A Winter Walk to Help the Homeless

How do you help thousands of homeless in Boston? One step at a time.

Posted February 2, 2018 by Gabrielle Sims, Program Associate, Neighborhoods and Housing

More than 6,000 people are homeless on any given night in Boston. But raising awareness of, and funding for, those organizations working to solve the problem of homelessness can be difficult.

A group of people march down a snowy sidewalk, they are holding a large banner that says "Winter walk, ending homelessness is within our reach."
via Instagram
Ari Barbanell and Paul English want to change that - opening minds by putting one foot in front of the other. On February 11, 2018, the 2nd Annual Winter Walk Boston will highlight the homeless issue and the people working to solve it, with proceeds supporting organizations in Greater Boston that are working on prevention, support, and care for our homeless community. Ari Barbanell is the Executive Director of the Winter Walk. Paul English co-founded the Winter Walk along with Barbanell and Robyn Glaser.

Ari Barbanell: AB
Paul English: PE

1.  Where did the concept of the Winter Walk come from?

PE: In a meeting with Sacha Pfeiffer at my office, I was saying that we need to educate more people about homelessness in Boston - what are the root causes, is it possible to cure the city of homelessness. From this discussion, I came up with the idea of doing a contemplative winter walk with friends who work in the homeless community.

AB: Paul gathered our team around this concept in late summer of 2016, and we moved swiftly to launch a walk for February 2017 to raise awareness and funds.  The support from the community, partners, our city, was overwhelming and positive.

2.     You held the first winter walk last year – what were the biggest takeaways you heard from people?

PE: It made me very happy to see how many attendees could visualize homelessness after this walk - to really think that it could happen to almost anyone if you suffer from a mental health issue and/or substance addiction. I think the walk inspired people to learn more and do more to help our homeless brothers and sisters.

AB: A number of people messaged us after the walk saying they reached out to partner organizations and local service organization to start volunteering, or that they held a door for someone they thought might be experiencing homelessness, looked them in the eye, or asked their name.  People shared important moments of awareness, moments of sharing respect and dignity.

3.     How has that fed into this year’s walk format?

PE: We've gotten more interest in the walk this year, so we're planning something which can handle more participants. And we've worked hard on the program's goal of developing understanding and compassion, with several components that day that should aid each walker in learning more.

4.     How can people get involved with the Walk?

BOTH:  The simplest way is to signup at winterwalkboston.org - then spread the word on social media, and get others to join you.  There are also opportunities to volunteer, to donate, and to help us grow our year-round outreach. 

5.     This year’s walk is scheduled for February 11. What do you hope happens on February 12?

PE: I hope that every walker finds an agency who inspires them, that they signup for one email newsletter from that agency, and agree to take on a follow-on meeting with that agency so everyone can think about next steps.

AB: I second all that.  And I hope that everyone walks through their Monday with a different perspective on what experiencing homelessness might feel like, knowing that homelessness can happen to anyone.  I hope that we don't have to walk for this cause for too many years to come, that we find a lasting path to ending homelessness together.

The Boston Foundation has sponsored a team for this year’s walk, and we encourage you to sign up and participate as well. Learn more at winterwalkboston.org.