Fundraising walk to raise awareness for warming centre

Ken Kellar

It may not make for a long, cold night, but the Fort Frances Homeless Committee’s next event will still work to benefit the local homeless population.

The Committee, in conjunction with the Northwest Community Legal Clinic, will be holding the Coldest Day of the Year Walk on Thursday, Feb. 6 as a fundraiser for the Out of the Cold Warming Centre, currently operating downstairs at the Apostolic Way Church at 324 Victoria Ave.

Homeless Committee co-chair Jamie Petrin said the event will be focusing on more than just raising money.

“The event is part an awareness event and part a fundraiser event,” she explained.

“So the awareness piece will be a walk, that’s taking place beginning at noon at the legal clinic. We’ll proceed down Scott St. and then we’ll go towards the river and kind of do a circle back to the Out of the Cold Warming Centre where we’ll be doing a screening of a Canadian film. We are challenging participants to collect pledges to help us continue to operate the Out of the Cold Warming Centre.”

The inspiration for the walk came from reactions to the Committee’s overnight sleep-out event previously held on Scott St., explained Petrin.

“Part of what the Homeless Committee does, beyond just the warming centre, is we look for ways to provide education and awareness,” she said.

“We’ve done a number of different public education campaigns over the last couple of years and we found great success when we did our Longest Night of the Year sleep-out event. That was very similar to this, in that it was an awareness piece as well as a fundraising piece for Out of the Cold, and we found that when we did something that people found they could really get involved in, attitudes towards homelessness in Fort Frances really started to shift.”

“I don’t know if that event was just a way to bring it forward or if they were shifting prior to that event, but we found there was a lot less denial of homelessness in Fort Frances,” she continued.

“That used to be our biggest thing that we were looking at, was proving or showing to people that ‘yes, it does exist here,’ whereas now there’s less of that sort of lack of awareness that it exists, and there’s now people discussing a lot more ‘well, what can we do about it?'”

Taking the idea of a Coldest night of the Year walk that has seen popularity in other towns and cities across Canada, Petrin said the committee and its partners decided to adapt the event for the “Fort Frances landscape.” The committee also wanted to avoid the event staying too similar. “We wanted to switch it up,” Petrin explained.

“Not necessarily do another sleep-out again this year, having just done one last year, because it is wintertime and it’s hard to get people to commit. We were concerned it would be hard to get people to commit two years in a row to an overnight winter sleep out event, so that’s why we opted to go for a walk.”

The daytime walk also proved to be an excellent fit for the other part of the event: a showing of the documentary “Us and Them,” a Canadian documentary, which focuses on the realities of homelessness. The legal clinic team is excited to share it, she said.

“The filmmaker is a part of the documentary. She befriended four people who were experiencing homelessness, and she was working with Dr. Gabor Maté,” Petrin said of the film.

“They were discussing her need to relieve pain in the world. It really took her back to when she had befriended these four individuals who were experiencing homelessness and she was trying to help them heal themselves. They share a lot of their own history; a lot of the realities of homelessness and really the film makes you feel connected to these individuals. It makes them less of a stereotype or a trope of someone who is chronically homeless.”

The filmmaker, Krista Loughton, will also be available for a question and answer session via videoconference, following the screening of the documentary.

Petrin noted that the walk itself is about 2km long, but for anyone who wants to participate but feels they can’t commit to that length, there is a shorter route, as well as the option to just head to the warming shelter and meet the rest of the participants there for lunch and the screening.

“It’s actually a really wonderful opportunity for people who are interested in learning more or people who are passionate about helping those who are in need,” Petrin explained.

The warming shelter is in operation now, and even though attitudes around homelessness in Fort Frances are changing, Petrin said it’s important to continue educating the public about the realities some people face in their day-today lives when it comes to being homeless.

“It’s important to keep educating people and trying to tear down the stereotypes that exist around homelessness: that being homeless is a choice or that people who are experiencing homelessness are to be feared or, you know, any of those negative stereotypes that you see a lot,” she explained.

“We also look to always educate the people who may be experiencing a form of hidden homelessness too, to let them know that there’s people who care. We’re here to support you. The fundraising portion of it is to try to continue operating an Out of the Cold Warming Centre during the winter months to keep people without a home safe at night time.”

Anyone interested in taking part in the Coldest Day of the Year walk is encouraged to register for the event by clicking on the Eventbrite link on the Out of the Cold Warming Centre’s Facebook page, or by going to and searching “homeless walk Fort Frances.”

“We are looking for people to register,” Petrin said.

“It’s free, it just helps us get a head count to plan for the meal. And we just want to say thank you to everyone who has donated so far and who has supported in any way they can.”

The walk will begin at noon outside the Northwest Community Legal Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 6.