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Thousands of Thanksgiving meals served amid rising homeless numbers

(Hana Mae Nassar, NEWS 1130, Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) –┬áMore than 3,000 meals are expected to be served up on the Downtown Eastside at the Union Gospel Mission’s annual Thanksgiving celebration.

“Homeless numbers are surging right across pretty much every region and so there are a lot of people who do not feel like they have something to be thankful for right now in Metro Vancouver,” says Jeremy Hunka with the UGM. “We want to change that.”

Hunka says there’s been a steady, or even increased, number of single mothers and women coming through for help over the past few years.

“So that’s an area of strategic focus for us, those are some of the most vulnerable in Metro Vancouver, and a lot of them (wouldn’t) have a Thanksgiving meal today if it weren’t for us right now.”

He says volunteers are not just there to feed people. They’re also trying to connect diners to what Hunka calls life-changing programs. “That’s what this is about -changing and saving lives.”

The programs he’s referring to are the ones Tim Klassen says saved his life.

“I went through the (alcohol and drug program) here at the Union Gospel Mission,” says Klassen, who now works at the facility doing maintenance work. “Over probably ten years ago I was living the ‘Canadian Dream’ –I had my own business… and had all the material things that a person would want and loving family, and the stress got to me, I just could not deal with the stress in my life.”

He says he started to self-medicate with alcohol. His drinking would then progress to the point that he lost everything, and decided he wanted to end his life.

“I wanted to, more or less, drink myself to death. It was, I call it ‘death under the installment plan.”

It wasn’t until he stumbled across the UGM that he was able to change his life. He’s now more than two years sober, has restored relationships with his children and has found hope in his life.

Klassen believes his story is an example that anyone can face hardships. He hopes to reach people who may be professionals afraid to ask for help, and show them they’re not alone.

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter you know what walk of life you’re from whether it be socio-economic or race, colour or religion. It doesn’t matter.”

So what’s he thankful for? “My children, whom I absolutely adore. I’m also very thankful for facilities like Union Gospel Mission, because I don’t think I would still be here if they weren’t around. And just thankful for my colleagues, my friends that have supported throughout all these years.”

According to the UGM, it’s taken volunteers several days to prepare thousands of pounds of turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables and more.