UPDATED: Ishtar Society reverses planned layoffs, shutdown

Ishtar Transition Housing Society will not be closing its Aldergrove shelter for battered women, its brand new board president said.

“We will not be shutting down, and no one will be losing their jobs,” said John Rogers, who became president of the board on Sunday after an internal shakeup.

Last week the society’s acting managers announced major changes, staff layoffs, and the closure of Libra House, one of its two transition houses for women fleeing abusive relationships.

The Ishtar Society was one of the first groups in North America to open such transition houses.

Former acting operations director Pat Romanin told the Langley Advance, both verbally and via email, that the society was scaling back due to a murder, an overdose death, and other incidents.

“In the past year alone we have had a murder of a single mother in one house followed by a drug overdose death of a pregnant woman,” the email said. She added that incidents of “violence and/or threats of violence” were increasing.

Yet the murder never took place.

The Langley RCMP, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, and the B.C. Coroners’ Service were all contacted in the days since and none had any record of a murder matching the one described by Romanin.

Staff at Ishtar were unaware of any murders, either.

Karen Tankard of the BCGEU contacted a worker at Ishtar.

“That was news to her,” she said of a reported murder. The worker Tankard spoke to is a full-time employee, she said.

The new Ishtar Society president confirmed that the original claims were false.

“No murders have ever taken place in any of our premises,” Rogers said Monday.

He confirmed that Romanin and acting managing director Brian Zeiner are now no longer with the society.

John Rogers said the board has also accepted the resignation of former president Rian Martin, and other board members have left as well.

Rogers said that the vote last week in favour of the shutdown of Libra House, the layoffs of staff, and the streamlining of services, have been overturned by the board.

A minority group on the board that opposed the shutdown plans has now become the majority, Rogers said.

There was an ongoing investigation to fact-check the claims made by Romanin in last week’s statement, he said.

As soon as Romanin’s statement was made public, a flood of emails came to board members disproving some of the claims, he said. He could not yet say whether or not there had ever been a fatal overdose, or whether the claims of increased violence were true or not.

In the absence of their two top managers, some board members would be stepping in temporarily to take over those roles until new management could be hired, said Rogers.

He said Ishtar was committed to more transparency, to working with their staff and with BC Housing, and to continuing to provide services to women in need.

“It’s something we’re very passionate about,” Rogers said. “No one wants to see those houses close.”

The initial announcement of planned closures last week blamed the “murder” and violence on the provincial government. Romanin’s press release said that drug addicts and the mentally ill were being sent to Ishtar by provincial authorities to house them.

Minister for Housing Rich Coleman, who is also the MLA for Fort Langley-Aldergrove, said that has never been government policy.

“There’s no truth to that,” he said.

The society is allowed to select its own clients for its programs, he said.

Coleman said BC Housing officials have met with the new board, and a senior BC Housing official will be joining the board in the future.

Last week, he said it was made clear to Ishtar that either they could solve their internal dissent, or that BC Housing would take over the management of its services and find a new society to run them in the long term. 

BC Housing contributes about $1 million a year towards Ishtar’s programs, Coleman said.

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