THE BLOG

Portland Hotel Society Needs Clearer Eyes, Sharper Minds

03/22/2014 12:27 EDT | Updated 05/22/2014 05:59 EDT

I just couldn't let this story go by without writing about it again. The long and short of it is that the higher (no pun intended) authorities of Vancouver's Portland Hotel Society (PHS) and several of their own board of directors are stepping down, as directed by the B.C. government, in order to avoid receivership.

So what does this mean? Well, according to the government, in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, PHS received a cool $21 million in funding. Of that money, we are now being shown that $2.8 million was spent on administration costs and a whopping $15.3 million on employee-related expenses, with an astonishing $358,724 spent on staff travel expenses -- such as going on holiday to Disneyland. What??

I simply cannot wrap my head around this!

And all of this was going on while so many of the people they claim to have served in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) lived the miserable life of active addiction, often in cockroach-ridden premises, scrounging for food -- and anything else that could feed their addiction -- in dumpsters in DTES alleyways.

Sure, that shows how much they really care about their clients.

I heard Mark Townsend, executive director of PHS (including the safe injection site, Insite), being interviewed on TV the other night. He seemed quite proud when he stated that PHS hadn't spent any taxpayer money doing this -- as if that somehow made it OK.

He appeared to have no shame or remorse at all as he admitted that the money spent on such selfish foolishness came from "private donations." Even if that's true, even if none of my money or yours funded those trips to Disneyland and beyond, how must the private donors feel about this -- and how soon will they open their coffers again to fund legitimate programs for those who desperately need them?

And from what I currently understand, even though the guilty are resigning, the PHS programs will remain intact -- so I'm guessing this means that crack pipes will continue to be sold out of vending machines in the DTES for 25 cents a pop, and that the remaining PHS staff will still be teaching alcoholics how to make their own booze.

And if I'm not mistaken, you and I will continue to be paying for that.

But who's paying for what isn't the real issue for me, and I want to take this opportunity to clarify my position. After my recent blog post about the PHS, many readers accused me of not believing in harm reduction.

That is simply not the case. I do believe in harm reduction. As an addiction therapist with over 20 years working in this field, how could I not understand that there is a place for harm reduction on the addiction recovery continuum? Those of us who help people with addictions need to meet them where they are to begin with -- but, in my opinion, always with an eye on how we can move addicts into recovery, rather than keeping them stuck in what the PHS considers to be harm reduction.

Is it harm reduction to teach an alcoholic how to make alcohol? Of course I understand the reasoning behind such a program: that it's better for alcoholics if they don't drink mouthwash and other harsh toxic products that contain alcohol. I personally and professionally know how sick people can become from addiction and I don't want anyone to have to suffer like that. I'm into holistic health, from every possible angle -- but by not encouraging detox and treatment and instead selling clients crack pipes for a quarter, I do believe we are hurting and not helping in the long run.

Clearly, many of the PHS's other decisions haven't been so terrific either, as we are now finding out.

I'm hoping that whoever takes over for Townsend -- and for his other cronies who believe in their own sense of righteous importance and entitlement -- will look again at these programs with clearer eyes and sharper minds. I truly hope we will soon see some positive changes in this long-running DTES agency that has served a lot of needy people.

I deeply hope they stop the enabling and actually begin to provide the long-term help that their addicted clients so desperately need.