St. John’s fundraiser lets donors follow in the footsteps of homeless youth
While many likely avoided the weekend’s freezing temperatures, over 300 people gathered in St. John’s on Saturday to brave the cold for a good cause.
They walked the streets of downtown as part of the coldest night of the year, an annual fundraiser organized by nonprofit Choices for Youth that helps raise awareness — and money — to fight youth homelessness.
For Katie Keats, fund development and communications manager at Choices for Youth, it seems only fitting that the event took place on a day when it felt like -23C.
“That’s exactly the purpose of this event, to come out, to be cold,” Keats said.
“It’s really overwhelming when you think about it. You’ve been out here for 20 minutes, remember how cold you are. Some young people don’t know when this will end.”
Established in Ontario in 2011, Coldest Night of the Year has grown to 182 hikes across the country with nearly 37,000 hikers in total.
Locally, Choices for Youth began hosting the event in 2014. The 10th run at St. John’s attracted a total of 271 walkers and 52 volunteers and raised over $68,000 on Sunday — meeting this year’s goal of $50,000 surpassed and grossed over $380,000 since 2014.
The money, Keats said, goes to the organization’s counseling center in downtown St. John’s, which provides support, hot meals, showers and internet access to youth affected by homelessness — an average of about 1,000 to 1,300 a year.
“In recent years in particular we have seen that these numbers have remained fairly constant, but the challenges that young people come to us have also intensified. The pandemic has hit everyone hard as individuals,” Keats said. “These challenges young people are actually just, these barriers continue to rise.”
It’s a problem that many people are unaware of, Keats said.
“When you think of homelessness, a lot of people think you see people visually. But actually we have some of that here in St. John’s, but I think a lot of it is hidden too,” Keats said.
“It could be people staying somewhere because it’s a shelter and maybe not the best place for them. Maybe it’s a bit unsafe, but it’s better to be there than not really knowing where to go. It could be people sharing couches with their friends. So, a lot of the homelessness that we’re seeing here, some people might not think it’s a problem, but it’s actually a very big problem.”
Keats is grateful for all the support the organization has received over the years – from sponsors, staff, walkers and volunteers alike.
Jacob Martin is one of the volunteers and is on board as marshal for the third time.
Martin started volunteering at the fundraiser in 2019 and believes in the cause she supports.
“I was 18 years old and I still had an emotional connection to the Choices for Youth mission statement and things like that and wanted to help the vulnerable population,” he said.
“Being from St. John’s I guess we can hang around downtown and see what impact the cold weather can have – closing sidewalks and reducing public spaces is a big issue and of course the falling temperatures are affecting some people more than others.”
The atmosphere among the volunteers, Martin said, is “energetic.”
“A lot of people are really excited to participate,” he said. “As long as the weather cooperates, which it does today … it’s cold, but that’s part of the game. So it’s a good way to spend a few hours.”
While his primary focus was staying warm during the event, he said he had the cause of the fundraiser in mind.
“The point it’s trying to prove, and the attention it’s bringing to certain issues, is simply that some people are so much more susceptible to these conditions than others,” Martin said.
“In the end we can go home and warm up. And that’s not an option for everyone.”
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