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‘Coldest night’ walkers in Yarmouth raise funds, promote awareness of homelessness and other issues

Participants in the Coldest Night of the Year walk in Yarmouth leave NSCC Burridge. The event took place Saturday, Feb. 23. It was the first time the walk was held in Yarmouth and organizers plan to do it again next year.
Participants in the Coldest Night of the Year walk in Yarmouth leave NSCC Burridge. The event took place Saturday, Feb. 23. It was the first time the walk was held in Yarmouth and organizers plan to do it again next year. - Eric Bourque

It can happen to anyone at any time. Just like that, things change. All of a sudden, you’re struggling. Or if life already was tough, it just got harder.

This is one of the things organizers of the Coldest Night of the Year wanted people to think about as they took part in fundraising events in communities across Canada, including Yarmouth. Hence their message to participants: “We walk humbly, realizing that anyone can lose their footing and then lose everything else.”

The event was held Feb. 23 and while it certainly was chilly that day in Yarmouth – where more than 70 walkers raised over $10,000 – it wasn’t as cold as it was a few days later, when Adam Dolliver, one of those involved in the Yarmouth walk, reflected a bit on the event and spoke about the issues he hopes it will help raise awareness about, including homelessness.

“There are people in our community right now, today, who are living outside, who are living in tents,” he said. “They’ve made lean-tos out of tarps and things like that and they’re living outside ... Some of them are youth, some of them are adults, some of them are seniors.”

On the day he said this, the temperature in Yarmouth was around -8 C, with a wind chill of -19.

“What we’ve found is homelessness in rural Nova Scotia looks a lot different than in Halifax, so we tend not to see it as much,” Dolliver said. “It’s not visible. We don’t have folks sleeping on Main Street and panhandling for money and things like that, so we tend to think that it’s not really an issue here ... but it is.”

Dolliver is executive director of SHYFT Youth Services, one of the local organizations that was involved in the Yarmouth walk. Proceeds from the event would go to SHYFT and the Tri-County Women’s Centre. Lisanne Turner, the centre’s executive director and another of the Yarmouth walk’s organizers, echoed Dolliver’s point about the nature of homelessness in the tri-counties.

“We call it hidden homelessness or precarious housing situations,” she said, “so (it could be) someone experiencing housing insecurity and is staying with friends or family – sometimes known as couch surfing – is living in a car, is living in a tent somewhere or in a built shelter.”

And while homelessness is one of the issues organizers of the Coldest Night of the Year want to highlight, the initiative’s scope is broader. By walking, Turner said, participants are declaring their concern for those “who find that each day might be a challenge to house and feed their families, those who are maybe fleeing violence or abuse, and anybody who’s experiencing emotional challenges or feeling isolated, feeling any kind of despair.”

She noted the point – raised by organizers of the Coldest Night of the Year at the national level – about how people can fall on hard times very quickly.

“It can happen to anybody, absolutely,” she said. “Often, maybe we’re just kind of one lost paycheque away from it.”

Dolliver says unexpected expenses such as major car repairs can make things that much more difficult for someone who already may be struggling to get by.

Whether it’s having an affordable place to live or keeping it warm or putting food on the table – or fixing your vehicle in order to get to work – he acknowledges there are plenty of things to think about and challenges to face for a lot of people. Helping those who need it is a challenge in itself.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” he said. “We’re trying. A lot of organizations are coming together and doing a lot of great work to address these issues.”

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