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PTS director Claudia Van den Heuvel takes voluntary layoff

Former ED of Ottawa’s queer community centre blames lack of funding

PTS executive director Claudia Van den Heuvel has been laid off at her own request. Van den Heuvel cites funding concerns as the reason for the move. Credit: Courtesy of PTS

Claudia Van den Heuvel, executive director of Ottawa’s Pink Triangle Services (PTS), has been voluntarily laid off at her own request.

The move, which PTS says is a temporary one, comes in light of funding difficulties for the organization. Van den Heuvel presented the proposal to the board of directors on May 25 in an effort to avoid further staffing reductions.

Difficulty in generating sustainable revenue has been an ongoing problem for PTS, Van den Heuvel tells Xtra, adding that many charitable organizations face similar challenges.

“The hope was always that a grant would come in or a fundraising initiative would turn out to be more lucrative than what we were hoping for,” she says. “That never happened, so it just reached the point where the only option was to cut an expense. We don’t have a lot of expenses as an organization to begin with, so our options were a staff person or somebody that was receiving a salary.”

She says she made the decision to step aside herself rather than cut one of PTS’s two other staff members (Kayla Miller and Veronica Michelle). “I really appreciate the work that our other staff do here at PTS, and I’ve always been acknowledging that they’re underpaid for the work that they do. The last thing that I wanted to see was them — after working that hard — that they lose their jobs,” she says.

“In all honesty, I think LGBT organizations are always one of the last demographics that are considered for funding,” she continues, adding that in her experience, most funders contribute less than one percent of available funds to LGBT organizations.

“Considering the marginalization of our community . . . I think that one percent is really low. Depending on the model that you use, our population is anywhere between four and 17 percent of the [overall] population,” she says. “We’re not even receiving the percentage of funding reflective of the percentage of the community.”

Van den Heuvel and acting president Mike Jan say they hope the layoff will be a temporary measure lasting about 12 to 13 weeks. “Hopefully, the fundraising or the funding will have improved by then,” Jan says.

“This is a measure that we put in place for a stopgap,” Van den Heuvel adds. “It’s hopefully not permanent, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

The layoff comes after a difficult period for the organization and its executive director. Annual general meetings held in both 2012 and 2013 failed to reach quorum, though a meeting held Oct 1, 2013, was successful.

PTS also saw multiple board members resign in 2012, including former board president Denis Schryburt. Some community members, such as Capital Pride grand marshal T Eileen Murphy, also called for Van den Heuvel’s resignation in 2012, alleging amendments to PTS’s bylaws gave her too much power.

Jan says the board will maintain operations at PTS for the next few months with remaining staff and volunteers. “The directors are going to do some of the work that Claudia was doing primarily to maintain operations,” he says. “The core programs are still running — our discussion groups, our counselling and so on — and we’re still open regular hours.”

Jan says he will take on additional responsibilities as acting president, as will other members of the board.

PTS is also seeking applications for new board members. So far three applicants have been accepted, bringing the total number to nine. The board can have a maximum of 12 members. Jan says additional board members will make it easier for PTS to reach quorum at future annual general meetings. According to PTS bylaws, for quorum to be reached, no fewer than five board members must be present as well as 25 percent of the organization’s current membership.

Van den Heuvel says PTS has been applying for grants for the past 18 months, and Jan says they hope to receive funding from the Trillium Foundation and the United Way. “We’re going to work hard on grant applications for those,” he says. PTS also relies heavily on yearly funding from the City of Ottawa and on individual donations.

In the meantime, Van den Heuvel says she will remain involved at PTS on a volunteer basis. “I’m making sure that I can be here to assist board members through the transition. I’m not going to be carrying on any of my regular responsibilities, but I’m here to tell board members where things are when they need that.”

She hopes that remaining involved will make it easier for her to return if the funding situation improves.

In the event that it doesn’t and the layoff becomes permanent, Jan says PTS would have to reexamine its finances and determine whether board members could take on additional duties.

“If we’re making less money over the long period, we’ll have to cut back somewhere,” he says. Other than salaries, Van den Heuvel says PTS’s biggest expense is rent.

“We really do like this space, so we’re hoping we can stay,” Jan says. “We do have our strategic plan that we would like to actualize, and this space and the volunteers and staff are needed for that to happen.”

He says that volunteers able to help with grant writing would be a major asset for PTS and that the organization is also open to partnerships with other organizations. Van den Heuvel says PTS hopes to add more programming for LGBT seniors.

While her own future with PTS is unsure, Van den Heuvel says that going forward, she hopes the LGBT community will learn to be more gentle with each other when disagreements arise. “We’re all just trying to make our community better, and I think when we’re getting vicious with each other . . . I think when we’re doing that we’re just hurting ourselves.”