As the dust begins to settle on the Portland Hotel Society’s explosive financial audit, community leaders begin to speculate about the nonprofit’s future.

PHS’s outgoing team of executive directors, led by Mark Townsend and Liz Evans, had a reputation for opposing the government’s comfort zone on harm reduction and affordable housing programs.

Wendy Pedersona Downtown Eastside community organizer, told the Right that the “developer-friendly” nature of the newly appointed interim board means that the days of progressive public health initiatives at PHS are likely a thing of the past.

“The foxes are now in charge of the chicken coop,” Pedersen said. “So I don’t believe they will do anything innovative or protective of the rights of Downtown Eastside residents to housing or health in that community.”

On March 19, the management team and board of directors of PHS resigned following accusations of financial mismanagement. An interim board of directors has been appointed, which has close ties with BC Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), as well as the Vancity credit union. In the near future, this eight-member team will appoint a permanent board of directors, 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 management responsibilities. These individuals are Anne McNabbdirector of mental health and addictions services at VCH, and Dominique FlanaganExecutive Director of Supportive Housing and Programs at BC Housing.

André LedgerPHS shop steward for CUPE 1004, which represents about 300 PHS workers, told the Right that he didn’t want to speculate on how a new team might proceed, but noted that a more conservative approach is a possibility.

“They [outgoing managers] have always been at the forefront as global leaders in harm reduction,” said Ledger. “And part of that is being aware of what people are doing on the streets and the needs of the community, and responding to them creatively. Whether or not they are [incoming managers] are invested in being world leaders in harm reduction, only time will tell.

On March 25, British Columbia’s Minister of Housing Rich Coleman say it Globe and Mail that the province would no longer fund PHS social enterprises, such as a laundry service and cafe. “We’re not going to subsidize any of this,” he said.

Faye Wightmaninterim board chair, BC Housing board member and former director of the Vancouver Foundation, told the Right that the selection process for new executive directors focus on candidates with experience in a nonprofit environment, fiscal responsibility, and experience working with the homeless.

Asked if the focus would be on ties to the Downtown Eastside, Wightman said it was too early to tell.

Irwin Ostindia, a community organizer who has worked in mental health services, described the interim council as a missed opportunity to restore grassroots participation and accountability to PHS. “There need to be community and customer-based board members, and there aren’t any right now,” he said.

Outgoing Executive Director of PHS Mark Townsend warned against operating with insufficient flexibility in a neighborhood
like the Downtown Eastside.

“Everyone will want it to be run more like a bureaucracy,” he said. “But for him to do the job he needs to do, you need someone who will be able to understand that he has to be a little different.”


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