Fundraiser offers glimpse of Trail homelessness

"Coins for Change" is asking local officials and residents to experience homelessness for one night under the Victoria St Bridge.

Most people living in the Greater Trail area can afford a roof over their head, a comfy bed and three squares a day.

But for one night only, an event is being planned to give the community a glimpse into the life of a homeless person.

Coins for Change is an awareness and fundraising campaign slated for Sept. 12 that asks local officials and anyone else in the area to experience homelessness firsthand and spend the night sleeping under the Victoria Street Bridge.

Those participating will be asked to build shelters out of boxes, or pitch a tent and sleep outdoors in the makeshift refuge from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. and all money pledged will support a local homeless-no-more program.

The challenge builds on a joint venture between the Skills Centre and Career Development Services (CDS) called Getting to Home, which is an initiative that launched two years ago with a goal to end homelessness in Greater Trail.

“The project well surpassed our ideas and what we had set forth to do,” said CDS spokesperson Gail Pighin. “We are coming to the end of our funding pool and hope to raise funds as well as awareness that homelessness isn’t a problem that occurs in larger cities,” she continued. “It is alive and happening right here in Trail and the surrounding areas.”

Pighin approached Montrose council July 7 asking for the village’s support in the event, however sleeping outside for 12 hours isn’t the only option she said, because the event is set up in pledge form starting with a $2 per hour contribution.

“I think if the councils stand behind us and make a donation or write a letter that they are in support of this, that is what we really need,” she said. “That means they want this issue addressed.”

The village committed to the fundraiser, and Pighin is hoping other local politicians will follow suit when she and Jessica deGeorgio, a support worker from Trail Association for Community Living,  approach surrounding councils in the next few weeks.

The homelessness initiative began with 28 people on the roster in need of assistance, but by the end of June this year, the program has helped 163 individuals from Rossland through to Fruitvale find a place to call home.

“This isn’t just about picking the person up and saying ‘Here is a house for you,’” said Pighin. “It’s about looking at the dynamics and what has created this situation and how we can help them be in a better place and get the support they need.”

Single mothers, seniors on the verge of losing housing, youth transitioning out of foster care, brain injury clients and people struggling with mental health or drug and alcohol issues have all found housing through “the homeless are here if you choose to look” project.

“It’s not the guy you see walking around or sleeping under the bridge and other nooks and crannies in Trail,” said Pighin. “We thought we would just get those guys and get them off the street. But it has turned out to me so much more.”

She is hoping that businesses, councils, local agencies and community groups band together to make a donation, or pledge to sponsor an attendee to spend one night under the bridge to raise funds that will sustain the non-profit service next year.

For information and to sign up for the event, contact CDS at 364.1104 or visit the service’s office at 1565 Bay Avenue in downtown Trail.