Boston Winter Walk aims to raise awareness of homelessness

Boston Winter Walk aims to raise awareness of homelessness
Walkers took to the streets to help expose the hardships homeless people face during winter in Boston. / Photo by Jake Wang

By Julia Crooijmans, news staff

On a dull and rainy Sunday morning, hundreds gathered on Copley Square to participate in the two-mile Winter Walk, a march around Boston that raises money for and awareness of homelessness.

Sunday marked the second installation of this annual event. Purposely held in February – New England’s coldest month of the year – the walk aims to expose the hardships of those who are left to survive the brutally cold winter on the streets of Boston.

“It is very inspiring to see so many people out here on a rainy Sunday early morning supporting this cause,” said dermatologist Diana Bartenstein from Tufts University School of Medicine. Bartenstein participated in the walk with her friend, Jennifer Tan, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Bartenstein and Tan are involved in Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program — one of the event’s partner organizations — where they are working to better the skincare of the homeless in Greater Boston.

“Homelessness is a national epidemic and it leads to significant mortality and disability amongst people who are homeless,” Tan said. “I think that if any city has the capacity to end homelessness, it is Boston.”

Participants registered for the event through the Winter Walk website and either paid or fundraised $100 to join. The cost for college students and children was discounted at $50. Before the walk began, participants received a Winter Walk hat.

All proceeds raised through the walk go toward its five partner organization: Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Brookview House, Pine Street Inn and Y2Y Harvard Square.

Winter Walk Executive Director Ari Barbanell, Kayak.com cofounder Paul English and Kraft Group Vice President Robyn Glaser founded the Winter Walk together.

Barbanell said they chose to partner with organizations that provide direct services to the city’s homeless population. Together these organizations address a scope of issues around homelessness.

“We hoped that people would connect with these organizations, volunteer, learn what they do, become part of their community — and that happened, which is really great,” Barbanell said. “We hope that keeps on happening.”

The Winter Walk seemed like a perfect way to stay active on a Sunday morning and give back to the community for two Bostonians: Amy Walsh, who works in nonprofit business development, and Louise Quinton, who works in retail.

“It looks like the walk is run really well – it’s nice to see something so well-organized and focused on an important issue in this city,” Walsh said. “And this might sound horrible, but we like the hats, too.”

The walk ended at Copley Plaza, where participants shared a community breakfast and were presented with information from partner organizations and personal stories from people who have or are experiencing homelessness.

“Homelessness is a state of being, not an identity — it is not a definition of who you are,” Barbanell said. “So if we can help you understand that — open a door, look somebody in the eye, ask somebody their name, remember that everybody has a story, everybody is somebody’s child — then that is part of our success, if we can share that.”

Barbanell expects the Winter Walk to take place again next year. She hopes that it will bring more people together and create a bigger impact on Boston in the future.

“Ultimately, I hope that we do not have to walk for too many years,” she said. “I think the idea would be that we would really find our way to the end of this problem, but until then I hope that more and more people will show up and bring people more knowledge and raise more money.”

Walsh and Quinton eagerly look forward to walking next year.

“We are going to double our team next year — come with four people or maybe even six,” Quinton said. “We’ll tell them about the hats, the mission, the short walk and the breakfast — we’ll get more people coming.”

Walsh said, “Get yourself out of bed! What else are you going to do on a Sunday morning?”

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