More than 200 people pulled on bright blue toques, laced up comfortable shoes and hit the streets for the homeless in the second annual Oceanside/Parksville Coldest Night of the Year walk on Saturday.
The walkers raised more than $34,000 for Island Crisis Care Society, which partners with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Island Health and the Society of Organized Services (SOS) to provide housing assistance and support.
“We work together as a team to support our clients,” said Violet Hayes, executive director of ICCS.
The event, which offered the option of two-kilometer, 5K and 10K walks, started and finished at Knox United Church in Parksville, which hosted opening ceremonies and a hot chili feed afterward. Quality Foods donated food and Pacific Brimm coffee shop provided free hot drinks and platters of cookies at a midpoint pit stop on the 5K and 10K routes.
The Coldest Night walk began just after the sun set on what had been a bright day. During the opening ceremonies, participants were told they might experience cold or discomfort as the temperature dropped. They were urged to remember this was simply a snapshot of what Canada’s homeless experience every day.
“Four and a half years ago I was homeless,” said John Lander, who walked with the team Walking for a Way Out.
“I was experiencing mental health and addiction issues and those issues took me to the streets, where there was nothing to eat and you were dumpster-diving and wrapping yourself in newpaper if it was a cold night.”
“For a lot of years I was walking in darkness, until I got into a group with Island Crisis Care. They took me in, they gave me a bed, they gave me food, they gave me compassion, they gave me love.”
The walkers, most taking part in teams, gathered funds through pledges. As of Saturday night, 158 participants in the local walk had collected or been pledged $24,061.42 of a $30,000 goal. Hayes said donations were expected to continue trickling in over the next couple of weeks.
Prize bags were awarded to the top fundraisers. Lander raised $815, and his Walking for a Way Out teammate Cassidie Lawrence led youth contributions with $408. The overall pledge collector was Gary Hogan of ONAS Striders, with $1,425 raised.
Coldest Night of the Year is a nationwide initiative to bring awareness and financial support to the issue of homelessness and housing security. The event debuted in Parksville in 2015. Previously, Hayes said, Island Crisis Care Centre had participated through the Coldest Night walk in Nanaimo.