The Coldest Night of the Year walk is returning to Whalley, but in a virtual-only form due to COVID-19.
The Surrey-Whalley walk is hosted by the Surrey Road to Home Society, which has a goal of $25,000 this year.
The Whalley walk used to be hosted by the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force, but organizer Jonquil Hallgate said the task force incorporated and became the Surrey Road to Home Society “because after 15 years as a task force, we finally figured out that it wasn’t going to begin and end like we thought 15 years ago. We’re in it for the long haul.”
This year, Hallgate said, people can do their own walk or just contribute.
She said the whole premise of the Coldest Night of the Year is to “highlight the need for housing and services to help support folks who have been unhoused for a long time.”
Hallgate said people often believe the reason why other are homeless is because of addiction issues, making bad choices or not wanting to work.
“Actually the number one reason across the country why people are not housed is due to the lack of affordable housing,” she noted. “That’s the number one reason. Then, separate and apart from that, comes the fact that a lot of people who are working today, and this is proven by the stats in the 2020 homeless count, a lot of people are working part-time or full-time and are still homeless because they can’t afford the rental market.”
Hallgate said in Surrey, “we, unfortunately, don’t have a lot of housing available for folks.”
But while the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the format of the walk this year, Hallgate said it could be a “pivotal moment” in communities “in terms of people who never anticipated losing their job, losing their income, being on the verge of perhaps losing their home.”
She said it might hit a “little more closely that many of us are living in precarious circumstances.”
“It only takes one crisis to unhouse us or have us lose our jobs,” she explained. “I hope that as much as this has been a terrible experience for everybody, that not people understand that a lot of the folks that we’ve served over the years, something happened in their life that was cataclysmic and it caused them to become unhoused.”
She pointed to homelessness in youth.
“We often talk about the fact that people in the community can feel empathy for young people who are at risk of homelessness or who become homeless because they’re youth and we don’t place blame on them,” she said.
“The reality is that those youngsters who we have empathy for become the adults of tomorrow for homelessness because once you start on that path, it’s really hard to regroup.”
While Hallgate is hopeful that with the pandemic, it could bring about new conversations around homelessness, it does come with other challenges.
“To be perfectly honest, I think it’s a little bit uncomfortable for me to reach out into the community and ask people to contribute when you know that this has been a particularly bad year for lots of people and lots of businesses are closed, lots of businesses are on the verge of closing.
“To go to a restaurant that you might have gone to last year or the year before and say, ‘Hey, would you contribute a couple of dollars,’ like that’s just a really uncomfortable place to be in.”
In years past, she said, volunteers have been able to put up signs in malls, businesses and on bulletin boards.
“It’s just not the same as it has been in the past, in terms of those opportunities.”
The Coldest Night of the Year is Feb. 20.
To donate to the Surrey-Whalley walk, visit cnoy.org/location/surreywhalley.