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'Street-proof' backpacks to be handed out from Vancouver to Abbotsford

Patrick Johnston, Postmedia

The Union Gospel Mission distributing Citypaks to homeless people across the Lower Mainland beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 8. (PNG)

The Union Gospel Mission distributing Citypaks to homeless people across the Lower Mainland beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 8. (PNG)

Backpacks that are said to be custom-built for the needs of people who are living on the street are set to be distributed for the first time in Abbotsford and Langley.

"Demand is through the roof," said Jeremy Hunka from the Union Gospel Mission. The backpacks — produced in partnership with the Citypak Project and Wolfe Auto Group — proved to be popular when they were handed out last year in Vancouver, New Westminster and Surrey.

With homelessness growing in eastern parts of the Lower Mainland, organizers decided to distribute bags to Abbotsford and Langley as well.

According to UGM, "the custom-built backpacks are specifically designed for life on the street, featuring a built-in rain poncho, compression straps for bedding, reflective straps, durable material and anti-theft loops."

With the help of Wolfe Auto Group, UGM will hand 750 bags over to organizations that work with the homeless across the region. At least 300 of those will be distributed in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford.

“After witnessing the impact these survival bags had on individuals last year we knew our good deed went a long way,” Wolfe Auto Group’s Tristan Schon said in a media release. “We really wanted to bring Citypak to charities in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley again this year.”

Two people, Christine and William, who received bags on Wednesday, said they'd been sharing a small backpack to store their important documents since moving to Vancouver in July. They're from Campbell River, where they were left homeless after the building was sold and the new owners evicted the tenants in order to renovate.

The couple have been couch surfing with friends in Vancouver while looking for new permanent housing.

“It’s hard to share one bag …. we’re trying to keep our organized papers in one spot, but we end up mixing them up because we are in a rush or losing stuff because one bag is not big enough for two people. I know the bag will help lots."

Citypak, founded in Chicago, has handed out more that 41,000 backpacks in 107 cities across North America.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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