Last year, 140 people walked several kilometres around downtown St. Thomas at dusk in the dead of winter.
Their goal was to raise awareness and funds for homelessness in our city. A 2018 report estimates that a minimum of 159 people in St. Thomas were homeless last year, including 22 youth and 33 dependent children whose parents were experiencing homelessness.
Coldest Night of the Year is a Canada-wide event happening on February 23 that helps individuals raise funds for local charities that serve the hungry, homeless and hurting. In St. Thomas and Elgin County, that charity is YFC/Youth Unlimited Elgin County, located at 21 Edward Street. YFC (Youth for Christ) runs a number of programs that support youth in our community, including an emergency youth shelter where any young person in crisis can come for the night. He or she receives a hot meal, a warm bed, a backpack filled with necessities, and anything else needed that YFC has on hand, such as a winter coat that has been donated.
“We definitely believe in what we’re doing.” –Kyle Rolph, Youth Homelessness Initiatives, YFC
The emergency youth shelter is just one of the services YFC offers for local youth. They also run a weekly youth group that provides a safe place for grades 7 to 12 kids to ask questions and get meaningful answers, play games, make friends, and just be kids. Jr. High Leader and Office Administrator Rachel De Boer says, “A lot of the kids that we see will say that it’s the only chance they get to be a kid.”
Kyle Rolph, director of YFC’s Youth Homelessness Initiatives, also notes that the youth group has an exceptionally inclusive atmosphere. Kids of all demographics and social abilities are accepted and ‘fit in’ with the group of 20 to 25 students. “It really is a safe place here,” Kyle says.
A weekly Girls Only night, an after school drop in program, events such as summer camp, and SafeTalk and ASK (Assessing for Suicide in Kids) workshops are also run by YFC. Youth for Christ’s mission statement is: We see the hope and potential in every young person. In Kyle’s words, their mission is to “come alongside of each youth and meet them where they’re at. We look at them holistically – the physical, spiritual, social, emotional needs that they have, and also give them the opportunity to make an informed decision about the Gospel as well.”
A minimum of 159 people in St. Thomas were homeless in 2018, including 22 youth and 33 dependent children whose parents were experiencing homelessness.
YFC Elgin County’s work is completely funded by donors. Their staff fundraise their own salaries, the building expenses, and the costs to run the programs. Though this means they spend a considerable amount of time fundraising, Kyle says that it also gives them a chance to share their stories and the work they do. “You’re invested. You’re not just collecting a paycheck – you really have to want to do the work that you’re doing here.” He adds, “We definitely believe in what we’re doing.”
Coldest Night of the Year is an important yearly fundraiser for YFC that Kyle hopes will continue to grow. In 2016, the first year they ran it, they had 39 walkers, and the year after they added 100 to that number. Participants choose to walk two, five, or ten kilometres on a well-marked route around the city, with rest stops along the way and a warm, light meal served at the end. The walk is intended to give participants a hint of the challenge faced by those experiencing homelessness during the winter. Individuals sign up as a team or as a single walker and fundraise or contribute their own registration fee. Currently, there are 54 walkers signed up who have raised $3545 – 17% of YFC’s $20,000 goal.
If you would like to sign up to walk in Coldest Night of the Year, head to the CNOY St. Thomas page: https://cnoy.org/location/stthomas. You can learn more about YFC’s work and donate on their website.
YFC is also currently looking for volunteers to help with the emergency youth shelter. If you are interested in volunteering, you can email Kyle at email@example.com or call the YFC centre at 519-633-6538.