Demonstrating that voices are louder together, students, advocates, and partner organizations gathered more than 3,000 strong Sunday at Copley Square to unite with the homeless and march for access to warm beds and affordable housing.
They came with children in strollers and dogs on leashes, in pairs and in groups wearing matching winter pom pom hats, all for the same cause, to bring an end to the city’s homelessness crisis. They streamed down Boylston Street to Boston Common and looped back to Copley Square.
It was the largest turnout yet for the Winter Walk, now in its seventh year, according to organizers. Marchers who had pre-registered online, jammed the square as they waited in line to check in. They drank free coffee, posed for group photos, and wrote their reasons for walking on placards.
“I feel like this is such a huge issue that every little thing that we can do sends a message to the people who are unhoused who can see us all together, here, for them,” said Annie Mazzola, 54, of Brighton.
Mazzola, a first-time participant, was there to march with about 30 fellow singers from Music with Heart, a volunteer troupe that performs at homeless shelters, prisons, and residential facilities.
“We do what we can through music,” Mazzola said. “We sing from the heart.”
Daryl Golston, 63, has been living at Pine Street Inn for the last three or four months. Before that, he said, he stayed about a year and a half at a veteran’s shelter. He said the march was personal to him.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Golston said. “I’m an American veteran who can’t even find affordable housing. No American should be walking around trying to figure out how to get warm and where to lay their head.”
“That’s why I’m walking, someone has to stand up for us,” Golston said.
The march has grown exponentially since it was founded in 2016 by Boston-based tech entrepreneur Paul English, according to organizers. The Winter Walk partners with a number of beneficiary organizations — including Boston Medical Center, Pine Street Inn, and the St. Francis House — which receive the funds raised by the march to bolster their work addressing the crisis.
Brookview House, a Dorchester-based nonprofit that works with Boston mothers and children struggling with homelessness or at risk of it, was among the partner organizations.
“We do believe at Brookview that we can break the cycle of homelessness and poverty for our families,” said Chief Operating Officer Deborah Collins, 50, of Boston. “We just believe safe and supportive housing is a right, and it’s within reach for everyone.”
Bob Cameau, 44, of Brockton, works in mental health and said he sees firsthand the need “to end homelessness.” He brought his daughter and niece, both 16, with him to support the cause.
“My hope is for everybody to have a home to stay in and food on the table and to get everyone off the streets, by any means necessary,” Cameau said. “Together, I think we can; it’s possible.”
Felicia Kindle, 58, of Weymouth, a patient access supporter at Boston Medical Center, said more empathy could help curb the crisis.
“I hate to see anybody sit out in the cold or the heat, depending on the time of year,” Kindle said. “Everybody needs running water and a clean place to lay your head. So many people have the means to help and won’t help, it’s sad. Everybody is human, they need to have the same opportunities as everyone else, a place to call home.”
Kyle Vo, a 14-year-old eighth-grader in Brockton, went on the walk as part of a youth leadership program. His mother, Sandy Van, 49, joined him.
“I’m here because I want to help the homeless. I feel kind of sad that some people are in such bad situations,” Vo said.
People get stuck and can’t dig their way out, he said.
“It’s really hard to get out because minimum wage isn’t enough,” Vo said.
“When you’re cozy in your nice home, you don’t think about those on the streets,” said Wendy Fasciano, 50, of Swampscott.
Fasciano, chief financial officer of Bent Water Brewing Company in Lynn, brought a team of about 15 from the brewery, another of the walk’s partnering businesses.
“We just want to support as much as we can the homeless people in Boston, it helps to bring awareness. I just think it’s fabulous they have over 3,000 people here today. It’s amazing.”