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

Mounties identify woman found dead on Kelowna beach

“Our investigators do not believe criminality was involved.”

Pacific Poke bowl lovers can get a free taste at the restaurant’s ‘Grand Opening Event’

The restaurant will offer some of its specials Thursday evening at its Kelowna location

Youth Shelter Fundraiser encourages kids to play for a good cause

The fundraiser takes place April 27 at the EnergyPlex

Tribute to Kelowna’s Chinese Canadian pioneers planned

A tribute to Kelowna’s historic Chinese Canadian community got underway this weekend.

Update: RCMP confirm body found at Kelowna’s Gyro Beach

Police tape is blocking part of the beach and several RCMP officers are on scene.

Homeless activists outside Notre Dame demand ‘a roof too’

Wealthy people have donated millions to effort to rebuild cathedral after devastating fire

South Okanagan community bands together on social media after shootings

Many in Penticton have turned to social media to express their condolences

PHOTOS: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says ‘I do’ on Earth Day

May and John Kidder got married Monday morning in Victoria

Okanagan resort seeking connnection to rail trail

Predator Ridge Resort slated to present wish for trail from resort to ORT to Vernon council

South Okanagan society looking to bring new racing event to their park

The Desert Park Exhibition Society board is looking into hosting another major event

Okanagan power outage scuttles – but not ruins – city’s mission’s Easter meals

Vernon’s Upper Room Mission will serve Easter dinner a day later due to downtown power outage

Waterway Houseboats wins $2 million for damages caused in 2012 flood

Houseboat company wins lawsuit involving Province of British Columbia, District of Sicamous

Sri Lanka invokes war-time military powers after nearly 300 killed in Easter bombings

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism says 39 foreign tourists were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks

Netflix filming in North Okanagan

Multiple downtown locations and scenic areas to star in TV production

Most Read