Coldest Night of the Year attracts 200 walkers
Sean Chase/Daily Observer Nearly 200 walkers took to the streets of Pembroke Saturday night for the Coldest Night of the Year, a nation-wide walk-a-thon to raise money and awarenss for youth and adult homelessness. The event aimed to bring in $50,000 to support the Renfrew County Safe Shelter for Youth.
For those without a roof over their head, living on the streets is a struggle but it's even worse in a tempestuous Canadian winter.
In this community, the homeless are no longer a faceless entity. We know the problem exists and there is a concerted effort to ensure no one spends the night sleeping on a park bench or in a darkened alleyway.
With that goal, concerned citizens took to the streets of Pembroke Saturday night for the Coldest Night of the Year, a nation-wide walk-a-thon to not only raise money for youth and adult homelessness but to show solidarity. While the milder than usual temperatures made for a more favourable excursion for participants, the journey they took through the city streets gave everyone an idea of what a homeless person would experience as he or she wanders each night to find some form of shelter.
Nearly 200 walkers streamed out of the historic Pembroke Armouries and walked or jogged along two-kilometre, five-kilometre and 10-kilometre routes. Walkers headed eastbound on Pembroke Street to Cecilia Street before turning onto Mary Street and heading westward back to the downtown core. Some travelled in pairs or as groups, clubs or businesses – all with the goal of helping their fellow citizen who desperately needs a hand-up. Upon their return, the walkers were treated to a meal cooked by students from Fellowes High School's culinary arts program.
“We do have a very vulnerable population in our city and in our county,” Mayor Mike LeMay said in ceremonies to launch the event which was held for the first time in the Armouries on Victoria Street. “It's because of people like the volunteers and people like you and the community who are willing support those with difficulties. I am proud of every one of our residents and proud of the people in the Ottawa Valley because they always come through.”
The event aimed to raise $50,000 to support the Renfrew County Safe Shelter for Youth, a program of Family and Children’s Services of Renfrew County (FCSRC). As of Sunday, they had reached 88 per cent of their goal with $44,000 raised, however, donations will continue to come in until the end of March. FCSRC has engaged in several homeless initiatives, with the support of The Grind Pembroke, which offer places of safety, support and recovery to youth and adults struggling through poverty and homelessness in Ontario's largest county geographically.
“Without you we wouldn't be able to provide this program and we wouldn't be able to provide those services,” said FCSRC executive director Arijana Haramincic. “Last year we supported 24 youth to not be homeless and not to be at the point where they have to trade some really inappropriate behaviour in order to get a safe bed.”
As an illustration of the problem, the Grind sheltered 80 adults at their downtown location and in local motels last year representing 171 client nights of accommodation. In addition, Family and Children’s Services Safe Shelter for Youth initiative took care of 24 youth in 2017. While Pembroke is the social services hub for the county, homelessness is prevelent throughout the region, said event chairman Dave Studham.
“What we are trying to do is understand the reason why the individual is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless and then find a solution by matching them with help and social services,” said Studham. “There could be a whole range of issues so we are hopeful that when these individuals are connected to these services and plans are develop, the individual with the support can address those needs.”
The event was supported by members of the Renfrew County Amateur Radio Club, the 638 Algonquin Royal Canadian Air Cadet Corps, St. John's Ambulance, 42nd Field Regiment and students from Algonquin College's office administration course and social services worker programs.