The temperature on January 3, 2022 hit -17 degrees Celsius. The weather over the past two weeks has been a rollercoaster of rain and snow, mild spells and freezing patches that have left the ground slushy, then icy as the rains changed to snow flurries and back again.
Imagine that you are homeless, seeking shelter in an underpass, or a doorway, or a park bench. Even if you are lucky enough to find someone who will let you couch-surf for a few days, it’s no guarantee that the next week will not find you on the streets again. You know that the Town of Caledon has no homeless shelters and affordable housing is not on the horizon. You despair.
The conditions that could have led to any one of us becoming homeless are not unusual. Marriage break-up, loss of job and income, family estrangement, crippling debts, or just one bad mistake. The Coldest Night of the Year fundraising walk was founded by the Blue Sea Foundation located in Kitchener, Ontario. In 2020 Caledon Community Services (CCS) organized the first CNOY walk out of the Caledon Community Centre on a cold night in February.
Families bundled in parkas and snowsuits took part in the five km walk around the neighbourhood roads and trails to raise funds for the homeless and hungry who are all too often the unseen in our community.
In 2021, the fundraiser went virtual as the COVID-19 pandemic added yet another layer of need to the reality of homelessness in Caledon. My family and friends still did the walk outside, well-spaced, for five km along a Humber River trail. It was cold and clear, a winter wonderland, knowing that at the end of our brief time outside, we could return to warm homes.
The impact of the CNOY walk last year ran deep for me because I had had the opportunity to interview one of the recipients of their fundraising. The person asked not to be named, but the story could have come from any one of us.
Here is only part of that interview: “I had a marriage break-up and lost the house, lost everything. I couldn’t get regular work, couldn’t afford a room to rent. In the winter, I ended up couch-surfing with friends when I was lucky. I couldn’t even pay my cell phone bill. I don’t know what I would have done if CCS had not been there to assist me. Man, it all happened so fast. Like one day you have a life, and then suddenly it’s all gone.”
Walking a chilly kilometre in someone else’s shoes helps us to understand the roll of the dice that separates the comfortably sheltered from the homeless. My family will be walking again this year. Walk with us. We will imagine what it would be like to be without family or friends, food or shelter on any coldest night of the year. And then we will return home and give thanks.
Please don’t let the pandemic and its devastating effects on thousands in Caledon prevent you from taking part in a virtual 2km or 5km walk on February 26, 2022. It is precisely now, going into a third year of the pandemic, that our community’s most marginalized residents need Caledon to step up.
You can use the following link to donate to walkers, sign up as a walker, or create your own pledge page, etc. Signing up to walk takes about 10 minutes. The website is easy and inviting others to walk with you or to pledge your walk takes another 10 minutes. These would be some of the best 20 minutes you’ve spent in the past many months!