“At Risk”

   

The term “at risk youth” is thrown around a lot, often without much thought or care. It’s a label that can feel very cold and dehumanizing.

But what are “at risk youth” really “at risk” of?

I think if we stopped and answered that question, we wouldn’t use the term so casually.

Because the truth is, right now, these youth are at risk of dying.

Drug addiction and overdose are not new to Ottawa, but the surge of overdoses over the past year is unprecedented. The youth I work with are more at risk of dying from an overdose than ever. So much so, that lately when a youth does not show up for our weekly art group, I get a knot in my stomach worrying they are the latest overdose victim.

It’s a really dark time.

But in the midst of this, the youth at Innercity Arts provide hope. Even in this darkness, they remain resilient and build each other up – like no other community I’ve ever seen.

I’m inspired by their strength. I’m humbled by their generosity. I’m thankful for their compassion.

I’m always amazed by the beautiful things they create. This year, they have created some incredible pieces of art and music and will showing it to the community.

I hope you can attend the show, and be witness to a truly hopeful thing in this dark time.

Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/131027517429263/ 

 

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week - just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city. Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, "I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn't feel like it tonight at least." Stop. Pause. What if it was you? You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of 'no good', you'll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort... Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits... How would that make you feel? For the one's and two's and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, 'everything' (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home. A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was 'you?' I know it would mean a lot to me. Ken MacLaren

Episode 8: Danielle’s Christmas Wish

Hi I'm Danielle. My wish is that everyone has someone to be with this Christmas, and if not, that they feel God is with them, that His presence would comfort them and remind them that they are not alone. I wish that everyone will have a place to stay, that no one has to spend Christmas out in the cold. I hope and I pray that OIM continues to help those in need, and that God continues to reveal Himself to their community and bless them, to do his work through them with people who need it most. I wish that no one will go hungry, that every child wakes up Christmas morning with joy and wonder in their hearts, and families everywhere would come together and really appreciate love and happiness.  I wish for you who are listening, that whatever your situation is, that you have a wonderful, wonderful holiday and are surrounded by love, friends and family. God bless you. Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!    Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month? Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 7 – What’s happening now

 
“Danielle's Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!
Jason baptized me in the Ottawa River. He used to drive me to church with his family. It was a turning point in my life. I graduated from the art program, and entered Algonquin College for Animation.  I graduated last year. Right now, I am getting closer to getting a studio job as an animator.  In another couple of weeks I'll do another interview and then I will be able to complete my homelessness journey, and support myself without relying on others. My art is more than creativity, it was my means to escape the horrors of abuse and homelessness. It kept me going. I  escaped the temptation of drugs, and turned to my stories when I needed to escape that world.  It was my home when I had none. Homelessness taught me what happiness is all about. It is not about materialism. It is not about having money. I was happiest, when I was with my friend and her mother. I was happiest when I was at OIM, as a part of the art program, and their staff and volunteers offered so much - support, encouragement and acceptance. This has made all the difference in my life. Life is about love.   Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month? Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 2 – The Beginnings of Abuse

“Danielle's Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!
  This is Danielle's story in her own words: We moved to Ottawa when I was six, that's when the abuse picked up. I remember coming home from school, afraid even before I got there. School started, and every day when I got home from school I would hide in my room, covering my ears when the stomping of feet began. I knew a beating was coming. My mother or stepfather came quickly down the stairs to hurt one of us if there was a noise, or if the baby had woken up. As  the years went by, the abuse became more serious and frightening. I knew something was wrong- but I didn’t know what to do. Even when social workers would come to investigate, my mother would threaten us not to say anything. I didn't dare speak up, for fear the beatings would become even more severe. I had to take Reactin to help with my skin condition, and my step mom would take that away from me and I'd get hives. I could write my name on my arm, the hives were so bad. Finally, when I was 15, my grandmother intervened and insisted that my mother could not take care of me. She took me out of province to live with her. For a while, things were going well- I was happier, I felt more confident. But one day, before a field trip, when I meekly asked my grandmother if I was driving to school with her, she suddenly grabbed by the arms. I still have scars from her nails and I went to school covered in blood. Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone. Why not let them know that they are NOT alone? Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month? Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

He fought like a soldier

Every Tuesday for the last several years, you could always count on Marcel to greet you at the drop-in. Walking in first thing in the morning (with a Tim Horton's cup in hand, of course), he would make his way to his regular table, but not without first greeting each staff member and volunteer. He had a special connection with two of our volunteers: Ken and Kirk, who are both veterans. You see, Marcel was a proud veteran himself - having served in the Canadian military for several years. But like so many other veterans, after leaving the military he felt lost. He struggled with alcoholism for years, which eventually led him to the streets. But Marcel was a strong man, who persevered. He fought to get off the alcohol and to reclaim his life. He got sober and got a small apartment. But even after surviving homelessness, his life was not easy. He struggled daily with depression and PTSD. But he fought. He fought like a soldier. This Tuesday at the drop-in, Marcel did not show up to greet us. One of his friends brought us the news that he had died over the weekend due to a heart condition. There were tears shed, as friends comforted each other.

So this Remembrance Day, the OIM community is remembering Marcel. We remember his courage and his resilience.

We thank him for his service.

And we will miss him dearly.

Marcel 3

Marcel at the drop-in.

 

Kindness

A few months ago, a new person walked through the doors of the drop-in. He was friendly but seemed very cautious. He asked a lot of questions….as if he wasn’t sure if he could trust what we were up to. So I showed him around and tried to give him some answers. I offered him coffee and invited him to sit with some others who were playing cards. About an hour later, he came to find me again. His demeanor had completely changed – he looked happy and excited. “Did you see those women washing feet? I can’t believe that!” (He was referring to our foot care volunteers, who wash and care for the feet of our street friends.) He said he wasn’t used to seeing this level of kindness –just a few days before he had been released after spending several years in jail. Jail was rough, and kindness was rare. He said he couldn’t believe the kindness of the volunteers at the drop-in. The very next week, my new friend brought in 3 handmade dream catchers – one for me and one for each of the foot care volunteers. He said he wanted to extend kindness back to us. Since then, my new friend has attended drop-in every week. He always arrives with a smile and offers to lend a helping hand. dreamcatcher

Here is a photo of the dream catcher he made me. A reminder to me of how meaningful kindness can be.

 

Giving Their Time

A few weeks ago a handful of our youth participated in a fundraiser for Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat is a small northern Ontario community which has declared a state of emergency due to the large volume of suicide attempts from their population. Our youth felt the pull to show support for the youth in this small community. This was a wonderful event with beautiful traditional ceremonies and dances. The youth participated by creating live paintings for auction. With their work they were able to raise just under $600. I was so proud of them. They worked hard and produced some of the best work I have seen from them in just under 2 hours. Check out the incredible work they did below. 2016-06-22

The state of metal health services for homeless youth

istock_102_pp_sad_youthWe see so many of our youth struggling with mental health issues. A major disorder that we see is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to traumas at home, school and the streets. Not a lot of people associate PTSD with youth. This is a disorder usually associated with soldiers and trauma of war.  The stress of being homeless has been widely known to cause PTSD. Our youth struggle to juggle everyday needs, such as finding shelter and food, with the weighted needs of their addictions and mental health issues. Many of their addictions form from the need to self-medicate such issues as PTSD or depression or anxiety disorders. This doesn’t even address more complex issues that we see such as schizophrenia, bi–polar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Finding resources they can rely on long term and that they can trust is very hard. It is our experience that many youth and young adults who are ready to receive therapy are ultimately put on long waiting lists. Often the waiting lists for free services are more than 6 months or longer. Therapist, counselors, and psychotherapists are not readily available without coverage. These marginalized youth then become discouraged and give up on finding help. We have seen this over and over again. One of our youth, a boy of 18 years old, has been so traumatized by events at home and being left defenseless on the streets that he barely can speak. He has been in ‘the system’ for a few years now but has yet to get the help he really needs. We watch him every week come in looking lower and lower. He struggles to communicate, to eat, to smile. We can barely connect with him. It breaks our hearts but our hands are tied. And he’s not alone. We see all sides of mental illness, and those who have been lucky enough to get into a crisis program are left hanging at the end of the program as there is so little follow up available. There is such a lack of resources that symptoms are bandaged and root causes can’t be addressed.

Here, let the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness say it best: "Youth homelessness has existed in Canada for decades; however, recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of young people with complex mental health issues who are also facing the isolation and struggle of homelessness. In communities across the country, the failure to address the specific needs of homeless youth with complex mental health needs, and the lack of appropriate, timely services is resulting in a crisis for homeless young people, their families and the community agencies that seek to support them. The results are devastating as Canada’s most marginalized young people fall between the cracks. They are often ineligible for, or not well served by children and adult mental health systems – nor well suited to services developed for homeless adults with complex mental health needs."** ** National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness 2012 Canada For more information please read the whole article: http://homelesshub.ca/resource/backgrounder-homeless-youth-and-mental-health#sthash.BdChOF51.dpuf  

Prayer Request

It was a particularly cold night on outreach last week when we came across Brian. It was our first time meeting Brian - who informed us he would be sleeping outside that night. I shivered at the thought - I was freezing cold and had only been outside for about half an hour. We offered him things to help him stay warm - gloves, a hat, a sleeping bag, a cup of hot chocolate. But Brian said "You know what would help keep me warm? A prayer. Would you pray with me?" We knelt down with Brian as he led us in prayer. He thanked God for His love, and all He has done for Brian. He then asked God for help to overcome his addiction. Brian thanked us for our prayers, and we told him we would continue to pray. If you're reading this, say a prayer for Brian.