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A Response to the Assistance to Shelter Act By Bill Mollard, Union Gospel Mission President

At Union Gospel Mission, in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, we experience the heartbreaking moments that our guests and residents share with us on a daily basis. Be it crushing poverty, the indignities of homelessness, the deadly grip of addiction, or the horrors of mental illness, this neighbourhood is disproportionately represented when it comes to human suffering.
I constantly marvel at the resiliency of those who many would believe to be hopeless. The compassion, courage and grace to survive on the streets of the Downtown Eastside are qualities I respect and admire deeply. I am humbled to work for these souls and I learn from them daily. It is for them that I am writing this.
The Ministry of Housing’s Assistance to Shelter Act, which would allow police to forcibly move people to the door of a homeless shelter in extreme weather, could very well save lives. It may get people to a doorstep that can offer them not only a bed and a warm meal, but also long-term help such as addiction recovery programs and permanent housing. Nevertheless, UGM can definitively say, without reservation, you cannot force people to get help. They must choose it themselves, of their own free will. Anything less is not only ineffective, but violates principles at the heart of our free society. 
I recognize that the goal of this legislation is to provide temporary shelter in times of immediate need. However, it may do more harm than good. Once the police have the homeless person at the door of the shelter, they cannot force them to go inside. So what has actually been achieved? By taking someone from everything they know and cherish – their possessions, pet, or the place they consider home – you may have created more instability and mistrust in an individual and a community that is already unstable and fragmented.
Minister Coleman has done more than many people will ever know to help house British Columbia’s homeless and I can unequivocally say he has a true heart for our most marginalized citizens. This government has taken great strides toward ending the homelessness crisis and for that they should be applauded. 
I know we all recognize more needs to be done.  UGM believes one true positive has come from the ensuing conversation regarding this issue, the understanding that there is a need to mobilize service providers who can proactively seek out those in need. Our police, while as determined as they are compassionate, are not trained outreach or social workers.  UGM has been able to help multitudes of people who are not yet ready for a shelter or other services through our Mobile Mission Rescue Van, which meets people where they’re at with food, warm clothes, blankets, and referrals to other services.  It has taken, at times, multiple interactions with someone to build enough trust where they will consider alternatives to their current circumstances.
The temporary displacement of people without relationship will only cause chaos and further entrenchment of the fragile souls that call our streets home.  I celebrate the government’s commitment to assign more resources, but implore them to consider working with the agencies that know and love this community. By providing funding for outreach workers, integrated mental health teams and shelters, we will meet the unique needs of our chronically homeless, thus ensuring no one else needlessly dies in the cold.
Union Gospel Mission has been reaching the hungry, hurting and homeless for nearly 70 years. Through its 10 locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counseling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to men, women, youth and children struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. UGM is a proud member of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. To find out more, visit
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