January 2, 2018

RCMP Gazette Magazine.

2018.01.02 RCMP Gazette

By Sgt. Peter DeVries, North Vancouver detachment, RCMP

The peaks of the North Shore Mountains — giant stone pillars that shield British Columbia’s Lower Mainland from the unbound wilderness that lies beyond their slopes — rise like fence posts around an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. But each day, when the sun sinks into the Pacific Ocean behind Vancouver Island and the shadows steadily creep over the city, the temperatures in North Vancouver rapidly fall.

Cpl. Randy Wong knows very well how sharp the biting cold can be on the North Shore, particularly for those without the warm comfort of their own home. Over the past few years, while walking the streets of North Vancouver on shift, Wong noticed a marked increase in the homeless population in this otherwise-affluent community. In fact, recent community safety concerns and crime associated with homelessness has compelled the detachment’s senior management to direct resources to address the issue.

In his efforts outside of work to help address this growing problem, Wong goes above and beyond. Each fall for the past three years, he and his partner Sahar have cobbled together a supply of care packages for the men and women who Wong encounters during his shifts. Ziplock bags containing warm mitts, toques, socks, disposable rain ponchos, energy bars and other essential supplies are handed out to those whose lives are spent largely without shelter. The couple has also spearheaded a successful detachment campaign seeking donations from other RCMP members to help buy the supplies.

Wong often heads out on his own time to hand out the kits, sometimes climbing up and down the city’s streets even after a long night shift. He and Sahar have donated hundreds of volunteer hours and a good deal of their own money in the hopes of inspiring others in the detachment to donate funds for more supplies. Wong is now also running a website, called warmingthehomeless, to raise awareness and build momentum.

He also ensures that a good supply of the kits are available for members to take on the road during their shifts. He encourages his colleagues to deliver them to those in need. Consequently the kits do more than just stave off frostbite, hunger and loneliness. “They are helpful in getting officers out of their police cars and engaging with people on their beat,” says Wong.

Detachment members often attend the local homeless shelter to learn from outreach workers where some of their clients might be “denned up.” They can then check on them to make sure they are faring adequately, or to offer a hot chocolate or two.

“A few weeks ago, we provided one of these packages to a homeless man living on the streets,” says Wong. “His name is Al, he hangs out at the bottle depot, and he’s in a wheelchair. When he discovered there were socks in the package, he almost cried out of gratitude.”

“Another woman from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side was trying to get away from her ex-boyfriend who has a court order to stay away from her. She, too, lives on the streets and was overcome with emotion when she realized someone actually cared.”

Each year, when the leaves begin to turn and once again the cold comes creeping down the mountainside, Wong sends a message to detachment members. It’s a simple, honest message with a compelling clarity of purpose: “Grab a package and put it in your car. Hand out a package to someone who is homeless. Please help us give them a chance to survive the elements this fall and winter season. No matter the reason, they found themselves living outside. The least we can do is provide some comfort and warmth. Find it in your heart to help. Donate what you can afford. Hand out what you can.”

Wong’s work is inspiring others in the community to contribute as well, and he hopes to capitalize on the interest he’s generated to drive his work forward. His work serves as a credit not only to his character and dedication, but also to the detachment and the RCMP as a whole.

December 26, 2017

Couple outfits homeless with warm clothes.
Jeremy Shepherd / North Shore News
December 23, 2017.

Randy Wong and Sahar Manochehri of Warming the Homeless hold up some care packages containing warm clothes that they are giving out to people during the coldest months of the year. They are hoping to hand out between 250 and 300 packages this year. photo Kevin Hill, North Shore News

The driver’s eyes darted from sidewalk to sidewalk as her car whispered around the block for the third time.
She was looking for someone.
The someone in question was wet and cold and not in the mood to deal with the driver. And yet she persisted.

I have something for you, Sahar Manochehri remembers saying.
“What could you possibly have?” the man asked, hustling away from her.
Give me a chance, Manochehri insisted.

She produced a Ziploc bag. Inside was a toque, gloves, knitted wool socks, a rain poncho, hand warmer packets, and, because it’s Christmas, a candy cane. For homeless women, the packages include hand lotion and hygiene products.

“Why?” the man asked.
“Why not?” Manochehri responded. “You’re human. I’m human.”

The explanation sufficed, Manochehri says, smiling as she describes the man putting on a poncho faster than she’s ever seen anyone don a poncho.

“At that moment, I don’t care if you’re a criminal, to me you’re another human and I just want to make you feel good for five minutes.”

Manochehri and her husband Randy Wong are the founding members of Warming the Homeless.

For the fourth consecutive year, the duo are spending the year’s coldest months handing out as many packages of warm clothes as they can.

Like surfers waiting for their wave, Wong and Manochehri spend autumn surveilling clothing retailers and waiting for the new toques and gloves to arrive.

They usually swing from store to store, gathering as much as they can – so long as it meets their standards.

Something feels amiss in giving homeless people discarded clothes, Wong says, explaining that homeless people are treated as society’s discards far too often.

Manochehri appraises each piece of clothing, ensuring the gloves are double layered, the toques are thick, and the ponchos can stand up to the North Shore’s tireless rainfall.

But preparations for the coming cold of 2017 were initially sluggish as Wong and Manochehri watched donations trickle in.

But then the trickle turned into a snowball, thanks to a Lynn Valley resident known only as Tom.

Tom asked the couple what they needed this year. Well Tom, they replied, we’re always looking for socks and gloves.

He furnished them with 200 pairs of each.

With a little help from their friends, Wong and Manochehri are hoping to hand out between 250 and 300 packages this year.

“We’re fortunate enough that we do have a warm home to go to,” Wong says. “What about those people who don’t?”

As an operation, Warming the Homeless began about four years ago. But as an idea, Warming the Homeless was born from a series of pangs in Manochehri’s conscience.

“I haven’t given anything to anybody lately,” she recalls thinking.

Reflecting on the hands of the homeless, she decided to give out $50 of gloves.

On hearing his wife’s idea, Wong found himself thinking about feet, and decided to contribute $50 of socks.

Homeless people often suffer corns, calluses, as well as infections in their soles and toes.

A Toronto-based study once reported approximately two-thirds of homeless people reported a foot health concern.

Pretty soon they had a package. But getting those gloves and socks on the right hands and feet was another challenge.

When the first snow drifted over the North Shore in 2016, Manochehri recalls forcibly nudging her husband awake.

“I’m like, ‘Get up, you can’t sleep,’” she recalls. “It’s snowing. We’ve got to go to the shelter.”

The Ziploc packages were welcome at the shelter, but Wong is well-aware they’re also needed elsewhere.

There are many homeless people who avoid shelters and sleep rough, Wong explains.

Getting packages to those people can require a lot of diligence and little luck.

Wong, also known as North Vancouver RCMP officer Corp. Wong, recalls cruising down Marine Drive in the wee smalls between midnight and daybreak.

Spotting a homeless man, he flipped on the lights, pulled a U-turn and got out of the car.

The homeless man, Dan Whitely, looked at him suspiciously, Wong recalls.

“How many cops have literally come up to him (and said): ‘What are you doing here?’” Wong explains.

But they got to talking anyway. Whitely wanted one thing: a blanket.

Wong went looking for a wool-blend, water resistant and mildew resistant blanket.

He found the blanket, but for months he couldn’t find Whitely.

The blanket went from the trunk of Wong’s police cruiser to the trunk of his car as he kept waiting to run into Whitely.

Finally, Wong and Manochehri spotted Whitely at a Tim Hortons on Marine Drive.

The three shared a coffee and Whitely finally got his blanket.

Hot drinks have also become part of Warming the Homeless, as Wong persuaded some of his fellow officers to contribute McDonald’s coffee stickers to a communal card that can help a homeless person get a hot cup on a cold night.

Wong has managed to get police officers and firefighters to hand out the packages, and he’s hoping to involve B.C. Ambulance.

“That’s a tough nut to crack,” Wong says.

However, he’s gratified to see the packages have migrated down highways and across bodies of water, turning up in Chilliwack as well as Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“Our goal and dream is to have a package in everybody’s hand, it’s not a territorial thing, it just happens to be born out of the North Shore.”

The program seems to have made life a little better for some homeless people, Wong says, noting that he’s run into guys who still have the Ziploc bag a year later.

Manochehri and Wong are also hoping to ease a stigma that remains pervasive around homeless people.

Manochehri recalls seeing parents pull their children away from a homeless man on Lonsdale Avenue, “as if that person’s a monster.”

“We really have to break that stigma,” Wong agrees.

“When I give out a package, I feel good about it, not because I did something good but because I feel like, for a second, I made them feel good about themselves,” Manochehri says.

But it’s also about giving hope to people who have lost everything.

As more people struggle to keep their place in a sometimes unforgiving economy, Wong says he’s seen a lot of people without hope.

“It warms my soul,” he says, “to see the look on their face and how important this is to them.”

“If you can give them that hope … maybe that might get them in a shelter, maybe that might get them in a health clinic,” he says.

“But it starts off with something.”

November 7, 2017

We are trying something new this year. We are reaching out to see if we can provide a warm drink (coffee/tea/hot chocolate) for homeless.

We ask that you provide us a either a completed coffee card or the drink stickers from your coffee cup.

McD's cups

You can send the coffee card or stickers to:

147 East 14th Street North Vancouver, B.C. V7L 2N4
ATTN: Cpl. Randall Wong.

Our goal is to add at least one coffee card per winter package.

Together we can make a difference in someones life and warm the hands and hearts of the homeless.

Our sincerest thanks, Sahar & Randy.

October 11, 2017.

Today I met with Julie, Laura & Megan of HealthConnection Clinic located at 148 15th Street East and learned about their “Stepping Stones Outreach Program”. Their team provides primary care to unattached residence in the North Shore with unique complex needs who face complex medical, mental health and addictions, and/or socio-economic needs (like housing, income, and access to food). They are passionate and dedicated to this program and providing assistance to the unattached residents. Julie is interested in providing our “Winter” packages to their clients who are in need of our items. So tomorrow we will begin providing both men’s and women’s packages to HealthConnection Clinic. Sahar and I are very excited and look forward to supplying Julie, Laura, Megan and all the staff at HealthConnection Clinic with our winter packages.