Lace up your boots, pull a scarf around your neck and a toque over your ears, because on Saturday, Feb. 23 you have a chance to join thousands of people across Canada to raise awareness and money to combat homelessness.
The fifth annual Coldest Night of the Year walk in Port Hope will support Green Wood Coalition’s street- level outreach helping the most vulnerable people in Northumberland County. The event – with a local goal of raising $50,000 – is part of the nationwide walk-a-thon taking place in 136 communities in support of charities helping the homeless, hungry and hurting. Last year, over 200 people joined the local walk, raising more than $48,000.
“This is a family-friendly event with an incredible spirit of coming together as a community to do something important,” say Event Co-Directors Judy Hone and Phil Redford. “And as much fun as it is to walk with friends and be part of the team competition,” Judy says, “it’s also reflective, because the reality for too many people is that the cold is where they spend most of their time, not by choice.”
In fact, homelessness in Northumberland County – especially in Cobourg and Port Hope – hit the community’s collective radar screen this past summer when individuals sleeping on park benches or in tents on the fringes of parks seemed more visible than ever before. Upwards of 60 individuals and families with children are homeless at any given time across the county, where the rental vacancy rate in town hovers at .3 per cent, and emergency shelters are full nearly every night.
Green Wood Coalition Community Director David Sheffield, who is often the first person called to help those in crisis, says Northumberland’s homeless problem is more complex than just a shortage of affordable housing. The majority of individuals in crisis are victims of abuse, emotional trauma and suffer mental or physical disability.
“These are individuals who, first, need a safe and stable place to live but also need compassionate support to help them heal. Green Wood’s approach isn’t typical of how most agencies treat homelessness. To make a difference in people’s lives, you have to believe in the value of each human being and provide help that reinforces their strengths and offers them a place of belonging. This is how we see recovery happen.”
There are a variety of ways to participate in the Coldest Night of the Year – walking solo, forming or joining a team, making a pledge or volunteering. Walkers can choose a 2 or 5 km loop starting and finishing at Port Hope High School. Registration opens at 4:00 p.m. with a light, hot meal after the walk.