'Coldest Night' aims to boost rent bank
It's the 'Coldest Night of the Year' this Saturday – but event co-organizer Judy Peterson is hoping that warm hearts on the Semiahmoo Peninsula will generate enough capital through the White Rock charity walk to reboot the Sources Rent Bank.
"We're doing really well," Peterson said. "Our goal is $25,000 and, as of last weekend we already have $19,000."
This year's walk is the White Rock debut of an event started in Ontario four years ago by Blue Sea Philanthropy Foundation, and all proceeds from pledges and donations will go to Sources' rent bank.
Through small loans to cover upcoming rent bills, rent arrears and Hydro bills, the bank has helped 176 low-income clients out of emergency situations since 2011.
"That's helped keep housing, kept the lights on and kept a roof overhead for about 400 people," said Peterson, who has been team leader for the project since it was first instigated by Susan Keeping through the Newton Advocacy Group.
She's currently handing over the reins to her successor, Bruce Foster – ("he's really great with people," she said) – but the rent bank has been in a holding pattern, seeking new sources of income, since June of last year.
Although the bank has a good repayment rate of 66 per cent on its two-year-term, no-interest loans, the monthly income from repayments is only enough to keep the office functioning, Peterson said.
"We're really a referral agent," she said, adding that part of the service is educational and helping to identify other sources of help for clients in potential crisis – but the rent bank, which receives no ongoing funding from any level of government, would love to be in a position to help out again directly, through further loans to qualified applicants.
That's where the Coldest Night of the Year comes in, and Peterson said there are still plenty of opportunities for people to get involved, either through pledges, registering themselves and/or forming their own teams, or simply donating.
The event starts with registration at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sources main office at 822 Maple St., with the walk itself at 5 p.m.
There are three courses – 2 km, 5 km and 10 km – travelling the promenade and winding up through White Rock, depending on the route chosen, with 'warm-up' stations established at Centennial Park and First United Church.
"It's going to be great fun," Peterson enthused, adding that, for a registration fee of $25, participants receive a woolen 'Coldest Night' hat, plus chili and coffee.
"And it's going to be a dry night."
Coldest Night events are typically held to benefit the homeless Peterson said, and when Sources originally contacted Blue Sea Philanthropy there were some initial misgivings about helping the rent bank.
"They said 'what has this got to do with homelessness?'" she said. "We told them this was all about 'homelessness prevention' and that was all it took – they got it."
With all due respect to those who believe there is no such thing as homelessness in the supposedly affluent Semiahmoo Peninsula community – or that the cure, even if it does exist, is to 'get a job' – Peterson said the relative invisibility of the problem often has a lot to do with the pride of people who have been contributing members of society.
When she appeared as a delegation before White Rock council to publicize the Coldest Night of the Year recently, she noted, councillors wanted to know how many homeless there are in the community.
The answer, as near as can be determined by Sources workers and community volunteers, is around 50. Not all of them will be seen on the streets or in the cold weather shelters, Peterson says – many of them are 'couching' with friends and family.
But many others with a roof over their heads– including seniors and the disabled living on fixed incomes, long-time workers who have been laid-off or are battling health challenges or abuse situations, and increasingly squeezed middle class wage-earners, often with children – can be only one or two financial crises away from homelessness.
For these, the continued existence of a rent bank offers a vital source of hope, Peterson said.
But the bank – set up with help from the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Fund and ongoing contributions from VanCity and Envision – is far from a dispensary of free cash, she notes.
Applicants for what Peterson terms 'micro-loans' (the largest ever has been $1,600) have to qualify under established guidelines for low income, they can't be alcohol or drug dependent (an area requiring a whole other level of assistance), and the rent bank – like any other bank– is looking for evidence of overall stability and a good likelihood that the applicant can repay the loan over the two year term.
"We have to weigh the social good with our ability to keep going," she said.
For more information on the rent bank, contact Bruce Foster at 604-542-4357, 604-547-1023 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on how to contribute to the Coldest Night of the Year, visit www.coldestnightoftheyear.com and select White Rock from the directory.