You can experience for one night what it’s like to walk in the homeless community’s shoes by registering for the Coldest Night of the Year in support of local shelters.
In York Region, the annual fundraising event on Feb. 26 supports Inn From the Cold in Newmarket and Blue Door in Richmond Hill.
“If (the pandemic) is difficult for me. . . imagine how much more difficult it is for people looking for houses or looking for jobs or looking for shelters,” said Inn From the Cold executive director Ann Watson.
The homeless community continues to be especially hard hit by the ongoing pandemic, according to a Blue Door news release.
About 1,500 people don’t have a place to call home in York Region, the agency stated.
The national event is an opportunity to leave the warm comfort of your home and join your neighbours and friends in a family-friendly walk, while also helping local charities provide year-round essential care to the homeless community.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been to sustain our services for those experiencing homelessness,” said Rehana Sumar, Blue Door director of programs, seasonal and health.
“It has been very challenging for our agency and staff, but also for the clients we serve. Coldest Night of the Year is not only an opportunity for the community to support the work we do, but the funds raised make it possible for us to be there for our most vulnerable residents.”
Money raised for Inn From the Cold will go toward general programming, as well as the shelter, drop-in and transitional housing programs. Funds will also be designated to support its more than 200 volunteers.
“The volunteers do frontline work. They’re really integral to us doing the work that we do,” said Watson.
Coldest Night of the Year Richmond Hill is Blue Door’s only annual fundraiser. Funds raised support urgent needs and Blue Door’s Mosaic Interfaith Out of the Cold program, providing lifesaving services to youth, men, women and families experiencing homelessness and poverty in York Region.
Instead of an in-person, opening ceremony, pre-recorded video speeches from Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, clients, board members and staff will be posted to Inn From the Cold’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
Walkers are encouraged to post photographs of their walk to social media using the hashtags #CNOY22, #innfromthecoldnewmaket and #CNOYnewmarket and tag @innfromthecold.
Newmarket participants can walk the Fairy Lake loop where, between 5 and 7 p.m., they will receive hot chocolate and encouragement from Inn From the Cold volunteers. Participants who choose to walk a different route can see suggestions for 2k and 5k options posted on the website.
“It’s about people getting together. That’s the main thing,” said Watson.
Last year, Inn From the Cold raised $100,000 and Watson said it would be wonderful to surpass that amount this year, despite a pandemic-weary outlook.
“It’s a different year. The pandemic is just wearing people out. Last year there was still enthusiasm for the future,” she said.
Blue Door’s goal is to raise $140,000.
So far, 43 teams and 171 walkers have registered for the annual event.
Adult walkers who raise more than $150 and children under 17 who raise $75 will receive a toque as a thank you.
“February is a hard month for most people.. It’s been really cold, it’s been really grey. People don’t get out to exercise this time of year. . . It’s an opportunity to get out with your family, do something together and get some enjoyment out of winter,” said Watson.
Inn From the Cold is a hub for the homeless and at-risk in Newmarket. It provides day programming and seasonal shelter services seven days a week during the winter months. It operates a housing program for chronically homeless men and a drop-by program offering meals, acces to shower and laundry facilities, computers, wifi and wellness checks.
Blue Door’s Mosaic Interfaith Out of the Cold is a community-driven and collaborative interfaith program, providing warm beds, meals, clothing, medical care, showers, and much more to youth, men, and women experiencing homelessness during the cold winter months.