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ATM glitch raises concerns in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

(Photo by Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – For several hours this weekend, people in the Downtown Eastside were erroneously allowed access to money they didn’t have.

The problem stems from system upgrades being conducted by Vancity. Members of Pigeon Park Savings, (a Vancity affiliate aimed at low-income earners,) were temporarily allowed to go into overdraft.

“People were talking about it up and down the street,” says Jeremy Hunka with Union Gospel Mission, which provides housing, food and recovery programs on East Hastings. “Most of these people felt like they were able to take money out with no consequences, that there was some sort of banking error, and they were essentially being able to take out free money.”

He says they heard the withdrawals were small: between $20 and $80, but that some people were allowed to make several such withdrawals.

The practice became so widespread that Union Gospel staff members started advising clients against it.

“We were warning them… ‘this money likely isn’t free money. This isn’t just a banking error. You’re going to have to pay back this money, so don’t take out money you don’t have and definitely don’t spend it,'” Hunka says.

He adds the glitch may have put people at risk of relapse in their drug and alcohol recovery.

In a statement, Vancity Vice President Darwin Sauer says the problem was quickly fixed, and the number of people it affected was small. The company is pledging to “work with any member who has overdrawn to determine the best way to resolve the situation.”