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UGM Thanksgiving dinner comes at time of need in Vancouver

Union Gospel Mission’s Thanksgiving dinner tries to turn tide against increasing homelessness, overdose deaths and unaffordability in Vancouver.

Volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission serve 3,000 meals to vulnerable populations throughout Metro Vancouver every Thanksgiving.

Contributed/Union Gospel Mission

Volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission serve 3,000 meals to vulnerable populations throughout Metro Vancouver every Thanksgiving.

The Union Gospel Mission hopes its annual Thanksgiving dinner in Vancouver can help turn around a 2016 that hasn’t offered much to be thankful for.

UGM spokesperson Jeremy Hunka told Metro that the need this year perhaps has never been greater as more than 300 volunteers prepare to serve 3,000 meals at three locations (two in the Downtown Eastside and one in New Westminster) on Monday.

“As we head into this winter, we’re facing what I would call a perfect storm,” Hunka said. “Homelessness is up, we know that from the homeless count which showed a 10-year high. We’re also seeing overdoses skyrocketing, largely due to the fentanyl crisis. And we’re in the middle of an affordability crisis where vacancy rates are plummeting, low-end vacancy rates are plummeting even faster and rents are surging. Take all these factors together and we’re seeing huge numbers of people coming to us.”

The UGM’s 75-bed shelter was full Thursday night, as it has been every single night since Aug. 29, and 25 people had to be turned away.

Hunka said he met one man two days ago who had to come to the shelter simply because he couldn’t afford anywhere else.

“He was working full-time, had no history of mental health issues, no problems with addiction but because he had to leave where he was living, he had nowhere to go,” said Hunka. “He makes $12 an hour and can’t find a place that is affordable, so he has to come to UGM. That is scary.”

The UGM, which offers a range of services on top of its shelter, including drug and alcohol recovery programs and career counseling, has added an additional part-time case manager this summer to try to help deal with the increase in people seeking help.

It is also ramping up its advocacy efforts, Hunka said.

“We’re seeing numbers going in the opposite direction of where they should be,” he said. “This fall is a big deal and there are a lot of people who don’t feel like they have a lot to be thankful for. So Monday, we hope to change that on Thanksgiving by welcoming people in, make sure they are cared for and make sure they know there are people who can help, that there is a reason to be thankful for.”

The UGM will be serving Thanksgiving meals at its main location (601 East Hastings Street), Women and Families Centre (616 East Cordova Street) and its New Westminster location (658 Clarkson Street) from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday.

For more information about the Thanksgiving dinner, UGM services, or to donate, visit the Union Gospel Mission website here.

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