This winter has been a cold one, but unlike most of us, Barrie’s homeless youth don't always have the benefit of a warm place to lay their head.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, Youth Haven is hosting its eighth annual Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) event, a family-friendly fundraising walk supporting the local shelter, which provides programs and services for youth experiencing homelessness and at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 24
Due to the pandemic, the event has moved to a virtual format for 2022, noted Youth Haven executive Director Lucy Gowers, which means anyone who wants to participate can walk at any time during the month of February.
Gowers says organizers are hoping participants will chose to walk two or five kilometres. Participants are also encouraging them to take selfies and send to organizers using the hashtag #cnoy22.
“The whole premise of the event is we invite members of the community to sample just what it might be (like) for youth experiencing homelessness with no place to go on a cold winter night. It’s about getting out there, walking and getting a feel for what a youth may be experiencing,” she said.
“When a youth is on the street, fighting to survive — especially in the dead of winter — it’s really hard. We are hoping it will give just a small indication of what someone is going to have to endure," Gowers added.
They are hoping to raise $60,000 for 2022. As of Feb. 13, teams had raised just more than $30,000.
“We do hope our community will get out there and raise money for us, but of course, the awareness that it brings to us is just as valuable," she said.
All the money that’s raised remains at Youth Haven and is used to fund programs and services, as well as maintaining the Barrie shelter, Gowers said. The event is also vital to the organization’s success, she said, adding CNOY serve’s as Youth Haven's biggest fundraiser of the year.
“We are definitely hoping that we can meet our goal. There are so many challenges that have been happening throughout the last two years with COVID. It’s certainly had a huge impact on what we’re able to do in the way of fundraising,” she said. “We are so grateful for (the community’s generosity), but it can’t just stop now.”
The need for the organization’s services has unfortunately increased since the beginning of the pandemic, said Gowers, noting in 2001 Youth Haven supported more than 300 kids through the shelter alone and over 300 through its outreach program.
“We have to ensure that we are there for youth who are in need of support. Whether it’s housing, reunifying them with their family, or trying to support them through mental health — or just listen to what they have to say," she said.
"The bottom line is in order for us to be able to continue to provide these vital programs and services, we need our community support as well… (because) the difference we are making in the lives of our youth truly is astounding.