BC Housing is looking to expand their operations at the Thunderbird Inn in Hope.  According to the people in Hope, it’s a badly run facility already, and they are alarmed at the prospect of an expanded homeless housing, unless some serious work is put into abstinence from alcohol and drugs, healthy meals for the residents and professional medical oversight for the mentally ill.  But that focus appears to be missing.

Sam Cooper in the Feb. 5/15 edition of The Province gives us a bit more insight into the workings of The Misery Industry.  I do not know if the operators of the Thunderbird Inn treat themselves to generous wages, bonuses and expenses, it would be refreshing to know that was not the norm,  but I do know that Marc Townsend, and the staff at Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver lived obscenely high-rolling lives,……ostensibly while providing, tender loving care for the poor and the broken among us.

Please note in the article in today’s Province that the unrepentant Mr. Townsend essentially quarrels, ‘why pick on him,….all those BC Housing staff do exactly the same luxurious fine-dining and travel as he did FOR YEARS, in his role as loving caregiver of the poor’. ( Brian Hutchinson’s earlier reporting on the Portland Hotel Society shenanigans are worth looking up as well as this one by Sam Cooper.)…….

Rich Coleman’s refusal to order a criminal investigation into Marc Townsend sends the clear message that other’s can emulate Townsend and his fellow directors pattern – of living high off the poor and broken.


Bad press won’t drag down Portland Hotel Society, says embattled former director

Mark Townsend, former executive-director of the Portland Hotel Society, says last year’s spending scandal and bad press won’t drag down the vast non-profit that serves Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , PROVINCE

Depending on your perspective, Mark Townsend might be the visionary that put Vancouver’s harm reduction model on the map, or the profligate spender who nearly destroyed a massive non-profit by appearing to live comfortably on the backs of society’s most vulnerable.

Townsend himself, says the story is much more complicated than that.

Last year, after two decades of building the Portland Hotel Society from scratch into the dominant service provider in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Townsend was forced to step down as executive-director amid a spending scandal.

Audits uncovered hundreds of thousands spent on luxurious travel arrangements worldwide, spas, massages, gifts, limos, and self-assigned executive perks.

Townsend’s wife Liz Evans, and senior managers Dan Small and Kerstin Stuerzbecher resigned as well.

Townsend repeatedly explained global spending to auditors as PHS “social initiatives unrelated to B.C. Housing funding.”

One example, a $4,456 charge by Townsend in Paris in 2010, was invoiced from a firm called “YOURPARISEX.” The auditor could not confirm what was purchased, but speculated the charge referred to “Your Paris Experience”— a tour operator which provides “bespoke experiences for the discerning traveller.”

The Province contacted Lisa Buros-Hutchins, founder of Your Paris Experience, and asked if she could describe her firm’s services and invoice imprint.

“In the time frame mentioned, I believe my invoices were headed (YOURPARISEX),” she responded, without stating what services the firm provides.

In several interviews with The Province, Townsend said expenditures like “YOURPARISEX” were meant to save money at international conferences with logistical support for PHS executives.

“Did we make mistakes? Yes, I’ve made thousands, but we didn’t have procurement offices,” Townsend said. “The irony is, the people from B.C. Housing were at those same conferences, in the same hotels and on the same planes.”

Townsend spoke candidly about his complicated legacy at the PHS. He acknowledged many mistakes but said all his actions were aimed at creating ways to save lives in the Downtown Eastside, where costly “bureaucratic silos” had failed.

Townsend says since resigning last year he has quietly been working with PHS “to help ease the transition,” as well as consulting for harm reduction providers around the world.

“I don’t want to overplay what we did, but it is seen as something to emulate from Brazil to China,” he said. “People didn’t want AIDS to be a death sentence, so we gave them needles. But it wasn’t just harm reduction. We got a lot of detox and treatment beds. We pushed the envelope because we saw people suffering.”

Townsend defiantly insists the travel spending questioned by auditors did not come from taxpayers. Private funders like hedge fund billionaire George Soros donated the money, Townsend claims.

Furthermore, he says, travel to conferences was needed to defend PHS innovations like the supervised injection site.

International contacts helped in the pressuring and shaming of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a government bent on shutting Insite and PHS down, Townsend claims.

“The Prime Minister personally, when he found out we were getting funding for The Ranier (a women’s treatment centre) — he tried to cancel it,” Townsend alleged. “And Insite was going to be shut down. Clearly the Prime Minister was going to shut it down, and the fact that he blinked when he gave it an extension, that was his big mistake.”

Although the federal government has yet to extend Insite’s operating permit for 2015, Townsend believes a 2011 Supreme Court ruling guarantees its future.

Townsend said bad press around PHS’ management won’t drag down the vast non-profit, which has grown from $2,400 in assets in 1996 to $70 million in 2014.

“We are proud of the staff — they don’t need us,” he said. “The politics of this was to get rid of us, but the staff are still committed to the vision, solving problems, and ignoring the bureaucracy. Actually, when the government parachuted in its people, I think they were shocked at how effective our machine is.