people, we have become CLIENTS to the system, where both the majority of Aboriginal and Non Aboriginal service agencie impose their 'solutions' on our people. Whats as equally interesting is all the so called activists who refuse to challenge the existing strategy, why? There is something quite systemic happening here, especially on Indigenous people, I call it NEO-COLONIALISM.

      Vancouver and the DTES, needs a strategy which forces the service agencies to work in cooperation. The existing competitive, unaccountable, un-transparent, unstable and unsustainable SILO-SEGREGATED PROGRAM MODEL benefits the fiefdoms and sadly not the very people we all want to see assisted (most of us).

      I remember attending the the City of Vancouver council meeting and a prominent Aboriginal executive director ask "How much money is spent federally, provincially and at the city level on Aboriginal people?" I would like to know as well. Perhaps those Aboriginal service agencies need to back up and ask why they cannot develop a Urban Aboriginal Strategy? When viewed objectively, there is a strategy, a strategy of dysfunction which perpetuates the industry around colonialism and oppression around all populations.

      If the DTES was a First Nations Reserve, the federal government would put it under third party management, which I know many would support. Before demanding more money to 'fix' the problem, perhaps these agencies should reflect and ask how they currently operate in the SILO-SEGREGATED PROGRAM DELIVERY MODEL benefits the very people they claim to support.

      Thanks for the article Charlie, there are a handful of service agencies who do really good work and desire to see change, they are the minority for now. All levels of government must look beyond the ideologies and recognize the existing strategy is failing.