For Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents who rely on a government check once a month, Saturday provided a windfall.
“I went to the bank. Sure enough, I withdrew $80 bucks and it came out,” one woman, who did not want to be identified, told Global News. She was awoken by a neighbour who told her there was a glitch happening at Pigeon Park Savings. “I should not have had $80 dollars in my account, not even $2 dollars…Next thing you know everyone else was running to the bank”, the woman said.
Another man said he was also able to drain $80 dollars from his account, which had a negative $16 dollar balance and is normally only eligible for $20 overdrafts. Both he and the woman admitted they used the cash to buy drugs.
“We know that around cheque issue day overdoses in the Downtown Eastside go up by a significant margin and we would hate for that to happen because of this,” said Jeremy Hunka from the Union Gospel Mission. “And we would really hate for anyone struggling to overcome addiction to have a setback in their recovery.”
Pigeon Park Savings opened in 2004 as a partnership between Vancity and the Portland Hotel Society. The branch on East Hastings provides basic banking services to DTES residents living on low incomes. During Vancity’s first banking upgrade in two decades, about 100 Pigeon Park Savings members were able to withdraw money from their empty bank accounts over the weekend.
In a statement, Vancity vice-president of marketing and communications Darwin Sauer, said they acted quickly to rectify the problem.
“We were alerted on Saturday afternoon that a small number of Pigeon Park members might have withdrawn funds they did not have available in their accounts. The issue was connected to a system upgrade Vancity has been conducting over the weekend. We took immediate action to ensure Pigeon Park members could no longer go into overdraft. Full service has now been restored to ATMs and regular limits now apply for the majority of our members.
In preparation for our upgrade, Vancity conducted a rigorous risk analysis to set daily limits for our members. At Pigeon Park, we set limits in partnership with the Portland Hotel Society staff who work at the branch and who understand the needs of members in that community. We will work with any member who has overdrawn to determine the best way to resolve the situation.”
“It seems like a lot of people have gotten some free money for the time being. At least until they have to pay it back,” said DTES resident Glenn Rich.
Outside of Insite, Jessica Anuroff said anytime drug users have access to extra money it can be dangerous. “I would probably go and binge on, get drugs too,” she said.
But not all DTES drug users believe the overdrafts will lead to a spike in overdoses. “That’s just people being greedy with dope right. You could always do more but you can’t do less,” said the woman who got $80 out of her empty account.
Although Vancity would not say whether the Pigeon Park Savings overdrafts would have to be paid back, any extra cash members got will likely be deducted from their next government assistance cheques.