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Vernon’s Coldest Night of the Year raises $34K for rent bank

CMHA Vernon’s second annual Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser saw a larger turnout than expected
CMHA Vernon executive director Julia Payson gives a speech to participants moments before the walk. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Amid surging levels of need, hundreds came out for a chilly walk through downtown Vernon Saturday in support of people living on the cusp of homelessness.

The Vernon branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) held its second Coldest Night of the Year event Feb. 24, which had a goal of raising $40,000 for the North Okanagan Rent Bank (operated by CMHA Vernon).

Just over $34,000 was raised, and donations are still coming in.

CMHA Vernon executive director Julia Payson stood on a bench for a speech outside the CMHA building on 28th Avenue and marvelled at the size of the crowd that had formed for the walk.

“We had no idea this many people were going to sign up,” she said, as some of the 200 people who registered were preparing to start either the two- or five-kilometre walk.

“We’re seeing the highest levels of need we’ve ever seen,” Payson said, “So Rent Bank is something we’re so passionate about here because it keeps people housed, it keeps people in their homes.”

The Rent Bank helps people hold onto their housing when times are tough. When unexpected expenses arise, low to moderate income households can apply for interest free loans to avoid being evicted if they can’t pay rent that month. Or, people can use the rent bank to make damage deposit or first month’s rent payments in order to gain access to housing.

Payson mentioned a recent unexpected expense she had: $50 for head lice treatment.

“I think about the number of people I know for whom $50 is a big hit to take unexpectedly in the month, especially if your kids can’t go to school and you can’t go to work and you miss a shift,” she said.

“There’s so many little things that can affect our ability to pay our rent, our Hydro, and before Rent Bank (which CMHA Vernon started operating in 2021), what were your options?”

Coldest Night of the Year is a fundraising event that started out in 2011 and has grown from two locations annually to 182 in 2023. It gives participants the chance to walk in the cold while thinking about what it would be like to experience homelessness.

Some Coldest Night events support organizations that help people directly experiencing homelessness, while the Vernon event, in supporting the Rent Bank, aims to help and spread awareness of those at risk of experiencing homelessness or looking to escape it.

“Often we think we’re doing things like this because it’s for people that are really in a different situation from us,” Payson said. “But it’s not that different a situation. This is our community, none of us are unaffected by (homelessness).”

Payson said the demand for the Rent Bank’s services has been unprecedented. She said CMHA estimated it would need $30,000 a year for loans, but they’ve been blowing through that in five or six months.

Thirty-seven teams took part in the walk, and 25 volunteers supported the event. Participants walked from the CMHA building down 30th Avenue and back, some wearing blue and white toques indicating they had supported the event financially.

A number of local businesses sponsored the event and before the walk, RBC presented a cheque for $1,500 to the cause.

READ MORE: Vernon Coldest Night of the Year walk aims for $40,000

READ MORE: Salmon Arm walkers raise more than $86,000 with Coldest Night of the Year

CMHA Vernon’s Julia Payson accepts a cheque for $1,500 from employees at RBC. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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