Posted on: February 9th, 2023. By: Sheila Wang, yorkregion.com, Original Article.
The family-friendly fundraising walk Coldest Night of the Year is taking place in Richmond Hill on Feb. 25
It was the first snow day of the winter when 27-year-old Jessica was unexpectedly thrown out of a home where she had been couch-surfing in Vaughan.
Cold, scared and all alone, the young woman from Mexico found herself wandering the dark streets of Toronto, looking for a place to spend the night.
The shelters were all full.
But Jessica kept trying.
She eventually got help from the Mosaic Interfaith Out of the Cold, a program run by an emergency housing provider called Blue Door in York Region.
“I was going to be safe and I was going to be warm for the night and I was going to have a place to sleep,” was her first thought when Jessica arrived at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, one of the four emergency housing locations for the Out of the Cold program.
Still remembering her first warm meal of the day — a chicken casserole served at the church — Jessica said she knew right at the moment she was saved.
Now, having spent almost two months in the program, the 27-year-old said she wanted to share her story to garner community support for the charities serving people experiencing homelessness ahead of the annual Coldest Night of the Year walk.
The family-friendly fundraising walk is taking place in Richmond Hill on Feb. 25, inviting the public to step outside to shine a light of welcome to those in need.
“The face of homelessness, it has changed. We’re seeing a more diverse population that is struggling to make ends meet,” Rehana Sumar, a senior manager at Blue Door, said.
Due to the economic situation, rising rents and a global pandemic, the shelters are seeing a shift from chronic homeless individuals to people like Jessica who were forced into homelessness, Sumar said.
“She was precariously employed and precariously housed,” the manager said of Jessica’s experience.
Jessica, a nurse by profession who used to work at a fertility clinic in Mexico, came to Canada last summer, claiming refugee status.
The young woman landed in Toronto with nothing but a dream of practicing nursing again.
That dream was dashed when she was evicted from her home, as she was unable to pay rent, after having issues with immigration status.
Jessica said she tried to get by while crashing with a friend and helping out around the house until she found herself on the streets all of a sudden, just before Christmas.
If she didn’t find Out of the Cold that night, Jessica said she would’ve probably been “freezing to death” or hiding out in a subway.
“That’s my angel,” Jessica said, while pointing at Sumar, at the interview.
It was Sumar who helped get her off the streets and into the program.
“I could tell that she was very traumatized. She was crying a lot, scared,” Sumar recalled about meeting Jessica for the first time on her first night.
Jessica has since been moved to a transitional housing facility where she has a warm bed, hot meals, medical attention and assistance with all the paperwork processing.
Now that her refugee claim has been accepted and other documents are underway, Jessica is only steps away from landing a job and securing housing.
But even on her first night of the program, Jessica asked how she could help.
“I just wanted to give back,” Jessica said, stressing how nicely she was treated by everyone at Blue Door, from security guards to the housing worker.
And she did.
Jessica volunteers three times a week at the program now: helping out in the kitchen, preparing meals and desserts.
Even in her darkest moments, Jessica said she has never gone off the rails and wanted to encourage those experiencing difficulties and hurt in life to come and get help.
“I never give up on nothing. Just keep trying,” Jessica said.
The refugee will participate in the Coldest Night of the Year walk in Richmond Hill, which starts at 8569 Bayview Ave., to raise awareness of homelessness issues in the community.
Please visit cnoy.org/location/richmondhill for more information about the walk.