Saturday, March 27, 2010

BC Housing Sues Downtown Eastside Residents Association

Photo: Libby Davies, Member of Parliament (Vancouver East) and DERA founder

Photo: Audrey Laferriere, ousted DERA Board member

DERA Board member Audrey Laferriere was the first person I heard whistleblowing about wrongdoing at the Downtown Eastside Residents Association. DERA responded to the whistleblowing by borrowing Carnegie Centre's recipe -- there is some overlap between political operators at Carnegie and DERA -- for handling a Board member who won't be a lap dog. They banished the unruly Board member from the Board.

Looks like Audrey gets the last laugh. I came across the following article in the Vancouver Sun today:

"THE COURTS: BC Housing Sues DERA; activist group falls on hard times"
by Doug Ward"

"....the provincial government is suing the advocacy group for mishandling public money meant to subsidize rents for low-income tenants in social housing.

A statement of claim filed Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court by BC Housing alleges that a housing society run by DERA improperly used rent subsidy money provided by Victoria to help pay for the group's administrative costs."

BC Housing also alleges that the DERA Housing Society used provincial housing money to help cover the rent of ineligible tenants, including directors of DERA and its housing society.'"

Looks like Jamie Lee Hamilton is also laughing last. If I remember correctly, she was the first person to expose DERA for allowing people with union wages to live in subsidized apartments in Solheim Place.

Jim Green, who once came close to becoming Vancouver's mayor, told the Sun that some of the people living in DERA social housing were members of the far left group, Anti-Poverty Committee. Green believes that becoming too tight with the Anti-Poverty Committee, some of whom became DERA staff, contributed to DERA's undoing.

There is no love lost between Green and DERA. Green worked for DERA over twenty years ago but left and started the Main & Hastings Society. DERA had accused Green of stealing money, but he was never charged.

Look who's laughing now.

BC Housing has accused DERA of misrepresenting the cost of administrative services for their social housing apartment buildings, and evading payment of $500,000 in property taxes and rents from the three buildings.

The Court is being asked to appoint a receiver to replace DERA as manager of three social housing apartment buildings owned by the government: Solheim Place on Union Street, Tellier Towers on East Hastings Street and Pendera Place on Pender St."

Maybe while cleaning up DERA's shit, the new management will be quicker to clean up piss in the elevator. A tenant at Solheim Place told me just a couple of weeks ago that the building was no longer being properly maintained by DERA. "Somebody pissed in the elevator and nobody cleaned it for a week." This tenant had a visitor who was upset by the stink and considered washing the elevator, but thought it would send the wrong message as that was a job a union person was supposed to be doing.

Green told the Sun that DERA had some "great victories" in the 1970's and 80's but that he couldn't think of anything they had done for 20 years.

I can.

I've known people who went to DERA for advocacy. Like the guy whose rooming house landlord in Strathcona let other tenants, many of whom were drug users, clean out his room. I talked to this guy at Blenz coffee shop on Granville -- he now lives in a hotel on Granville and sometimes eats his meals at Carnegie -- and he told me that DERA had helped him during a dispute with the landlord, Jack Lee. He and Lee had argued over bed bug spraying or some such thing and he left and returned a week later to get his belongings, only to discover that they had been stolen. His laptop and computer equipment -- all gone. Just a few books and things of little value had been packed in a box and left for him. A DERA advocate, Sobrina, took his case to binding arbitration and Lee was ordered to pay him $4,000, if I remember correctly. Sobrina didn't have a law degree or anything but she was a stellar advocate.

Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Libby Davies, who helped found DERA along with her husband Bruce Erikson -- we're talkin' before her lesbian phase -- told the Sun that the allegations in the law suit are "very serious". She's right.

I've never noticed Davies actually attempting to curb povertarian abuses on the Downtown Eastside, whether at Carnegie -- she donates cash to the Carnegie newsletter despite their failure to respect free elections -- or DERA. Her son Leif Erikson got parachuted into a job at Insite just a few doors away from Carnegie and DERA.....ssssshh, nobody's supposed to know that. I guess we'll have to rely on Audrey for the whistleblowing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

UBC Learning Exchange Flirts with Funding Fraud

The UBC Learning Exchange on the Downtown Eastside is dabbling in the type of funding fraud that was prevalent at Carnegie Centre for years: taking money from taxpayers to provide services to low income people and then locking the doors to those services for the flimsiest of reasons.

Despite making a big deal in the media about the services they provide to the Downtown Eastside poor, staff at the UBC Learning Exchange have begun locking the poor out of the Learning Exchange on Mondays. Monday is a day when most taxpayers would expect a richly funded educational facility to be open and operating full tilt. But the poor arrive and find the door locked and peer in to see povertarians sittin' pretty.

You can bet the povertarians haven't mentioned this to funders.

Dionne Pilan, Co-ordinator of the Learning Exchange, did tell Downtown Eastside "learners" at the Learning Exchange that she planned to lock them out one day a week. In a classic povertarian "exchange" with learners, she asked them what day would be the least worst for them to have the facility closed. Most people chose Wednesday. "We decided on Monday," she reportedly announced. No mention of who "we" was, but presumably it included the Director, Margo Fryer, and others on their 17 member staff, some of whose jobs are fundraising. "Did she ask if Monday was ok with you?", I asked users of the Exchange. No, was their answer.

Pilan explained that staff had decided on Monday because they figured Downtown Eastsiders were too stupid to remember that the Learning Exchange was closed on Wednesday. Actually, she avoided the word stupid. She said, according to Downtown Eastsiders who were reliving the experience at Waves just down the street, that staff believed it would be too difficult for them to remember that the Learning Exchange was closed on Wednesday; Monday would be easier to remember.

The poor actually have no difficulty remembering where they can get a free coffee on the Downtown Eastside and on what day. Coffee is bait UBC uses to lure the poor into the Exchange.

And the poor are smart enough to figure out, as one man who no longer goes to the Learning Exchange said, "'Dionne wants a long weekend." Of course, it is not the sort of long weekend where she can stay home, but it's a slack day. "Any day that she doesn't have to deal with you guys is like a day off", he said. He also offered an explanation for why Dionne chose Monday, over Wednesday, to lock out the poor. She can already count on a slack day one Wednesday a month, on welfare cheque Wednesday, a day when many regulars at the Learning Exchange have more pressing business to take care of, like shopping. If you were already basically getting one Wednesday a month off, he asked, "Wouldn't you chose Monday to close? That gets you an extra day."

Poor but not stupid.

By locking the doors on Monday, Pilan and Fryer end up short-changing the poor for the entire week, particularly on Tuesdays. There is a bottleneck on Tuesdays, caused by people who after a weekend without computer access couldn't get access to one on Monday to check email, etc. People get less computer time as the receptionist who signs people on and off computers is under pressure to cycle them through fast.

Pilan's excuse for closing the Learning Exchange one prime time day a week is that she can write grant proposals for new programs, like a program to teach Downtown Eastsiders how to teach computer skills to others for money. Let's get this straight: she's locking the poor out of services she's funded to provide to them in order that she can write proposals for more funding to provide services to the poor. She reportedly said she had two grant proposals to write and, 'I
can't do that and deal with you people at the same time.'

Here's the dirty secret: she doesn't have to deal with them. The receptionist does that. Sometimes there are even two receptionists. Pilan comes out of her office to chat and socialize with Downtown Eastsiders, to talk about the Olympics or whatever. It's possible she may also cover for a receptionist on a break. Sometimes, I'm told, she also occasionally comes out if there is a computer question that a receptionist can't answer, but that if she were writing a grant proposal, people could simply be told that their question would have to wait until the next day.

Downtown Eastsiders suspect they've been duped, that a closure that was sold to them as temporary, is actually permanent. The sign on the Learning Exchange door announces, "New Hours", not temporary new hours. How long does it take to write two grant proposals? Surely not more than a month of Mondays. The Exchange has been closed for two Mondays now.

If Dionne's grant proposals are not written soon and the Learning Exchange re-opened, the poor have their own proposal: that funds earmarked for providing them with computer facilities on Mondays be returned.

One Small Step for Skip Everall, One Giant Step for Carnegie Membership

It's the same old story. I hear it so many times.

A photographer complained last week to Carnegie Security boss Skip Everall about the threats being directed at him when he attempts to use Vancouver Public Library computers at Carnegie Centre. The photographer said a native woman -- he said her name -- who is sometimes on duty as computer monitor is abusing her access to publicly funded Carnegie "security" guards. If an issue comes up with a computer user (sometimes issues have to be worked out such as whose turn it is on the waiting list) that actually requires communication, she skips the communication, and tells the person, "I'm calling security." End of discussion. If the person doesn't become passive, she carries through with the threat.

Last week, this monitor threatened to call security on this photographer when a disagreement arose. She didn't actually carry through with the threat on that occasion, but she has previously, so he lodged a verbal complaint with Carnegie Security Co-ordinator, Skip Everall.

The photographer did not know that he was not the first person to lodge a complaint about the use of the threat at Carnegie to "call Security" as a substitute for communicating with Downtown Eastsiders. This substitution was previously brought to the attention of City Manager Penny Ballem in writing in 2009 and during a meeting in January 2010. The photographer used a term that others have used though, to describe this substitution: "bullying".

The photographer was not unhappy with Everall's response. Everall told him that this particular computer monitor had been doing that often.

This is a step forward. Everall was essentially admitting that the right to call security is being abused at Carnegie, at least in this case. Mind you, this computer monitor is a volunteer; it is unlikely that Everall would make such an admission in cases where the threat was being uttered by staff, his fellow CUPE members -- and there are many such cases.

Everall's admission is nonetheless a step in the right direction in a City of Vancouver community centre where threats to call security have become the default method of dealing with low income people who know their rights and expect them to be respected.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Email from a former Downtown Eastsider

I've been out of touch with the happenings of DES and today I thought I would catch up on the [Carnegie] newsletter. Now, I haven't read it in a couple of years, but it was like looking back in time. Same people patting each other on the back. Looks like a mutual admiration society to me.

I suppose there was some good to Ms. Prevost, but I never got to see it because I wasn't in the circle. Whenever I saw her and if I happened to say Hi, I was ignored, but she was true to the circle! I'm so glad that my circumstances got me out of Dodge and away from these people. It's too bad too because Vancouver has a lot to offer, even in the DES. I belong to a community centre here that is partially funded by the city and private donations and I have yet to hear about a single banning or any left wing politics.

Tear the place down and start over with people who care about people not their pay cheques. Take care out there. It's not paranoia if they're really watching!

Pacific Central Kills the French ,

At the Pacific Central train and bus station, they used to announce arrivals and departures over the loud speaker in English only. Just before the Olympics, I noticed they were making the announcements in both official languages.

But as soon as the Olympics were over, so was the French. Announcements are once again in English only.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Olympic Finale: A Mob of Maple Leafers with Digital Cameras

I was in the crowd on Granville St. last night, the last night of the Olympics. Every few seconds, somebody would cheer in celebration of Canada's hockey win. I pointed out to my buddy that by the looks on the faces of many people walking by me, many weren't having that a great time. "Yeah," he said, "It's forced."

There really wasn't much to do, other than wander up and down Granville St. looking at people wearing maple leaf capes or waving maple leaf flags. I pointed out to my buddy that in some countries, like Mexico, people would be dancing in the street.

Those who seemed to be thrilled by the mob of Maple Leafers were small children. A little boy walking through the mob, holding his father's hand, was looking up with a smile. A little girl being pushed in a stroller was looking up with a genuine look of amazement on her face.

It was one big photo op. Digital cameras were as ubiquitous as Maple Leafs. That was the part I found most interesting, because you wouldn't have seen it ten years ago: every body with a camera either snapping or posing. Nobody worrying about the cost of developing film. Everybody a journalist of some sort.