A video clip has emerged showing a van with the Union Gospel Mission logo dropping off unhoused people in downtown Chilliwack on Saturday (April 22).
But it turns out there was more to the story, with nuances not obvious at first.
The footage shot by a resident that surfaced appeared to bolster the often-repeated allegation that random dropoffs in Chilliwack of those experiencing homelessness do in fact happen.
For years the official word from city hall has been that out-of-towners being dumped in Chilliwack – or shipped here by the busload – was just a myth.
Mayor Ken Popove contacted The Chilliwack Progress to say it was “disheartening” for him to see the video, and he immediately reached out to the head of the Union Gospel Mission (UGM), president Dean Kurpjuweit.
The UGM van driver is being asked on film where the people he was dropping off were going to stay.
The local is heard to say she’s filming the van being unloaded “because we’re tired of everybody bringing everybody out here to Chilliwack and dropping them off,” and then ends with: “I’ll just let the mayor know what you guys are doing.”
The mayor was alerted after the concerned citizen contacted the Chilliwack Downtown BIA to say they had just witnessed what they thought was a random dropoff to the community, captured on video.
“Dropping off folks in our community just exacerbates the problem for our service providers,” the mayor pointed out.
The Union Gospel Mission official reassured the mayor they would be looking into the alleged dropoff incident, Popove said.
“I was told the problem was rectified,” the mayor added, and that mission officials would be returning to pick the unhoused individuals up.
“But I cannot confirm if that actually happened,” the mayor said.
“Look, I have empathy,” Popove said. “I’ve worked on the social file for years. We certainly know they are human beings, but I have to look after my people.”
Nicole Mucci, head of communications with Union Gospel Mission, clarified that the individual, “the community member” they were helping with transportation, was coming from a Mission shelter with a friend.
He had asked UGM officials for a ride to Chilliwack in order to meet up with a prospective landlord, and possibly get work.
“We would never ever drive someone somewhere without a specific plan in mind,” Mucci said.
They understand how it might look on the video, without the necessary context, which had been provided to Mayor Popove and council.
The van is UGM’s ‘Fraser Valley Mobile Mission Rescue Vehicle,’ used by their outreach team to help those experiencing homelessness in encampments to get access to services from some of the most remote parts of the Fraser Valley.
“We wanted to make it clear than when the public sees a UGM vehicle, that they know that we are out helping people make changes in their lives, we’re not out to drop them off with no reason.”
Many of the service providers, in Chilliwack and elsewhere, receive provincial funding from agencies like BC Housing to assist those experiencing homelessness, and don’t ask clients which community they’re from before offering services.
The individual and his friend were heading into Chilliwack to meet with a potential landlord about accommodations around the corner from where they were dropped off, she stressed.
“But he had been duped, and that meeting did not materialize,” Mucci said.
The individual and friend were driven back to Mission on Monday after spending a couple of nights at Ruth and Naomi’s shelter, she said.
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