For one Saturday evening in February, Campbell River residents can get a feel for what it’s like out on the streets, while raising money to help those who live there.
The third annual Coldest Night of the Year fundraising walk will take place Feb. 20. It’s a chance to walk two, five or 10 kilometres downtown to raise money for Campbell River Family Services (CRFS).
“We walk around the downtown core of Campbell River at five, six o’clock in the evening, so it gives people just a little taste of what it’s like to be outside, regardless of the weather,” said event organizer Paul Mason. “We were quite lucky last year; it was a beautiful evening. But the year before, there was rain and a mix of snow so it was quite uncomfortable, so it just gives people a little feel of what it’s like to be outside. But, you know, at the end of our walk, we go into a nice warm building, we have a bowl of chilli, we have hot chocolate and people go home to their warm beds – and the homeless don’t.”
Mason feels that in the past two years, this experience has helped open people’s eyes to the challenges faced by people who are homeless.
“It really creates an awareness of being on the streets, regardless of whether it’s Campbell River or anywhere else,” he said. “The thing about it, too, is it’s a family event so we have parents with their kids in strollers. It’s also a way to create awareness with younger people. School District 72 is very involved with us too; I go to the schools and talk about homelessness and talk about the resources we have in town and also talk about the Coldest Night of the Year, getting the awareness out there – because it is a community issue.”
Coldest Night of the Year is a fun, family-friendly walking fundraiser that raises money for the hungry, homeless and hurting in communities across Canada. Mason said there are 100 cities right across Canada taking part in the fundraiser this year.
Locally, the Coldest Night of the Year walk raises money for CRFS. The non-profit charitable organization has been providing programs and services such as support, counselling, education, prevention and crisis intervention to individuals, children and families in this area since 1977.
CRFS’s goal for this year’s walk is to raise $30,000.
“All the money that we get from this [walk] stays directly here in Campbell River,” said Mason. “For example, last year, it went to the extreme weather shelter.”
This year, CRFS will put the money raised by the walk towards finding a temporary location for a sobering assessment centre. This is a place where, for example, somebody the RCMP found intoxicated and sleeping on the courthouse steps would be taken directly, instead of being taken to the hospital and then likely back to the city cells, explained Mason.
Mason says the only other sobering assessment centre on Vancouver Island is in Victoria, and they would like to open one up here.
“It’s somewhere that would be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and also provide counselling staff, somewhere where you can actually engage the client and point them in the right direction for services; you get a chance to connect with them,” he said. “With homelessness, the main issues are addiction and mental illness, so this way, you have a chance to actually sit down and talk with them in the hope of providing further service.”
CRFS is working with the City of Campbell River to look at different locations for the centre, and the money raised by this walk would help CRFS leverage more money, said Mason.
The Coldest Night of the Year relies on pledges raised by participants, and the earlier individuals and teams register for the Coldest Night of the Year walk, the sooner they can start raising money.
To register online, visit https://coldestnightoftheyear.org/location/campbellriver. It costs $25 to register, and walkers can start a team, join a team or register as an individual. Adults who raise $150 and youth (aged 10-17) who raise $75 do not have to pay the registration fee.
Mason says CRFS would like to encourage friendly competition – emphasis on the “friendly” – so that, for example, if a group from one bank puts together a team, another bank will put together a team.
Mason says the momentum “absolutely” has been building since the first Coldest Night of the Year walk here in 2014.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “Both previous two years, we’ve achieved our target, and the community response has been fantastic. People really enjoy it. It’s a great family, community event. It’s a lot of fun.”
Mason says they saw lots of walkers from the first walk return to take part in the event last year.
“It’s really neat because you’ll walk around Campbell River and you’ll see people wearing Coldest Night of the Year toques from last year,” he said. “It’s a real community event so people look forward to it. The bottom line is it is about raising funds, and it’s a fun way to do it.”
The third annual Coldest Night of the Year walk, presented by Campbell River Family Services in partnership with 2Day FM, takes place Feb. 20 at 5 p.m. The walk starts and finishes at the Campbell River Community Centre at 401 11th Ave., and registration opens at 4 p.m. at the Community Centre.
There will be opening ceremonies at 5 p.m., and the walk begins at 5:15 p.m.
Registration closes at 6 p.m., and the route closes at 8 p.m. Walkers are invited to linger at the community centre after the walk, as there will be hot chocolate, coffee and chili available from 6-8 p.m.
For more information about the walk or about Campbell River Family Services, contact Paul Mason at 250-287-2421.