Commentary
Sep 29, 2014

Portland Hotel Society workers lead by example

If you were a delegate to CUPE BC’s convention in April, you know all about the Portland Hotel Society and the innovative services it provides to residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  And you heard from some of the CUPE 1004 members who are on the front lines, working with some of the most vulnerable people in our province.

The PHS developed a unique model of service delivery—combining housing with health care services, addiction counselling, rehabilitation services and mental health professionals.  While it’s perhaps best known for operating Insite, the supervised injection site that has prevented thousands of deaths from overdoses, the PHS has also done an amazing job of creating social ventures that actually train and employ DTES residents.

In the months heading into convention, the provincial government had forced the PHS’s board of directors and senior management to resign, fueling fears that the next step from the BC Liberals would be the elimination or reduction of services.  CUPE 1004 members came to Secretary-Treasurer Paul Faoro and me and asked if CUPE BC could help put pressure on the provincial government to save the services and retain the PHS model of service delivery.

That led to the two of us taking a tour of the PHS’s facilities and services in the DTES—and let me tell you, it was a real eye opener.  In every facility Paul and I visited, every worker we talked to was passionate, articulate, and deeply caring about the folks they try to help every day.  For these members, working at the PHS isn’t “just” a job; it’s almost a mission to help their sisters and brothers who aren’t as fortunate.

Paul and I were truly impressed.  Impressed by the services, and the incredible record of success and progress, and impressed by the commitment of the CUPE members who work there.

It looks like the provincial government heard the message from 1004 members, as well as the resolution supporting the PHS and its workers adopted unanimously by convention.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the BC Liberal government during its 13 years in power, it’s that if you take your eyes off the ball you might find the government changing the rules of the game.  So we’re not going to just sit back and hope the Liberals don’t close down these important services and initiatives.

In the coming months, you’ll see a public awareness campaign to support the PHS from Local 1004, CUPE BC and CUPE National.  Not just to maintain the services they currently provide, but to advocate for their expansion to other communities dealing with similar issues to the DTES.  I urge every CUPE member to find out more about the PHS and the vital, life-saving services our members provide every single day.  For more information, visit cupe.bc.ca.  

Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BC, representing 85,000 workers in communities across BC.

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