Caitlin Fricker (right) walks with her son Lucas, 6, and daughter Delaney, 7, during Saturday's Coldest Night of the Year event.

Coldest Night of the Year asks walkers to ‘look closer’ at homelessness

by | Feb 24, 2024 | ALLFFP, Faith & Religion, Fredericksburg, Lead Story, Non-Profits

As she walks through downtown Fredericksburg, Caitlin Fricker is sometimes triggered by seemingly benign architectural features. An awning here, a crevice there: the spots that once served as her only buffer from the wind and cold.  

“I still get flashbacks, like, ‘I’ve slept there’ or ‘I’ve been there,’” she said. 

Homelessness is now a memory for Fricker, 39, who first encountered Micah Ecumenical Ministries in 2020. Now housed, working and in recovery from the alcoholism that she said led to her stint on the streets, Fricker was back as one of the 766 participants in the Coldest Night of the Year walk hosted by Micah on Saturday evening.  

At least 88 teams gathered in Riverfront Park starting at 4 p.m. before setting off on a 2 or 5K course that connects each of the nine churches comprising Micah’s governing structure. This year’s event raised more than $164,000 to combat hurt, hunger and homelessness in the Fredericksburg area, according to Micah executive director Meghann Cotter.

No individual raised more money—either in Fredericksburg or nationally—than 10-year-old Jane Murray. 

Murray, who topped the scoreboard with $13,170 in donations, served as the event’s starter when she took the microphone at 5:15 p.m. and sheepishly shouted, “Thank you, and let’s walk!”  

Micah was formed almost 20 years ago to simply help people survive on the streets, Cotter said. While the nonprofit organization still tends to basic needs like food and shelter, its current offerings include “a little bit of everything,” she said. Micah now offers income development services and a “street church” to tend to its community’s spiritual needs.  

“What we’ve realized over the years is people don’t become homeless when they run out of money, they become homeless when they run out of relationships,” Cotter said.  

Coldest Night of the Year started in Canada before spreading to organizations in the United States three years ago. The theme for this year’s walk, said Cotter, was “look closer.”  

“We often don’t look close enough to realize that everyone has a story,” she said. “Everybody has moments in their life where they encounter addiction or mental health or financial crisis or whatnot.” 

Fricker, though, has already seen it through her own eyes. As the throng of walkers turned onto Princess Anne Street, she pointed out the wrought iron fence outside the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg to which volunteers clip bags of winter clothing, no questions asked.  

From experience, she knew that the beige tents staked on several street corners for the event were the same model Micah hands out to the unhoused in exchange for volunteering to clean up group sites.  

A few blocks later, Fricker gestured to a group congregating outside the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church—the “dumpster church,” as she used to call it when she was among their number. She explained that the evening’s free meal had just been served and transportation would soon arrive to take people a few miles across the river to the cold-weather shelter.  

One day, Fricker might relay those observations to her two closest companions for Saturday’s walk.

When Fricker was homeless and at the height of her addiction, she hadn’t spoken to her daughter Delaney, 7, or her son Lucas, 6, in nearly three years. After Micah helped her find shelter—first via a series of hotels and shared homes and finally in her own single-family home through a rapid rehousing program, she was able to win shared custody of her two youngest children in court.

“I have a home, I have my kids back. Without the help of Micah, I would’ve never gotten here,” she said. 

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