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Coquitlam student puts life lessons to work with outreach

Coquitlam resident Macarthy Whyzel is a third-year criminology student at Douglas College who is trying to make a difference on the homelessness front.
Macarthy Whyzel loads a flat of water bottles in the back of his car that he'll distribute to people in the Tri-Cities living with homelessness.

When Macarthy Whyzel was young, his dad, Rob, would take him to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to share with him some of the real human struggles and challenges that had also touched his life growing up Métis.

Now Macarthy is trying to put some of those lessons to work in a grassroots outreach effort to people living with homelessness in the Tri-Cities.

The third-year criminology student at Douglas College has started the Uplifting Group to provide some of life’s simple necessities like bottled water, nutritious snacks and toiletries to marginalized residents without the security of a roof over their head or certainty of their next meal.

Whyzel said the initiative grew out of his annual Halloween ritual to transform his family’s Coquitlam home into a haunted destination that last year raised $5,000 for Backpack Buddies. While driving around assembling the building materials and decorative knickknacks, he became all too aware of the tent encampments in local parks and wooded areas, the shopping carts of clothes and other items squirrelled next to parkades or secluded stoops.

So when the ghouls were packed away in storage, Whyzel said he ventured down to Walmart and filled the trunk of his car with flats of bottled water and boxes of snacks like granola bars to be delivered when he was out and about.

“It felt like that’s what I should be doing,” Whyzel said.

In the months since, several volunteers have reached out to join his effort and he’s been connected to local groups like the Immigrant Link Centre Society that help acquire the supplies that are now stacked in storage cupboards in his family’s home.

Whyzel said the tours around the Tri-Cities’ homeless encampments are as much about making a human connection as delivering water. He said the advent of spring means the closure of many of the emergency shelters and services that kick in for winter’s rougher weather, leaving some of the people who rely on them at loose ends, retreating out of sight into bushes and right-of-ways.

“I’m trying to fill the gap when that happens,” he said.

Whyzel said a granola bar delivered with an empathetic ear to listen to their stories can go a long way to humanize the struggles endured by the homeless population, help them feel valued, maybe even put them on a path to more stability. Along with the sustenance, he also carries in his pocket printouts of local resources the people he meets might be able to tap as most of the information is only available online.

Whyzel said the effort expanded when he shared some of his experiences online as people reached out wondering how they might be able to help.

Whyzel said most have had previous experience dealing with people in need so they’re able to head out on their own as their schedules allow. Volunteers pick up supplies from his garage and stay connected on their own Facebook group to share stories and tips.

Whyzel said the encounters he’s had with the homeless have reinforced his own aspirations for the type of law enforcement career he wants to pursue.

“You can’t just come in and solve the problems,” he said. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to just listen. These are unique people with unique stories.”

You can learn more about the Uplifting Group and the work they do through their Instagram account.