The History of PHS
PHS was founded in 1991 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Community. It works to create effective and innovative programs that provide Housing, Services, and Advocacy to people often poorly served by society.
PHS was founded from work that began in 1991 when Liz Evans, a nurse, left the psychiatric emergency of a Vancouver hospital and started providing support to people in a single room occupancy hotel. The Portland Hotel, located in the heart of the Downtown Eastside on the corner of Carrall and Hastings Street, became home to people who faced intense discrimination and were told they didn’t fit in anywhere.
Thousands of active drug users living in desperate poverty in the community faced judgment and systemic exclusion. Many were mentally ill, physically ill, malnourished, had complicated behaviour, had lived with trauma for many years and were involved with the criminal justice system.
Overwhelmed by the suffering in the community, and trying to consciously create a vehicle to address it, the Portland Hotel Society (renamed PHS Community Services Society) was founded by Liz Evans in the midst of a tidal wave of drug overdose deaths and the highest rate of conversion to HIV among drug users in the Western world.
Liz, joined by Mark Townsend, Kerstin Stuerzbecher, Dan Small, and Tom Laviolette, led PHS as a management team until March 31, 2014. They worked alongside an amazingly dedicated, committed and passionate team of staff who came from all walks of life but who knew what it felt like to not fit in. Their work has represented a larger fight for social inclusion, human rights and social justice.
Since its inception, PHS has made an effort and tried to be a community leader in pioneering and delivering service innovations that are effective, real and challenge existing narratives that keep people excluded from decent housing, quality health care and other services while being left to suffer on the street.
PHS committed extensive time and energy to public education campaigns and advocacy to increase awareness of the problems faced by the people on the ground in the community. The work has been done to illustrate failed policies while highlighting solutions in local, national and international arenas. The organization has worked to slowly and incrementally effect policy changes intended to result in services being more available, flexible, tolerant and amenable to addressing the needs of a complex population, including people who may still be living with active drug use. This work has made a contribution to the opening up of space where people can live, find help and find hope.
Today, PHS manages a variety and range of housing, programs and services that strive to be non-judgmental, that do not require abstinence, and are driven by the needs identified by the individual; Such as low-barrier housing with clinical supports, emergency shelter, primary health care programs, needle distribution, overdoes prevention and supervised consumption sites, a community farm, low-barrier methadone, managed alcohol programs, dental care, supervised injection, bean to bar chocolate, and alternatives to traditional detox.
In partnerships with community residents, community organizations, all levels of government, academic institutions, private foundations and people across the city – PHS strives to create an improved quality of life for all of us. We strive to champion and address social inclusion for a previously marginalized population as a way of restoring social capital, dignity and by providing space.
Who We Work With
PHS is proud to work with outstanding community members in BC, Canada and around the world. This enables us to provide our much needed housing, services and advocacy to the people we care about. Some of these partners include…