Utica, N.Y. – What’s it like to be homeless in Utica during the winter? More than 200 Utica area residents took a one mile walk in 15 degree temperatures Saturday morning to raise awareness about homelessness and to feel just a little bit of what it might be like to be homeless and wandering the streets.
The 7th annual Utica Rescue Mission Walk a Mile in My Shoes event was held on Saturday and Utica Rescue Mission Executive Director Jim Haid says the 15 degree weather was perfect to get a feel for what those who are homeless go through, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes is an opportunity for the community to come together, certainly to support the Rescue Mission, but more importantly to raise awareness to what it’s like to be walking the streets day in and day out, in particular in this time of year.”
Many of those who participated in the walk on Saturday have raised money in recent months to donate to the Utica Rescue Mission to help the mission continue providing the many services it provides throughout the year, including its homeless shelter on Rutger St.
Brenda Castle of Rome helped raise money with fellow members of First Presbyterian Church of Holland Patent. Castle presented the donation to Haid on Saturday. She also walked in the event, calling the walk ‘powerful’. She says you do get a feel for what the homeless go through, “How cold it is, how cold it would be if I was under a box or a bridge, or only had a small blanket in the corner at the Rescue Mission. You try to take yourself outside of your comfort zone and try to think of what they’re going through, what they have.”
Besides Rescue Mission officials, also leading the walk were Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri and Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol.
The Utica Rescue Mission serves people from not only Utica, but surrounding communities and Palmieri says this walk is definitely eye opening and says it would be great if many more people would take part, “The cold weather, the wind, the snow, some people parked on their nice little sofa watching TV and not realizing the hardships the other people are going through.”
Maciol says he sees how valuable the Rescue Mission is on a daily basis, “We see the effects of the homeless. Obviously our deputies are out in the streets and unfortunately with see some folks this time of year when I gets this cold sometimes they’ll intentionally commit crimes just so they can be incarcerated so they can get out of the cold, so definitely homelessness is something we need to focus on.”
Debi Kenyon, Director of Development with the Utica Rescue Mission, helped organize the initial Walk a Mile in My Shoes event seven years ago along with Leadership Mohawk Valley, “The reason to do this is to bring awareness to homelessness, what it feels like for a homeless person to be walking on the streets in weather like today and maybe with just sneakers and wet socks on, so we really want to bring some awareness to that so they can see what they experience and maybe support the mission so that we can continue to provide programs that we are doing.”
Steve Darman, Chair of the Mohawk Valley Housing and Homeless Coalition says the need for awareness this year is even greater than the first years of this event, “We just went out and counted homeless people at all our shelters. We do that every year, it’s a hard requirement for the HUD money that welters are bulging here and in Madison County.”
Along the one mile walk, a walk past the new West Street Apartments, Utica Rescue Mission permanent housing with affordable rents designed to help get people off the streets and on the path to a better life. Haid says the first tenants are expected to move in in Mid-March.
If you would like to make a donation to the Utica Rescue Mission, you do so by sending a check in the mail or dropping one off at the Utica Rescue Mission offices at 212 Rutger St. or for more information, call the mission at (315) 735-1645.