Portland Hotel Society had little oversight, ex-director says
Former board member Fred Jones says he was not called to a single meeting in three years
Former Portland Hotel Society board member Fred Jones says he was one of nine directors overseeing spending at the Vancouver charity, but hadn't been called to a single board meeting in three years.
Last week, the B.C. government released details of a damning audit that showed the non-profit group that looks after some of Canada's poorest citizens spent thousands of dollars on lavish hotels, limousine rides, expensive dinners and even a trip to a Disney resort.
Prior to joining the board, Jones says he was held up as an example of how the Portland Hotel Society helped the homeless and the addicted in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and described himself as poster boy for the Portland Hotel Society.
He said he lived on the street and wrestled with crack cocaine in the past, but came through. A few years ago, he was appointed to the board of directors for PHS — a volunteer job he says turned out to be merely symbolic.
"I kind of feel like a bit of a fraud," he told CBC News.
"You know, it's been a title I've worn in the neighbourhood, the community, you know, I'm on the board of the PHS, right? And in fact I really have no input at all."
Jones says the board's nine members is supposed to meet four times a year, but for the last three years he hadn't been called to a single meeting.
Yet some Downtown Eastside residents believe he was involved in the miss-spending that was uncovered in two audits.
On Saturday he was assaulted at the Carnegie Centre.
"I got slapped in the face," he said. "It's understandable."
The anger directed at Jones comes as the community learns details of the lavish spending by Portland Hotel Society leaders on what could be seen as uneccessary perks: $300,000 in travel, $69,000 on restaurants, $12,000 on florists and over $16,000 on taxis.
Some of that money was spent by the husband of NDP MLA Jenny Kwan, when the pair went to Europe and went on another trip to Disneyland. Kwan says she didn't know her husband, Dan Small, was using $35,000 of the society's money to pay for parts of those trips.
Kwan has since repaid the money, and announced she is taking an unpaid leave of absence. MLAs away longer than 10 days can be fined $300 a day, but NDP leader Adrian Dix says he believes Kwan, and supports her taking a leave.
B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman says while criminal charges aren't being considered against society executives, the book isn't yet closed.
"We will go through, if we find something that is necessary then we would refer it to the police."
Jones says he hopes something positive can still come out of all this: that the government and the public carefully re-examine how help and money is doled out in his troubled community.
With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin