Street Culture Project employees decry lack of change months after allegations first emerged

·5 min read

A group of employees who work for Street Culture Project say the board and acting management at the non-profit have failed to make progress on its public promises of reparations and healing.

The promises came after a series of allegations directed toward members of the non-profit management team emerged mid-summer. But employees say they're still waiting for meaningful change and action. Twenty-two people support the unsigned letter sent to board and management on Wednesday.

"We're coming together as a collective to push for change and be solutions focused," said a longtime Street Culture Project employee who CBC is not naming but will refer to as Martha.

"Part of the reason why a lot of these survivors are still angry and are wanting answers, and why a lot of employees and staff are coming together to push for change, is because we don't really see that real, structural change."

Employees said they fear repercussions for speaking out, but don't believe the organization will be accountable without public attention.

"The survivors have talked about how, prior to the public nature of all of this, it was very difficult to bring forward concerns," Martha said.

The non-profit organization serves and empowers vulnerable youth through mentorship, programming and housing. It was rocked by a series of allegations in the summertime — beginning with accusations of sexual harassment by executive director Dustin Browne. He resigned and apologized.

A CBC News investigation uncovered allegations from 16 former or current employees who said members of management, including the former CEO Kim Sutherland, fostered a toxic, abusive, manipulative or inappropriate work environment for years.

Sutherland was put on leave and then retired. The shelter manager was eventually dismissed.

"If it wasn't this public and this messy nothing really would have changed," Martha said. "But it doesn't matter if those individuals are gone if that core toxic nature remains."

A lawyer was hired to investigate the allegations and Scott Cruickshank was hired as interim CEO to develop a support plan to move the non-profit forward and lead a "healing process."

Employees say they are still waiting for the healing to begin. They're also questioning decisions made by the transition management team.

They want an explanation about why director of operations Mike Gerrand returned to work prior to the conclusion of the third-party investigation, despite being implicated in the allegations and initially ordered to have no contact with youth.

Calls to action

The letter outlined the employees' concerns and proposed solutions for how to make things better within the organization so it can move forward in a positive way.

"We want to try to do this so the organization actively sets policies to deal with problems and to make sure this kind of thing can't happen again," said another longtime employee who CBC is not naming and will call Frank.

"On the inside, they're talking about transparency and accountability a lot but I guess words and actions are different."

Interim CEO Scott Cruickshank did not respond to CBC's questions about specific calls to action, but said the letter shows more needs to be done.

"The authors of the letter need to be heard and understood as part of the reparation," he said.

However, he said the organization won't take specific steps right now.

"Our hope is that the investigation is a place for them to be heard. Once we know the results of the investigation, a more personal and specific approach can be done for each individual who is hurting," he said. "Once the investigation is concluded the board will decide next steps and I await their decisions"

The investigation began early August.

Still waiting on investigative report

New board chair Cassandra Klassen, who also sits on the Regina YWCA board, said they expect to receive the investigation report from the lawyer in about one week.

"Once we receive that report, we will have a board meeting and make decisions regarding next steps," Klassen said. "We will announce those next steps once they are finalized."

The concerned employees want the results made public.

Frank acknowledged that leadership transitions can be complicated but noted that these allegations first emerged in July and it's nearly December.

Staffers are demanding a public apology for the employees and youth who were hurt, and they want management to involve victims in the healing process.

These are the values we're supposed to be teaching the kids and we can't do it in our own house. - Concerned Street Culture Project employee

Frank said new management should have been transparent about the allegations from the get-go, apologized immediately and then should have been transparent about how things would change. Instead, people who were hurt by leaders at the organization have waited months.

"These are the values we're supposed to be teaching the kids and we can't do it in our own house," he said.

Employees say the organization should axe the CEO position and move to a non-profit cooperative model, which would give people confidence that inappropriate behaviour wouldn't be tolerated because of a power dynamic. People who raised allegations this year said they couldn't come forward because of close-knit connections between management, the board and human resources.

Staff morale is low

Cruickshank said staff continue to provide outstanding service to the youth, but Frank said frontline staff morale is low and dropping.

There was a time when Frank said he could push concerns about management aside and focus on the youth, but he can't remain silent this time around.

"It's like, you knew how f--ked up things were, but could still do good work with the kids," he said. "Over time you realize they are connected."

Martha issued a plea to leadership for an honest effort: "Consider what we're saying in the letter and really try to work with us — the current staff."

She can't imagine walking away from the work but said, "If some of those [calls to action] don't get serious consideration, then the agency itself isn't something that I would want to work for, sadly."