The Abbotsford branch of the B.C. Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction formerly had a policy of only letting a few people wait in its waiting room, even with many vacant chairs in the room. That left the remainder waiting outside, often in rain or snow. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Homelessness

B.C. welfare office criticized for leaving clients waiting outside in rain, snow

Jesse Wegenast says the ministry branch has now changed its policy to allow people to wait inside

A Lower Mainland social assistance office is reportedly making changes to how it deals with those waiting to access its services after being criticized for keeping many waiting outside.

Pastor Jesse Wegenast, harm reduction co-ordinator with The 5 and 2 Ministries in Abbotsford, says for about a year the city’s office for the B.C. Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction would only allow a handful of people in the office at a time, forcing the remainder to wait outside, a practice he says is indicative of how society treats those in poverty or homelessness.

That often meant lineups of up to a dozen people waiting outside, even in the rain or snow, Wegenast said.

“There’s no seating area, there’s no heater, there’s no awning. So if it’s raining, people are standing in the rain. If you have a walker mobility aid, you’re leaning against your walker mobility aid. If you have kids, you’re waiting out there with your kids,” Wegenast said.

“I’ve heard from other people who work in this field that there have been multiple complaints made over the past year about this situation … People are standing outside in line when there’s 150 people, that’s not what’s at issue. What’s at issue is when there’s 15 empty chairs in the waiting room, one person sitting in the waiting room and 15 people waiting outside in the elements.”

READ MORE: Should B.C. nix ‘Welfare Wednesday’ and stagger income assistance cheques?

After meeting with the supervisor of the Abbotsford office, Wegenast said it was “evident that it was unlikely to change,” so he recently wrote to the ministry and got a call from the minister Thursday night.

“(We) chatted about it briefly, and I’m confident that things are going to be different going forward,” Wegenast said.

But Wegenast said the issue is just another cog in a machine of mistreatment of those in poverty or homelessness.

“I don’t think this sort of thing would happen at any other government agency. It wouldn’t have happened at the driver’s licence office, it wouldn’t have happened at Service Canada, because that’s used by everybody. And many of us would stand up and say something for ourselves … and might have been listened to, as well,” Wegenast said.

“And don’t fear recourse, right? Many people fear recourse if they speak up … They’re afraid that causing a fuss will lead to a difference in service that they receive from the ministry. They’re afraid to speak out lest their crisis grant not be approved, or their rent cheque comes from the ministry so they’re afraid for that.”

The reasoning for keeping them waiting outside were twofold, Wegenast said – first, to encourage people to access services online, and second, based on a decision from the occupational health and safety committee at the branch wanted to limit the number of people in the waiting room at any given time.

“We’re talking about people who, some of whom, don’t have access to the internet except at the public library, or at the very office where they’d have to wait in line outside, they have a couple of computers in there,” Wegenast said.

“Also, many people who have developmental disabilities, who have a difficult time, maybe, with literacy, and often with digital literacy as well, are being asked to access services online as an alternative to standing in the rain.”

Wegenast said he’s not pleased by the change, but rather that he’s no longer angry about it.

“It was an unreasonable thing, and now a reasonable thing is happening.”

Find more of our coverage on Homelessness here.

Report an error or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Abbotsford News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Local skicross racers hit the World Cup circuit

Olympian India Sherret is joined by fellow local racers Zoe Chore and Courtney Hoffos

UPDATED: Hwy 93 reopens after rockslide blocks traffic in Fairmont Hot Springs

Highway at Fairmont between Dutch Creek and Westside Road blocked until geotechnical team can assess

Rob Morrison sworn in as Kootenay-Columbia MP

Parliament set to reconvene on Thursday with election of House Speaker, Throne Speech

Break-and-enter at Family Pantry in Canal Flats

Weekly RCMP report, November 24-December 1

VIDEO: Led by ‘Marriage Story,’ Netflix dominates Golden Globe noms

Netflix flexed its muscles across all categories, just as it is girding for battle with a host of new streaming services

320 years since the ‘Big One’ doesn’t mean it’s overdue: B.C. professor

‘It could happen today, tomorrow or 100 years from now’

Would you leave your baby alone to go to the gym? This Canadian dad did

The man identifies just as a divorced dad with a nine-month-old baby

B.C. coroner asking for help identifying man found dead in Peace region

Mounties have deemed the man’s death not suspicious and believe he died earlier this year

Lawyer competence includes knowledge of Indigenous-Crown history: B.C. law society

All practising lawyers in B.C. will be required to take a six-hour online course covering these areas

Wealth of Canadians divided along racial lines, says report on income inequality

One interesting finding was that racialized men have a higher employment rate than non-racialized men

B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

Students call for spending as international enrolment produces huge surpluses at many universities

Conservatives urge Morneau to deliver ‘urgent’ fall economic update

Morneau says the first thing the Liberals plan to do is bring in their promised tax cut for the middle class

Most Read