Updated: Aug 25, 2022
The Waterloo Region Crossing started last year as a crazy idea to raise awareness about the risks of exposure for the homeless by going on a 65 km trek in the dead of winter. Involving then only a few people, this year the event was opened to the public and amazingly about 100 participants signed up. I, for reasons I will share here, was one of them.
A difficult, yet important journey
For the ambitious, the full trek involved journeying across the Region nearly non-stop for almost a full day, starting at the Walter Bean Trailhead in Cambridge and ending in at the West Montrose Kissing Bridge (see map). From what I read about the previous year's trek, this was a journey that pushed people to their limits.
Fortunately participation no longer requires doing the full trek, with a mid- and short-length trek available too. I personally opted for the shortest, 8 km Pioneer version of the trek.
Nevertheless, participating in any length of the event still required a great commitment in fundraising, gear preparation and such. Not to forget being ready to board a bus, for transport to the starting point, at 6:15 am!
The attraction of the event
The growing awareness about this event could perhaps not have been at a more fitting time. Late this past December, long-time friend of the Working Centre, trauma survivor and previous street person, Detlef (Duff) Becker, passed away. Although I did not know him, other participants did and made the trek at least partly in memory of him.
As for what drew me to participate, those reasons, as for anyone I guess, are complex. In part though I felt compelled by how the trek also sought to highlight the root causes of homelessness, by exploring the impacts of rapid development in Waterloo Region.
While by no means an expert in homelessness, my background in land-use planning helped me see the connections between these issues. People are homeless largely because we aren’t using the land in ways that provide adequate affordable housing and economic opportunities, not to mention a host of other planning reasons.
A long-time advocate for responsible planning, this seemed incredibly important to me. I had often felt conflicted with concerns over urban sprawl and its resulting destruction of green space and agricultural land, as well as the lack of affordable housing. I was excited at the thought of exploring both issues together!
I was also attracted to how all money raised from the trek were going to the Working Centre. Far from just trying to put a bank-aid on the issue, the organization tries to deal with the root causes of homelessness.
Personal reasons to participate
Still, in considering why I wanted to do the event, I was not satisfied with walking just for these reasons. I also wanted to connect the dots to another issue that is near to my heart: global climate change.
Far from being a separate issue deserving attention elsewhere, the climate is closely intertwined with homelessness and land-use. As I have heard many a time, urban sprawl perpetuates the burning of fossil fuels and destroying forests means less carbon being removed from the atmosphere.
What is more, tragically climate change is both exacerbates the effects of, and causes, homelessness. For instance, the homeless face increased exposure to heat waves and cold snaps caused by a changing climate. Unfavourable growing conditions caused by climate change also result in rising food prices and thus an increase in the cost of living.
For a long time, I have dreamt of an ideal world where people would join forces to work together and get at the root causes of *all* these issues. Yes, it has been deeply buried in my consciousness, ignored by me for most of the time, and it has been there nonetheless.
Rather than wait for that to happen, I made the decision to sign up and do the trek. Deciding to share with others my reasons for doing so, which is why I am writing all this now.
To me, these reasons made my journey on the Waterloo Region Crossing a truly GREAT TREK. I want to tell you more about my experiences on the journey itself. However, that seems better left for another time, hopefully not too long from now...
My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019