Union Gospel Mission giving away hundreds of 'street proof' backpacks to the homeless

The Union Gospel Mission has expanded its "street proof" backpack program to the Fraser Valley. It is distributing 750 street packs to homeless people in the Lower Mainland over the next few weeks.

750 backpacks will be distributed to homeless people in the Lower Mainland

The Union Gospel Mission is helping distribute 750 backpacks to the homeless. (UGM)

Christine and Willy say they've been homeless since July, when they were evicted from their home in Campbell River after the owners sold the building.

Christine says having a place to keep their things would be a big help.

On Wednesday, they received one of 750 'street proof' backpacks being distributed to homeless people across the Lower Mainland by the Union Gospel Mission (UGM)

"A lot of us homeless people, all our personal documentation papers are all getting ruined because his bag is getting wet from walking in the rain and stuff. It'll make a big difference," said Christine. 

Christine and Willy have been sharing a backpack but are relieved to receive a second bag, saying it will "make a big difference." (UGM)

The bags are custom made for life on the street and feature compression straps for bedding, a built-in rain poncho, reflective straps and anti-theft measures.

"People don't realize that these bags can actually be a big deal, like a major difference maker. When you're homeless, a bag can hold your whole world. You carry everything you have with you at all times," said Jeremy Hunka, a spokesperson for the UGM.

Hunka says the bags cost $33 US and are provided by Chicago's CityPak Project, with assistance from Surrey's Wolfe Auto Group. 

He says the 750 bags will be distributed to at least six organizations throughout the Lower Mainland, who will hand them out directly to the vulnerable people who need them the most.

CityPak Project 'street proof' backpacks are custom made for the life on the street. (UGM)

This is the second year the UGM has handed out the bags, but this year they allocated more than 300 bags to people south of the Fraser River in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford, where they say the need is growing. 

"In places like Abbotsford, where you have a 79 per cent increase in homelessness or Langley where it more than doubled or Surrey where it's up close to 50 per cent, there aren't maybe as many services or places to go for people who are on the street, so these bags will really be a big deal to people south of the Fraser," said Hunka. 

While most of the CityPak bags will soon be handed out, Hunka says the UGM will hold on to a few dozen, which will be filled with survival items like sleeping bags and tuques, to be handed out later in the winter.

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Cory Correia

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Cory Correia is a reporter with CBC Vancouver. Send him an email at cory.correia@cbc.ca