Cold weather walk highlights issues of homelessness

NANAIMO – Volunteers bundling up for annual Coldest Night of the Year walk.

It’s time once again to bundle up, brave the chill and raise cold cash for the Island Crisis Care Society’s programs to fight homelessness.

The annual Coldest Night of the Year walk happens Feb. 21 when organizers anticipate hundreds of participants will gather at John Barsby Secondary School, at 550 Seventh St., don blue and white Coldest Night tuques and set out on walks following two-, five- or 10-kilometre routes before returning to Barsby to warm up with coffee and a hot meal.

The walks, which happen in cities across Canada that night, are intended to give a sense of what it might be like to live on the streets through the winter months.

About 240 participants in last year’s walk raised more than $35,000.

This year, organizers hope to top $50,000 and have also added a walk event in Parksville.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work this year in Oceanside, so we decided we’d put on a specific walk so the money we raise there will stay there and the money we raise here will stay here,” said Violet Hayes, Island Crisis Care Society executive director.

Coffee and food will be donated again this year by Starbucks and Masters Touch Catering.

Hayes said throughout the winter, shelters such as Samaritan House been filled to capacity and extra people have been accommodated by putting mats on floors to make up for bed shortages.

Other shelters reported similar overflows, especially when weather turned particularly cold in December.

Money raised from the Coldest Night of the Year walk will be used for programs in Nanaimo.

Over the past year, Island Crisis Society has focused on the Samaritan House Pilot Project designed to help break the cycle of having people rotate in and out of emergency shelters by acquiring rent subsidies and establishing transitional housing to provide support to help people permanently move into affordable housing.

The society is also preparing to kick off its capital campaign to raise money to build an expansion at Samaritan House, located on Nicol Street.

“I think it’s really important that we can identify with what it’s like to be out in the cold and the wet – last year we had a big snow storm – but really just to help raise awareness and to raise funds,” Hayes said.

For more information about the Island Crisis Care Society and its programs, please visit www.iccare.ca.

For more information about the Coldest Night of the Year walk, please visit the organization’s website at https://coldestnightoftheyear.org.