“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/ 

 

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.

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  

Eric’s Journey, Episode 3: Drugs Owned My Life

"Eric's Journey" is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button belowFollow along all month to hear this amazing story! 

 

Eric Continues His Story. . . 

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Eric in 2011

“Drugs were the biggest part of my life. Everything revolved around drugs. Panhandling for money for drugs. Stealing for drugs. Doing whatever I could to get more drugs. They owned my life. Drugs messed up my life. I had some part-time jobs and was able to have an apartment for a period of time but I lost my job when I didn’t show up for work. I had a couple of homeless guys living with me at the time who had no other place to go. We did drugs together by I ended up losing me place every time. I didn’t’ really deal drugs very much, but I connected people with other people (drug dealers) and that helped me out a bit. I spent some time in jail. I don’t have a big criminal record for anything really; sometimes I used my brother’s name instead of mine when I was pulled over by the police. But all of my criminal activity always revolved around drugs and more drugs. Then while panhandling, I met some people on the street that really helped me lot. They invited me to come to an art program. I used to do art all the time when I was a kid. Some of my stuff was pretty good.
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Eric at the P4Y art program in 2009

Yeah so when these outreach guys invited me to come to the art program, I said yes. Well, it took awhile but finally I went.”

Coming Up on December 14th -

Episode 4: Something happens in

Eric's life that changes EVERYTHING . . .

         

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click “Donate Now”. Thanks!

A Presence on the Streets

Not long ago, one of our outreach teams was doing late night outreach. It was about 10:30pm when they entered the market area. Across the street they saw a man sitting in his sleeping bag, with a few men standing around him. It looked like a group of friends hanging out, and so the outreach team hesitated to interrupt. But, they decided to see if the men needed anything. The men grabbed some supplies from the team and then quickly walked away – leaving the one man who had been sitting in his sleeping bag. The man said “You got here just in time – they were going to beat me up again.” The man was old and frail, and said he is often beat up and robbed. Another time on outreach, our team was walking towards a woman who was sitting in an alley way. Two men walked by her, and poured something on her hear. We ran up to her, and could tell it was urine they had poured on her. It is understandable that often our outreach teams return from their walk of the streets and feel disheartened and helpless. But we remind them that despite the awful things they witnessed, they were there. They were the reason the man was not assaulted...they were there to clean the urine off the woman. The streets can be a scary and awful place to be. But our outreach teams, if nothing else, provide a safe and trusting presence on the streets. And that’s pretty amazing. Untitled design

To be a presence on the streets, join our volunteer team by taking our volunteer training. CLICK HERE

  - Moira, Youth Outreach Worker 

A Chance Meeting

When I meet a youth on outreach for the first time, I am always aware that it may be the only time I ever see them. The lives of street-engaged youth can be so insecure and unpredictable that our paths may never cross again. Knowing this, I try my best to make some sort of connection and pray that I have helped the youth in some way. I met Jasmine in the summer of 2014. She was standing on bank street and told me she was staying in a shelter after becoming homeless after fleeing an abusive relationship. We talked for a little, and then I went on with my route. Months passed and I didn't see her again. I wondered about her...was she still at the shelter? Had she returned to her abusive partner?

Then, about 7 months later I received this text:

final text   Since sending me this text, Jasmine has become a member of the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program. She is there every week and always has a bright smile on her face. I took a picture of this text and saved it so that if I every wonder if these brief outreach meetings are meaningful, I know the answer.

Shane’s Story, Episode 5: My Own Place

Shane's Story is a eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal's story. Tweet it to your friends - it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane's special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!" Listen to a part of her story by clicking the 'play' button below, then read the rest of her story in this post: I got my place last spring.
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The door of Shane's room the day she moved in. Notice the hole where the door handle should be.

I met this kid panhandling and he lived in the building. I told him I really needed a place. I told him I had a dog and really need somewhere safe and warm to keep him. He told me there was a room available in his rooming house. It was beside his room, and the place was really disgusting.  It was really gross. It’s a building full of bachelors, of addicts and dealers but that’s what you get. There were spiders, cockroaches, bedbugs – but there’s no house centipedes though, and I’m pretty happy about that. None! The room though was an absolute pigsty. There was grime to the point that I had to scrape it off with a knife. There was something that kept coming up off the tile that was really gooey and sticky. Really sticky. You had to scrub it off with hot water.  I don’t know what I was cleaning up there, but it was pretty bad. Once I got it tolerable, I put my stuff in there. It took like two weeks to get it at least decent. That’s like without cleaning the walls or without cleaning the window, or checking under the bed box to see what garbage is under there. I still don’t know. It’s a secret (laughter). The underneath of my bed – I don’t want to know. (laughter) It’s weird sharing a shower and a toilet with like 20 other people. They pee all over the floor. I have to wear my shoes into the toilet, you have to take toilet paper with you and bring it back with you.
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The floor of Shane's room.

I’m paying $470 for a tiny little infested room that’s not even up to code. Like one of my windows is not really a window – it’s a board with a nail holding it in place. I had to make my own ‘fixes’ – they wouldn’t put caulking under the box for my bed and the bugs were crawling in and out of there. ‘No, don’t do that to me. I don’t want bugs near my bed’, so I finally got some white duct tape and taped it. They (landlords) don’t really do much. Bedbugs? Oh yea. Landlord only sprays one room at a time, so each time the landlord sprays one room, the bedbugs that survive just over to the next person’s room. He sprays that room and they crawl upstairs to where it’s safe. They just keep going. We just push them around really. I’m waiting for the time they push them back into my room, ‘cause I’m highly allergic. My face will swell and it’s bad. I had to go to the doctor a couple of times, and get hard core allergy medication. They’re not in my room now. I had to go out and buy powder that’s safe for animals. I put that on the floor around my bed, and if they come in, they’re dead. You brush it into the baseboards, and if they try to get in there and hide, they die. It’s pretty bug proof.  Cockroaches though, I don’t know how to get rid of them. They just keep comin’. From my dresser too- I don’t know why ‘cause in there there’s only clean clothes. They’re not in my pantry though. Not even a nuclear bomb will kill them.
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A swollen bed bug bite on Shane's arm.

Remembering Homeless Veterans

140   People hurry by the large monument every day, most never pausing to look or even acknowledge it. One lonely man, white haired, in torn and dirty clothes stands alone at the base of the steps leading up to a large stone coffin. Tears running down his cheeks, his jacket showing signs that they are real, a well-worn beret clamped in his hands. People avoiding him, his actions make them uncomfortable. Slowly he places the beret on his head, adjusting it so it sits perfectly. His posture changes, he stands erect. He marches 2 steps forward, slams his right foot onto the cement and slowly raises his right hand in a perfect motion. His fingers touch the edge of his glasses and he offers a silent prayer mouthing thank you as he slowly lowers his arm to his side. Executing an about turn he marches away from the coffin. Still weeping but managing to control the tears and is quickly engulfed in the flow of strangers. Who is this man? He is a symbol of what we cherish the most; our freedom. But he is also homeless, a veteran of our military now reduced to living on the streets because the help he desperately needed was either denied or wasn’t made available to him. My friend John lived in a nightmare with things he was asked to do while serving our nation. Things that he refused to talk about until one cold day just after OIM’s Easter Dinner. He told me about driving a truck in some far off country, the pain still vividly haunting him as he relived the horrors and the stern warnings about not stopping for anything if the convoy was assaulted. He spoke of the methods the Taliban used to try and force them to stop, of how they would sacrifice woman and children for to achieve their goals. He spoke of the memories that came screaming back every time he looked at his little girl and how he eventually lost his wife and her to the lack of treatment. His pain was real, not something created for attention. The man at the coffin is also George, a veteran who was forced to retire before his prime because of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) whose battles continue daily as he struggles to survive. He faces ridicule because, unlike the war vets, he fights not only his demons but the stigma of being forgotten because he has never gone to war. This man is Jim, a warrior now forced to survive in a wheel chair whose battle is now staying alive as he faces countless medical challenges. Whose heart is bigger than anyone I have met. Whose love fills the air around him like a beacon, but who is, sadly, ignored because of the image people see. Who are these people? They are men that I am proud to call friends, brothers, someone that I share something in common with; we are all veterans. They have been forgotten because the reminder of what we stood for is too painful to recognize. They are the walking wounded. They are the marginalized, the ridiculed, the scorned, the forgotten. Take the time to get to know them, have a meal with them, thank them for their service. Remind them that the sacrifice they were willing to make will not be forgotten, they will be remembered, and not just on Remembrance Day but every day of their lives. The next time you find a man, or woman, weeping at the monument as they pay their respects. Put an arm around them; support, them, remember to say thank you.  When you are asked what a veteran is remind people that a veteran is a man or woman, who signed a blank cheque, payable to their country, Canada, for everything up to and including their lives. They were a special group of people willing to die , to ensure that Canadians can live free. Only two people have been willing to die for you: Jesus on the cross for your salvation and a veteran for your freedom. - written by Ken Byars, a Canadian veteran and a dedicated  OIM volunteer