Kitchener-Waterloo

Weekend walk aims to raise awareness of homelessness

This weekend, more than 100 people will walk from Cambridge to West Montrose as part of Waterloo Region Crossing. The 65 km hike is to raise awareness about homelessness in the region, with funds raised going to The Working Centre.

'I think people recognize there are problems here that need to be addressed,' organizer says

In 2018, three people took part in Waterloo Region Crossing (from left) Ashley DeMarte, Dave Wall and Tessa Jennison. This year, more than 100 people will do it. (Waterloo Region Crossing/Facebook)

Last year when Tessa Jennison walked across Waterloo region, two of her co-workers joined her.

This weekend, more than 100 others will be hitting the trail with her for the second Waterloo Region Crossing.

"It was pretty overwhelming and the whole thing has been incredible," Jennison said of the response to her walk, which itself has grown beyond a weekend event to more of a community engagement project.

The idea for the 2018 walk came to her at work when she was reading an article about how homeless shelters in the region were full and people were being taken to motels to sleep. She turned to her co-worker, Ashley DeMarte at the clean tech firm Livescape and said they had to do something to raise awareness.

They weren't sure what impact it would have, but they were able to raise $5,000 for The Working Centre and their walk from Cambridge to West Montrose on the Grand River Trails system sparked a conversation in the community.

"We had such positive feedback from the community, and a lot of people have reached out to me saying, 'I want to do this,'" Jennison said.

More than $30,000 raised

The point of the walk is not to simulate the experience of homelessness, Jennison stressed. But it does put into perspective the harsh conditions people living on the streets might experience, she adds.

"We know we have somewhere warm to go home to at the end of the day. We know we have extra pairs of socks, and waterproof boots and really good equipment and it kind of hits home, that sense of perspective," she said.

"I certainly think that it has helped people understand the gravity of the situation for those who are living on the street."

But what started as a walk for homelessness has started a larger conversation on community, and on what the rapid growth rate in Waterloo region means for the people living here.

As well, it's focused on the actual path the trekkers will take. The group is giving $30 from each registration fee to the Grand Valley Trails Association, which relies solely on membership dues to operate.

Participants in the walk were asked to raise $100 each for The Working Centre. Some have raised thousands and Jennison says in total they've raised more than $30,000, surpassing the $20,000 goal for this year's walk.

'There are problems here'

If people want to take part this weekend, they can do so in a few ways, Jennison said. One is to follow the trekkers online as they move along — a GPS tracker will update every 10 minutes with their location.

They can also donate to the cause, she said.

And if they're feeling like they want to brave the cold, they can come out and cheer participants on as they walk the 65 kilometres.

Perhaps more importantly, Jennison notes, they can join the conversation about the community Waterloo region is, and what they want to see it become.

"I think people recognize there are problems here that need to be addressed," she said.

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