Winter Walk gives hope to those without a home
February 12, 2020
In February, one of the coldest months of the year, 1,700 walkers combatted homelessness by attending the annual Winter Walk in Copley Square Sunday. The Winter Walk campaign centers around raising awareness to end homeless- ness in Boston. This is the fourth year the walk has occurred after being founded by Paul English and Ari Barbanell.
This year ‘s walk raised $194,000 through fundraising, as announced at the end of the walk, to give back to partner organizations in Boston that provide support to the homeless community, such as Pine Street Inn and Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
Despite the 21 degree weather, walkers started the trek at Copley Square at 9 a.m., making their way through the Boston Common, around the Public Garden and back to Copley Square. Passerbys watched as endless streams of people walked with friends, family and charities on the chilly morning.
“We’re currently freezing for one day, but others don’t have the opportunity to go home and get warmer,” said Zachary Robinson, a Northeastern student-volunteer at the event.
A 2010 report from the National Coalition for the Homeless found that 700 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States.
“Even volunteering for this event, we get free hand warmers and hats. We’re being treated like ‘oh we’re going to be out here for two hours,’ whereas [the homeless population] are out here for a while. So we should treat them with the same respect that we’re treating volunteers for this event,” said volunteer Olivia Johnson.
For Massachusetts, winter is not the only time that homelessness is an issue. According to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report, homelessness rose by 14.2% between 2017 and 2018 in Massachusetts, compared to the national homelessness rate, which rose by 0.3% in that time.
Ariel Maddocks, participant of the walk and worker at Liberty Mutual, said she sees people on the streets on her drive into work every day. For her, the walk is another way towards a solution for ending homelessness.
“We walk because we believe we can be a part of a solution and that it’s important to participate and help improve equity and prove more safe and reliable options for people,” said Maddocks. “Standing out here in the cold, we are reminded how hard it is to stay adequately warm, which is part of the point of the walk.”
Massachusetts is trying to combat the issue of homelessness through active change, such as creating initiatives to combat youth homelessness and connecting homeless people with mental health issues to hospitals and housing programs.
According to WBUR, Massachusetts is one of the four states that offers shelter for more than 95% of its homeless population.
The “right to shelter” law in the state requires state and local officials to pro- vide shelters to those who request it.
Through the Winter Walk, funds are raised toward local organizations combating homelessness, especially in Boston.
After making their way back to Copley Square, walkers shared a meal as they listened to stories of resilience. Dennis spoke about his story, and how he has been sober and off the streets for 20 years thanks to the Boston Rescue Mission, an organization that provides community, food and services to those without a home. Each Saturday, he does outreach in the Boston Common, making sure the homeless are safe and bussing them to out- reach organizations.
“There is hope out there, because I’m an example of hope. I’m an example that it can be done” said Dennis. “The Mission gave me a purpose in life to go out and help people in need. I do it every single day.”
The two-mile walk was personal for other participants, too. Savannah
Howland walked for her friend Star Litlefeather, a woman who visited her mom’s consignment shop and had suffered with homelessness. Despite barely having enough for herself, she was always helping out others in need and giving away what she had.
“I don’t know a lot about the homeless community in Boston or in general, but it’s really important to be willing to learn and be willing to help in whatever ways we can,” said Howland.
Boston City Councilor at-Large Annissa Essaibi George, who declared Feb. 9 as the official Winter Walk day in Boston, took the stage afterwards to congratulate the hard work being done by the volunteers and walkers.
“I just wanted to make sure with the tools that I have, to scream it from the rooftop. How special of a morning this is, how special of an event this is, to spend time with each other here in the great city of Boston,” said Essaibi-George.