Monday, April 22, 2024

Coldest Night of the Year Walk Shines a Light on the Struggles of the Most Vulnerable in Our Community

This coming Saturday, February 24, the Coldest Night of the Year fundraising (and awareness) walk will take place in Meaford for the very first time. The walk aims to raise funds and awareness of to help support people experiencing homelessness in our community.

First launched in 2011 in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, the initiative caught on, and today, 13 years later, it is held in some 170 communities across Canada.

Regionally, the United Way of Bruce and Grey organizes and promotes the annual walk, and their charity partner for the first Meaford event is the Meaford Rotary Club.

As is noted on the Coldest Night of the Year’s website, the initiative is “a moment when tens of thousands of Canadians step outside the warmth and comfort of home and shine a light of welcome and inclusion.”

It is always heartbreaking to see the struggles of others. My heart aches when I see someone without a home, without resources for proper nutrition, or other basic human necessities. The harsh reality is that most of us aren’t as far away from the prospect of homelessness as we might like to think. With the vast majority living paycheque to paycheque, with little to nothing set aside for emergencies, a significant number of us could find ourselves struggling and vulnerable on the streets after losing a job, or enduring a mental health crisis. The fear, the frustration, the feeling of abandonment, could knock on many of our doors in a virtual heartbeat.

I can’t pretend to know the reality of the struggles experienced by the unhoused, but I can certainly empathize, and I often remind myself that it could be me, or someone I know and care about, on the streets, searching for a place to sleep, dreaming of a proper meal, or a warmer jacket to help get through the chilly winter nights.

Often homelessness is the result of years of struggling to stay afloat in an increasingly expensive world, a world in which lower incomes have failed to keep pace with the actual cost of living, leaving people to make difficult choices between medications and food, or between keeping the car in order to be able to continue to get to work, or a roof over the head, with the car sometimes becoming that roof.

This week we were reminded of the struggle to simply put food on the table with skyrocketing food prices in recent years.

A new Grey Bruce Public Health (GBPH) report, published on their website, highlights the struggles that many Grey-Bruce families and individuals are facing in order to afford basic living expenses, such as sufficient food and rent, as incomes and social assistance rates have failed to keep pace with inflation.

The report, The Cost of Eating Well & The Urgent Issue of Food Insecurity, finds the cost of groceries for a family of four in Grey-Bruce was $301 a week or $1,305 a month in 2023,” the GBPH noted in a media release informing of the new report. “If that family receives Ontario Works, they would have to spend nearly half (47%) of their monthly income on food to meet Canada’s Food Guide recommendations. After covering only rent and groceries, they would be left with only $238 a month to cover all other expenses, including utilities, transportation, and medication. A single adult had to spend about $468 a month on food in 2023 to meet Canada’s Food Guide recommendations, according to the report, which is more than half of the Ontario Works and shelter allowance for a single person.”

I have written before that I am no mathematician, but it doesn’t take a math wizard to realize that minimum wage just can’t cover the rising cost of food, nor the skyrocketing rents that we face in today’s economy. I have written before, and I will no doubt write it many more times in the future, we need some sort of basic income or living wage policy if we are ever to ensure that no matter anyone’s circumstances, whether short term or long, they will at the very least have enough to get by in today’s world.

Food insecurity is a problem of inadequate income, not solved by food,” said GBPH Public Health Manager Jason Weppler in the media release. “Improving the financial circumstances of food insecure households requires action from all levels of government and community leadership. More than half of those experiencing food insecurity are employed. We need to see innovative solutions and supports that ensure everyone can meet their basic needs.”

I could not agree more.

As the GBPH noted in their media release, “In 2022, 18.7% of Ontario households lived with food insecurity, which refers to when a household has inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. This is higher than 16.1% of Ontario households that experienced food insecurity in 2021. Furthermore, the Canada Food Price Report is projecting overall food prices to increase by 2.5% to 4.5% in 2024. Without a corresponding increase in household income, this cost will force families to make impossible choices between shelter, food, medications, transportation, and other needs.”

The most vulnerable among us are our friends and neighbours, they are mothers and fathers, and alienated youth, and they could be you, or me, or anyone else, given a couple of bad months, or as a result of a breakdown of mental health. Very few of us are immune from the many variables that could find us struggling to afford food, or without a home, desperately searching for somewhere safe to get through a chilly night.

If you are able, consider participating in the walk, and help to raise badly needed funds that will be used to help the most vulnerable in our community.

Information about the Meaford Coldest Night of the Year walk:

  • This is the first time CNOY has come to Meaford.
  • This walk will be held at The Rotary House (34 Trowbridge St W, Meaford).
  • Beginning at 4:30 p.m., on Saturday, February 24
  • Our fundraising goal is $20,000 (26% of that has been raised so far)
  • Partner is Meaford Rotary Club
  • Sign up to be a walker, team captain, volunteer or sponsor: https://cnoy.org/location/meaford

You can learn more about the Meaford Coldest Night of the Year Walk on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cnoymeaford

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