Warming kits return to North Vancouver for those in need amid cold weather

Click to play video: 'Warming kits aim to provide basic comfort for North Vancouver homeless'
Warming kits aim to provide basic comfort for North Vancouver homeless
A North Vancouver RCMP corporal and his wife will be back on the streets this winter trying to make the cold nights a little easier for unhoused people – Nov 27, 2023

As the weather gets colder in North Vancouver, a volunteer-run warming kit program has returned to the city to support people experiencing homelessness.

RCMP Cpl. Randall Wong and his wife Sahar launched warmingthehomeless in 2014 to “pay something forward,” he said. At the time, he added, they both worked in professions that brought them into frequent contact with those in need of shelter.

The couple now collects funds and donations for two different kits — one for men and one for women. Each contains new items to keep warm, such as hats, toques, socks, globes, coffee, tea, and sometimes, hygiene products.

“We believe that if we truly care, we’re not going to give you discarded clothing,” Wong said in a Sunday interview.

“We just want to help to get them through the night,” he added, calling deaths related to sheltering outdoors during the winter, “preventable.”

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The program has been well-received by the community. Wong said support pours in annually from friends, family and community partners, making it possible to continue distributing the kits — despite rising costs.

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“One of the most touching ones, and I don’t know the lady, it was was anonymous — she wrote a letter saying, ‘I’m a single mother, I can’t afford much,’ and gave us $40,” he recalled.

“That’s four packages at the time, $10 a package. Today it’s about $16 a package to build.”

Wong said it’s nice to be able to “build a bridge” between police and those in precarious housing situations, given that many police interactions with them involve a “disturbance.”

Chris Byrom, District of North Vancouver assistant fire chief, agreed. He said all the districts’ fire crews have been given the kits and instructions to distribute them when they encounter someone in need, and all are pleased to do so.

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“We use it exclusively,” he told Global News.

“(People in need) see these kits and they’re so happy. It goes a long way to have warm socks, a toque, a shirt, shampoo — there’s a little food in there — it’s amazing to see their reaction.”

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Several years after co-founding warmingthehomeless, Wong’s wife Sahar joined the RCMP as well.

Now, the pair are able to distribute kits during their shifts. Wong said the bags of new clothes fill a gap, as they often encounter unhoused folks who have enough food or access to food.

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