The Coldest Night of the Year is a chance for everyone to get a sense of what it’s like to need a home.
The event, which took place in Campbell River and across the country on Saturday, also raises funds to help people with no place to live.
“The event is a short walk around town,” said Valery Puetz, executive director of the Campbell River and North Island Transition Society. “The whole goal of this is to raise money for the homeless and hurting in Campbell River, and so the walk on a cold night is to give a feel of what it’s like to live on the streets.”
Puetz, who serves as event director along with Diane Palmer, told the crowd before the event they were joining thousands of walkers in more than 130 sites across the country that take part in the Coldest Night of the Year.
“We’re so excited to be part of this nationwide effort that has raised over $5 million,” she said.
As start time for the walk approached, Puetz said they did not have quite as many people signed up as for last year’s event, which was the first time the society organized it. However, they had already raised more money, with more people still coming in the door. Online they raised $18,000 in advance, plus more brought in on the event day, which will help provide accommodations for people in the community. The final numbers are still being tallied.
“Last year was a tremendous turnout, but we didn’t make quite as much money as we’d hoped, but for a first year, we were pretty happy,” she said. “This year, it’s looking like we’ll do better than last.”
Filling in for Mayor Andy Adams, Coun. Charlie Cornfield congratulated Puetz and all of the volunteers before reading a proclamation to kick off the event.
“Having a home is a human right,” he said, reading the proclamation. “Homelessness affects the community as a whole.”
For the event, participants followed either a 2-km or 5-km route, then returned to the starting point at the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets hall Admiral de Wolfe on 13th. The organizers lined up the 25 teams they had as a goal, the largest being The Frozen Chosen Go Forth, a group from Trinity Presbyterian Church that included 17 team members.
“We’re the biggest – number of people, that is,” said team member Colin McPherson.
Other top teams included Jak’s Beer and Wine Store and the Walmart Sparks.
Along with the money, the event, of course, aims to let participants know what some people face out on the streets.
“It’s a tiny touch of what it’s like to be cold and not have anywhere to go,” Puetz said.
This can even take the form of couch surfing for some, she explained.
“There’s many forms of homelessness, not just those who live on the street,” she added. “That’s just the most visible and harshest reality.”
She hopes this event will help change misconceptions about homelessness – for example, that people choose to be homeless.
“There’s many reasons why people end up in a terrible spot like living on the street,” she said, adding that almost all affected have, at some point, experienced severe trauma during their lifetime.
After Saturday’s walk, the participants returned to the hall to be served a hot meal that was prepared by clients living at Rose Harbour.
“The food in raw form was provided by Thrifty’s and the clients cooked chili and brownies and buns, and so they helped participate in this,” Puetz said.