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 "Shouts of great joy" despite the "coldest night of the year": Stratford Anglican team in Upper Queen's Park.  

By Lori Colbeck

There were two wood fires burning in Upper Queen’s Park where folks could warm themselves and cups of hot chocolate were being distributed.  CNOY toques were passed out to the sixteen members of the Stratford Anglican Churches Team gathered for the Coldest Night of the Year walk.

Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs and her husband Wade, Canon Rob Lemon the newly arrived rector of St. James’ and St. Paul’s, his wife Trish Taylor and their children Rebekah and Jacob were on the team.  Also on the team were The Reverend Lorraine Brooks, Deacon at St. Paul’s and The Reverend Canon Tom Patterson, Deacon at St. James’. 

Stratford has been participating in the walk which takes place across Canada and America each year - for over a decade, and for the last two years the Stratford Anglican Churches have formed a team.

We were aware as we chatted before the walk began that it was not an unpleasant late afternoon for a walk around the river. We were, however, acutely aware that there were at least 140 persons, adult and youth in Perth County living unsheltered day by day in far worse conditions.

Ryan Erb, executive director of United Way Huron Perth, announced that $140,000.00 had been raised locally by over 360 walkers. There were “shouts of great joy” from our team when it was announced that we had raised $8,705.00 the most of all the 60 local teams.  

Since the day of the walk our total  has risen to $8,875.00. It was said often in our group during the lead up to the walk that we were very appreciative of our donors’ generosity; it meant even more that they understood the acute need for support for The Connections Centre and Shelterlink here in Stratford.

The United Way of Perth/Huron opened the Stratford Connections Centre, located at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, on December 20, 2021. The Centre offers folks who are homeless or threatened with becoming homeless a warm place to drop in for a hot meal and snacks. The Centre funded by the United Way opened during Covid, and supported by Public Health and following Covid protocols, they managed to remain open.  

The parishioners at St. Paul’s had been wanting to do an “Outreach Project” and when Choices for Change was looking for a space to run their programs St. Paul’s, being centrally located in Stratford was a perfect fit.  

Program staff includes Housing Stability Workers who help with housing searches, applications for housing, connections with landlords, and move-in readiness. Peer Outreach workers are staff with lived experience of homelessness who rebuilt their lives. They focus on supporting people in Stratford who are experiencing homelessness. There is also support for those dealing with addictions.

A shower has been added as well as laundry facilities. More than 323 people have accessed the centre visiting 1,300 times since the Centre opened.

Members of the three Anglican churches in Stratford - St. Paul’s, St. Stephen’s and St. James’  supply sandwiches, home baking and other needed items to the Centre.

Stratford/Perth Shelterlink, serving youth ages 16 to 24, provides emergency or transitional shelter and support services to homeless or at-risk youth across Perth County. This past year 63 unsheltered youth were provided with shelter, basic needs, community referrals, and life skills counselling. Constant staff support helps move them forward and into a successful independent living situation providing life skills and career planning. 

Support volunteers were positioned along the route cheering walkers on and providing help where needed. The walk began down “snake hill” from Upper Queen’s Park to the bridge that crosses the river.  On the way back, the volunteer closest to the end of the walk had bright pink pom poms and cheered us on, reminding us “It’s all uphill from here!” 
Young and old, families with young children or  babies in strollers, and dogs of all varieties hiked our way back up “snake hill’ knowing we were making some difference for those less fortunate in our community, being supported through the good work of The Connections Centre and Shelterlink.

The chance to walk as Coldest Night of the Year team members  knowing we were, in our small way doing God’s work in this place, has given us more awareness and confidence to look towards future opportunities for the Stratford Anglican Churches to work together to make a difference.

Before leaving the Park, our team members handed their CNOY toques to our team leader to be taken to the Connections Centre. One of the folks visiting the Centre remarked that he needed a warm hat and so the love is passed on.

Lori Colbeck is a member of the Outreach Committee of St. James’, Stratford.