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.