Managers and entire board have since stepped down
By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
According to a February 26 audit by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the non-profit Portland Hotel Society (PHS) racked up a number of questionable expenses by its managers between 2012 and 2013.
The audit report, which is available to the public through the VCH website, outlines several key expenditures that reveal poor to no documentation, and yet were charged to PHS. One such expenditure included a trip in May 2012 to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California totalling $2,694.95. BC NDP MLA Jenny Kwan and her then-husband Robert Dan Small, who was a director for PHS, were responsible for the Disneyland trip spending; their family went on vacation.
The PHS, which was founded in 1993, has served to provide funding to various businesses that aid in helping the poor and homeless. According to the Vancouver Sun, businesses funded by the PHS include East Van Roasters, a coffee shop that employees struggling women, the Rainier Hotel, a housing and aide complex for struggling women, and the Community Thrift Store. Perhaps the PHS most well-known project is Insite, a “supervised injection site” established in 2003 meant to help people overcome needle-based addictions. What the PHS has represented to many in the Downtown East Side, for all their help in funding these businesses and institutions, makes the reveal of the audit significantly more devastating for the community.
Amongst the issues labelled “high priority” in the audit, “lack of clarity over administrative expenses” and “many expenses are questionable and/or lack supporting documentation” were listed immediately in the first and second spots. The audit defines high priority as, “An issue that could have a significant impact and should be corrected immediately.” In total, five of the 12 issues were labelled as high priority, while the rest were “moderate priority”—there were no “low priority” standings noted.
The audit also reveals the extent of the spending, with a rough total of $446,094 covered by 11 credit cards. Managers were only able to provide 14 of the 29 receipts chosen for inspection; 10 of the receipts found were considered to not be “appropriate use of funds.”
Over $20,000 in spending has been applied to hotel and travel accommodations in Europe. Although many of the Europe-based purchases were stated to be business- or research-related, credit history revealed money was spent on luxury suites, alcohol, and flowers. Some additional spending includes: $917.83 on “a staff baby shower”; $1,807.68 on “a Christmas ‘thank you’ event”; $1,636.51 (of a $3636.51 bill) “at a restaurant for a staff appreciation event.” The additional $2,000 was removed by the restaurant based on an undocumented “reduced rent” agreement; $678.23 on “a limousine company for travel of 11 individuals from Fairmont Pacific Rim to Grouse Mountain and then to a PHS director’s house.”
Since the audit’s public reveal, each of the 13 PHS managers and board members have stepped down. Managers included Small, Kerstin Stuerzbecher, Liz Evans, and Mark Townsend. Kwan says she has paid back the $35,000 that she owes for money spent on trips to Disneyland and Europe, and maintains that she thought her husband had paid for the trips personally.
New board members will be elected at the next annual general meeting. What this means for the PHS’ future is uncertain. The event that the PHS would be shut down entirely is unlikely; however, the Vancouver Sun has pointed out that many in the East Side community are concerned with who could be taking over in the future.