At the beginning of December, Oshawa residents may notice an excess of red scarves displayed across the city.
These winter garments are tied to the Red Scarf Project, returning to Durham Region for its fourth year.
The project is undertaken by the AIDS Committee of Durham.
On Dec. 1, volunteers take to the streets of Oshawa and Whitby to hang the scarves, including a 40-foot one at Oshawa city hall.
According to Katie Namek, manager of promotions and community development for the committee, the scarves are meant to symbolize the red ribbon, the international symbol of HIV awareness.
“It’s a simple project with a powerful visual impact, scarf after scarf lining the streets, bringing the topic of HIV/AIDS to the forefront of people’s minds. This year, we hope to continue generating meaningful conversations about a topic shrouded in stigma, where things are often left unsaid,” reads a statement released by the AIDS Committee of Durham Region.
In addition to the visual impact, Namek says the scarves are meant to provide some warm clothing for those in need and also provide information about HIV/AIDS and available resources in the community.
She named two specific demographics she is hoping they can reach this year, Black women under the age of 29 and white women over the age of 50. According to Namek, these groups are among the most likely to contract the disease in Durham Region.
“These are groups who tend to think of themselves as not being vulnerable [to HIV/AIDS]. If you don’t think it could be you, you are much more likely to engage in activity that puts you at risk,” she explains.
However, Namek notes that since the project was launched locally in 2015, it has put a spotlight on another issue – homelessness.
“There has always been a close connection with HIV awareness and homelessness.”
Namek points out that many of the scarves they hang are taken by members of Oshawa’s homeless and underhoused populations.
“According to the most recent count, there are nearly 300 people in Durham Region experiencing homelessness, including families and children. A shocking number, but more shocking still is the fact that this is likely a minimum,” the committee’s statement reads.
The number of scarves hung has increased significantly in the first three years, from 400 in 2015 to approximately 880 last year.
“We are still trying to get the word out a little more. We are hoping this will be the year we hit 1,000 and we can move into some other communities,” Namek says.
Scarves can be dropped off at any Oshawa Public Library branch, the AIDS Committee of Durham Region office at 115 Simcoe Street South, and UOIT’s downtown campus at 61 Charles Street.
Volunteers are always welcome to help hang scarves on Dec. 1. Those interested can call 905-576-1445 or visit redscarfoshawa.ca