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.


Anonymous said...

You wanna talk fraud in the DTES social agencies?! Check this out!

I think there will be more coming, check the National Post this weekend!

reliable sources said...


Thanks for the link. I'll look at it.

reliable sources said...

The UBC Learning Exchange has now been closed for three Mondays in a row.

Anonymous said...

There are now many, many articles, the Province, the Sun, the National Post, the Globe and Mail, etc. about BC Housing suing DERA. My favorite is The National Post, because it features a real unsung hero of the DTES, Audrey Leferriere (

Audrey Leferriere was on the board of directors at DERA/DERAHS and she tried to alert her fellow board members to the problems she perceived, most of them lived in DERAHS housing, so they were scared to speak up and banded against her instead.

The Registrar of Societies can only step in if the Society is deemed a "danger to the public at large". This has got to change if we want to see the end of "Society" abuse.
As it is, an individual board member, elected to make sure things are kosher, can just be thrown out with illegal proceedings if their questions are making anyone uncomfortable, and they have no way to fight it!
The Society Act is being rewritten, and they invite your input. The DTES is run by societies. Go ahead and do something about it!

reliable sources said...

The Learning Exchange has now been closed for a month and a half, with no sign of opening any time soon.