In solidarity for people living with housing insecurity, advocates are asking their peers to walk with them during The Coldest Night Of the Year.
The Coldest Night Of the Year (CNOY) fundraiser is making its Jasper debut. On February 25, in recognition of those who live in a precarious housing situation, participants will make their way through the streets of Jasper, emulating the experience of “wandering, wondering and watching one’s back“ that folks who don’t have safe, adequate housing live every day, according to organizers.
“It’s an invitation to think about ‘what if I didn’t have the security of not returning to my home,’” said Jasper Food Bank board member, Reverend Linda McLaren.
The February 25 evening event asks participants to walk five (or two) kilometres though Jasper’s central core to its outskirts, with stops along the way. A light, hot meal will be found at Jasper’s United Church, coffee will be handed out at the new Starbucks next to Evil Dave’s Grill and there will be warm-up fires to share at Robson Park, near the Jasper Municipal Library. The event will simulate homelessness for a night, and hopefully stimulate a longer-lasting conversation around the topic.
“My hope is by engaging in the walk, by raising our awareness, we can begin to have that conversation,” McLaren said.
Municipal councillor and retired Community and Family Services director, Kathleen Waxer, also wants to expand the dialogue around housing insecurity. For one thing, she says, the affliction doesn’t necessarily look the same as it does in cities. In Jasper, homelessness may present as living paycheque-to-paycheque, living in overcrowded accommodations, being unable to afford rent alongside groceries and utilities, or being forced to move—at a landlord’s whim—in a zero-vacancy housing market.
“Anyone of us can be vulnerable at any point in our lives,” Waxer said.
In Jasper, it’s organizations like the Jasper Food Bank and the different agencies connected to the Jasper Community Team (JCT) which people tend to rely on in times of need, Waxer said. Part of CNOY’s mission is to help build the resources of those local organizations. By collecting pledges for their participation, those who take part are doing exactly that. The Jasper Food Bank has seen increased demand in recent years and the Caring Community Fund (CCF), an emergency resource managed by the JCT, has also been tapped more frequently since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
“The Caring Community Fund and the Food Bank are helping protect people’s ability to stay in the community, and to some degree, be comfortable,” Waxer said.
For that reason, both McLaren and Waxer are hoping the peer-to-peer aspect of the fundraiser gains momentum. A big part of engaging with CNOY is sharing the pledges with peers; like homelessness, the fundraising is better tackled via a collective effort.
“These same organizations are struggling under the weight of increased demand,” Waxer said. “People stepping up to volunteer shouldn’t be left alone to take all of that responsibility.”
The best reason to broaden the reach of the campaign, of course, is because the conversation around homelessness itself needs to be broadened. Once you remember that when someone is suffering with homelessness or near-homelessness, they are often vulnerable to challenges around food security, access to medication and mental heath supports, it’s easy to see that the issue isn’t as isolated as it first sounds.
“What the CNOY offers is not a solution to the complex challenges of homelessness or food security but support for our neighbours…and two community organizations that reach out to those who are needing help in difficult situations,” McLaren said.
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org