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North Van couple hands out warming kits to homeless community over winter

Warm The Homeless started in 2014 to help the unhoused better prepare for the colder season
Sahar Manochehri and husband RCMP Cpl. Randall Wong started Warm The Homeless in 2014. | Randall Wong

A North Vancouver couple are hoping to ease the burden of winter for people experiencing homelessness, via a kit delivery program that brings comfort and warmth to those in need.

The idea for Warm The Homeless was borne by RCMP Cpl. Randall Wong and his wife Sahar Manochehri in 2014.

While working as a security officer at Lion's Gate Hospital, Manochehri had felt compelled to help after witnessing first hand the large number of people who would try to enter the facility each evening in search of warmth and shelter.

“We always felt that there wasn’t enough being done to help the people on the street get through this inclement weather,” said Wong. “That’s how it started, wanting to do more and pay it forward.”

Manochehri would buy coffees and teas for those who were unhoused. Before long, she was handing out heavy gloves and woolly socks, a small parcel that grew over time to also include brand new toques, ponchos, hand warmers, tea, coffee and hot chocolate packets, energy bars and other comforting essentials.

While funded entirely by Manochehri and Wong in the initial years, donations from a “very supportive community” have ensured that the couple can expand their offerings and deliver “hundreds” of packages each year, said Wong, with each package costing around $16 to put together.

The project has expanded over time to include packages catered specifically to women, said Wong, packed with feminine hygiene products, hand and face cream, travel size shampoo and conditioners, and gloves, hats and scarves in more feminine colours and styles.

“We found so many women commenting on that, they were so grateful,” said Wong.

Manochehri now works alongside Wong at the RCMP, with the two distributing the kits while on shift.

The program has been introduced to both the City and District of North Vancouver, with packages now carried in frontline trucks across the North Shore, and fire departments in Burnaby and Langley.

“This is such a great opportunity for police to get out of the car and engage with the people who are homeless throughout the city,” said Wong.

Wong said the program helps to build trust between the police force and the homeless community.

“If we’re in uniform, the officers can be met with hostility, as it is the police who are usually the ones asking these people to move from their spots,” he said. “But once they realize that we’re trying to help, they are so grateful. They tell us how much they need packages like this. We’ve seen hardcore people literally break down and cry,” he said.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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