No one wanted to report this story.
Last year, while I was researching a solutions story on non-profit governance, several people mentioned Haven Society, the largest service provider for women and children fleeing violence in the mid-Island area.
Each interviewee shared similar comments about the organization, which mainly concerned allegations of a toxic workplace.
One interviewee even requested to be excluded from a story that mentioned Haven, as they didn’t want to be associated in any way.
Over time, I started hearing from more community members: What is going on at Haven? It appeared from the outside the organization was in a sort of free fall, but few people from within wanted to talk about it.
Then in May of last year, a handful of readers contacted The Discourse detailing their own set of concerns with a call out to the wider community to help get the society back on track. While they agreed to be interviewed, they didn’t feel safe disclosing their names publicly.
We thought long and hard about reporting this story with confidential sources. The Discourse adheres to Canadian Association of Journalists ethics, and we only agree to keep the identities of people we interview confidential when the information they provide is in the public interest and there is no other way to get it.
And there was another important ethical consideration. For more than four decades, Haven Society has been a lifeline to many women and families experiencing abuse in the community.
Nonprofits depend on their funders to provide these services. Haven has, and continues to do, incredible work in our community, and we in no way wanted to deter anyone needing support.
We kept questioning ourselves, would this story hurt more than it serves?
After hearing that another local organization, Nanaimo Women Helping Women, no longer partners with Haven, it became clear we needed to do the digging readers and community members were asking for.
After several months of interviews, our reporting uncovered how the community Haven is supposed to serve is no longer receiving the same level of service with employee turnover so high. Sources told us positions were not being backfilled, people were being fired or resigning, and many were working in fear of their employer.
Out of 20 contacts we reached out to for this investigation, only two people felt safe to have their name published due to fear of retaliation.
Nine former and current employees did agree to go on record with their names changed, and these individuals expressed feeling hopeful that bringing awareness to the alleged abuse within the organization will lead to a change in how employees are treated and how services are provided.
Everyone interviewed for this story was quick to underline: The services Haven provides are still there, and staff continue to work hard within the organization to deliver them.
If you or anyone you know needs assistance, do not hesitate to reach out to Haven or other groups within the community.
- Women and children in need of transition housing can contact Haven Society at 1-888-756-0616 and Cedar Woman House at 250-591-5580
- Kw’umut Lelum has resources to support local First Nation members at 250-591-0933
- People in need of counselling can contact Nanaimo Family Life Association for access to services, including counsellors who specialize in supporting survivors of sexual assault, 250-754-3331
- Children and youth can contact the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Helpline for Children at 310-1234 anytime, no area code is necessary. Youth can also visit YouthinBC for more resources