Winter survival gear for homeless people
by Nicole Mucci
Hundreds of homeless men and women have new survival gear for the wet winter ahead, thanks to a new project unveiled in Metro Vancouver for the first time. Chicago-based Citypak Project and Union Gospel Mission have partnered to distribute more than 750 ‘street proof’ backpacks, featuring a built-in rain poncho, compression straps for bedding, reflective straps for visibility and anti-theft measures.
“I’m really happy with the new bag especially when it comes to increased security,” says Kevin Toth, a homeless man who recently had his old backpack stolen, along with the work gear inside. “Not having to worry about losing my things is a big positive.” Designed specifically for life on the street, the custom-built backpacks feature a waterproof pouch to hold critical documents. They also include ‘anti-theft loops’, which allow anyone sleeping outside to attach the bag securely to an arm or leg. They were distributed across five organizations in Metro Vancouver including Surrey, New Westminster, Mission and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“My vision was to provide a useful, high-quality backpack for the homeless that would make life on the streets of Chicago a bit easier,” says Ron Kaplan, founder of the Citypak Project. Kaplan was in Vancouver to help distribute the bags, noting that, beyond practical use of the bags, they also help restore dignity to those struggling.
Citypak Project first reached out to Union Gospel Mission via Instagram. UGM spokesperson Jeremy Hunka says the bags will help men and women walk into job interviews or appointments confidently now that they won’t be carrying plastic garbage bags or damaged gear. He also says the bags serve a dual purpose. “When someone comes for a bag they learn we have other things too – a shelter, job support, helping people find homes, getting them off drugs. Once they realize we care sometimes they are inspired to ask for help in other ways too. The looks in the eyes of our recipients during the distribution, the raw emotion – it was incredibly moving. People ran up to thank Citypak and UGM with big hugs.”