RATTAN’S RUMBLE: Kash Heed: Are we are getting the value for the money being spent in Downtown Eastside?

Kash HeedFORMER solicitor general Kash Heed is not all surprised about the Portland Hotel Society scandal in which NDP MLA Jenny Kwan has been forced to pay back $34,922 for trips to Europe and Disneyland with her two kids and has taken a leave of absence.

Heed told me on Wednesday that having worked in the Downtown Eastside for so many years as a police officer, he recognizes that “a lot of these service agencies have actually created an industry down there where in fact they are making a considerable wage based on the situation people are in the Downtown Eastside and they are taking advantage of money that is given to them with very little oversight and accountability and that has been going on for years.”

Heed noted: “I remember when I was a young sergeant working in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver – at that time there were about 128 service agencies. Now I understand there is close to 500 service agencies in that area. And they are all competing for dollars – for public dollars and private dollars. And you have to look at the situation of what we have in the Downtown Eastside right now and look at really do these agencies actually make a difference.”

Precisely! Shouldn’t the government carry out a serious study of how exactly these agencies are functioning and what exactly are they accomplishing?

Why are the politicians so scared of facing up to these facts?

Is it because their friends and relatives are involved in this and they must all protect one another – even while they are exploiting the vulnerable sections of society to make fancy salaries and perks?

HEED told me: “Now I am a supporter of the supervised injection site (INSITE). I was a supporter of that years ago; matter of fact, I was one of the first police officers to come out and say that we should support that type of facility given that we’ve got a real problem with the spread of blood-borne disease and the public injection problem in the Downtown Eastside.”

He said he, like many others, believed that this matter should be handled from a medical point of view and that these guys should be moved inside so that they could get clean needles and proper sanitary conditions as well as treatment beyond that.

Heed added: “So some of the work that’s been done is good work, but you have to question are you getting the value for the money you are spending. That really has to be taken into consideration. Could we be better off to have them run by public institutions versus the non-profit societies? Those are questions you have to start to look at.”

I asked Heed who would start this process of reviewing all of this.

Heed responded: “It should be done by the provincial government because the provincial government is responsible for those particular issues such as the health issues. If we use the example of the injection sites, it’s both the federal government and provincial government. Now the municipal government of the City of Vancouver has some responsibilities and oversight too and you have to ask where they are on these particular issues because they’re supporters of many of these societies that are operating in that area.”

Heed also noted: “We had the Vancouver Agreement that was in effect for several years. I think in excess of $30 million was spent on the Vancouver Agreement and that was a tripartite agreement between the federal government, provincial government and City of Vancouver on how they were going to deal with the problems in Downtown Eastside. You have to ask, you know, really have we made progress or could we have been further along in the process than we are right now because the City of Vancouver just announced another new urban development plan in trying to fix the Downtown Eastside.

“So are we caught up in a cycle where in fact we give out all this money to these agencies and we don’t really hold them accountable and responsible for delivering on what they said they were going to deliver and then at the end of the day you have to look at what we anticipated being done – did it make a real difference?”

Well, Premier Christy Clark, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and the federal government guys need to get their act together and end this scandalous state of affairs as soon as possible.

TO get some sense of what is happening in these service agencies just look at some of the findings that an external financial review conducted by KPMG Forensic for BC Housing and an internal audit by Vancouver Coastal Health Authority unearthed about the Portland Hotel Society management practices:
* Unsupported expenses, including out-of-country travel, entertainment and catering;
* Misuse of corporate credit cards, missing receipts and inadequate approval of expenses;
* Unusual payments to affiliate companies set up and owned by PHS personnel; and
* Inadequate criminal record checks, contrary to the Criminal Record Review Act, that increased the risk of abuse to vulnerable adults.