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Community groups scramble in wake of UGM closure

Union Gospel Mission on North Railway Avenue is closing in two weeks

Churchs, outreach organizations, and concerned citizens attended a meeting at Mission's Hope Central Wednesday at noon to discuss what's to be done to fill the hole left by the impending closure of the Union Gospel Mission.

The organization, which served 19,000 meals last year, and provided things like food hampers, bus tickets, groceries, counselling, and showers, announced it would be closing its Mission location on North Railway Avenue on Aug. 1 to focus its efforts on Vancouver's downtown eastside.

"This is really bad news. This is going to hit our community hard," said Julie Czerwinski, a youth worker at the Mission Friendship Centre.

The Friendship Centre also provides a drop-in kitchen from Monday to Friday, serving roughly 80 people daily, as well as drug and alcohol counselling and other outreach programs.

Czerwinski said the centre has been hit hard by recent federal cuts to the Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth Fund, a devastating decision since it not only took away $75,000 in funding, the cutbacks were made retroactively to April which threaten existing contracts.

She added that on Oct. 12 the funding for food will run out, leaving volunteers at the Friendship Centre wondering if it will still be able to provide food.

Numerous speakers echoed similar experiences, from churches that have had to discontinue food services, to organizations struggling to maintain service levels amid minimal funding levels.

"It's very emotional," said recovering addict and former drug dealer John Diablo. "This has given me the courage to say something about it."

Diablo said UGM outreach workers got him off the streets and into rehab, changing his life and saving him from being a "bad guy."

Many community groups stepped forward to offer their programs and services, but there's doubt the combined efforts of the remaining charities can make up for the loss of UGM.

Some suggested the creation of a unified group not associated with any one entity to identify and allocate the food needs of the district's downtrodden.

Organizations will now meet with their boards or members and discuss an action plan. There will be a second meeting at 33129 North Railway Ave. next Wednesday at noon to work on concrete decisions that will help soften the blow of the Aug. 1 closure.