More than 200 people walked the streets of downtown Victoria on Saturday for the Coldest Night of the Year, a fundraising event to help raise awareness about poverty and homelessness.
While the second annual event raised $17,000, organizers say there is still work to be done in combatting homelessness in the region.
“Unfortunately, the numbers seem to have been going in the wrong direction for some time,” said Colin Tessier, executive director of the Mustard Seed, which sponsored this year’s event.
Tessier estimates that users of the Mustard Seed food bank has increased more than 100 per cent since 2008. The street church helps feed about 7,000 people a month.
Last February, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness did a facility count to see how many people were using shelters, motels and other locations as a means of housing. It counted 1,167 individuals on one night: 962 adults, 89 youth and 105 children. On same night, 78 people had to be turned away due to lack of space, including 11 children.
“Much work has been done, but we all know much more work needs to be done,” said Victoria city councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who participated in this year’s walk.
“We need more affordable housing throughout the region. We also need a national housing strategy. We need more support for those who have addictions, and we need jobs that pay sufficiently so [people] are able to make end’s meet.”
Tessier said funds from this year’s walk will go toward programs that help break the cycle of poverty and drug addiction, such as the Mustard Seed’s Hope Farm Healing Centre in Duncan and its family education centre located in Victoria.
And while poverty is increasing throughout the region, Tessier points out there’s hopeful signs.
“People are breaking out of poverty on a daily basis at the Mustard Seed,” he said. “It takes an investment of time and sometimes that’s all that’s needed, and people can get back on their feet. There is hope.”
The Coldest Night of the Year walks happened nationwide from Victoria to St. John’s, N.L. in 80 communities.