Deaf and Dumb, but WHO?

Big transition of our drop in this past week from Salvation Army Gladstone Street to Dominion Chalmers U/C on Lisgar.  For those who aren’t aware of this prestigous United Church, have a look at photos at http://www.dc-church.org/  A remarkable, extrememly well kept, renovated, bright, cheery place – exactly the kind of place that our street friends deserve to come into for a meal, refreshment and friendship.

Switching from Wednesday to Tuesday and the first of the month when all the cheques are out, and when it is absolutely beautiful and sunny, attendance was a bit low.  But, every person is important, and our gift is to come alongside those who are given to us on any day.

I had seen Jacques several times but never had a chance to sit and visit until today.  Add to that, Jacques can neither hear nor speak.  So I sat across the table and tried to communicate, thinking he might read lips or we could have some sort of communication.  He clearly indicated some things to me, one of which was he was not interested in trying to communicate with me (at least in my clumsy manner).  I was at a loss, until I looked at the white napkin in front of me, and then caught a glimpse of a pen that my neighbour had placed next to her book.  DUH!!

I picked up the pen and napkin and wrote a sentence of welcome.

The transformation was immediate and eagerly accepted.  After a few pen exchanges, I went and found some loose leaf and we spent the next while going back and forth, writing like we were age old friends.

Jacques told me days, dates and years of significant events in his life.  We talked about the drop in and answered questions that he had since he came through our doors some time ago.  Of where he lived, how it was hard to live on ODSP, how old he was, where he was raised and more…

It was refreshing, even exhilerating!  I had a friend to talk with, and so did he.

We get so busy with things – and I would be one of the worst offenders.  This and that call for immediate attention and we can neglect or overlook the gifts of beauty in the people around us.  This is clearly my story with Jacques. 

I wonder who the deaf and dumb one really is.

 I don’t know why I didn’t think of writing before, but I am thank God that I thought of it this week.

And I thank God for my new friend – my note pal.

I wonder what riches we will uncover as we develop our friendship?  I am really looking forward to more.

God help us to slow down and see the opportunities that present themselves to all of us each day.

For us or for them?

I sat at the table with three guys at the drop in this week, just starting a hot game of euchre, when Rod asked if he could please ask a question.  Everybody looked.  “Sure,” I said. 

Rod looked at me intently.  We were in relationship for a while now, long enough for him to feel comfortable: “Why don’t you pray here at the drop in before meals?”

“Good question,” I replied and went on to explain that whereas we were a Christian agency, that we did pray before each drop in, that many times our volunteers prayed with people throughout the day, and that the servers prayed over the meal before serving, that we did not pray publically before meals because there would be a small percentage of our guests for whom that would be a problem.  Some of our folks have been abused by ‘religious’ people, whether at residential schools, or their home towns or somewhere along the story path of their lives. Any kind of prayer for some of our guests, would make them feel very uncomfortable. For the sake of the few, we decided to forgo this common practice.

We continued to talk and enjoyed a good conversation about prayer, people and respect.  The whole table became involved  in fact, and the other guys felt free sharing their opinions as well (it was the first time for one of the guys to open up and talk in front of me).

The boys had been having some conversations about how other agencies require them to ‘be a part’ of a worship experience for about 40 minutes, then listen to a sermon for another 30 minutes, and then they were allowed to eat.  They felt pretty strongly that there was something wrong with this system, and some definite lack of respect for people who were hungry and wanting something to eat.

I defended the particular agency to the guys, because we all know that there is just too much to be done in this world to help others, and people are doing what they think is best when they run a program.

There was talk then about how the worship/preaching/eating  group never asked them what they wanted.  You couldn’t play cards, and there was no time to visit or talk really, because the music was too loud during ‘worship’, or you couldn’t speak during the sermon time.  The food was really good and always fresh, and when you’re hungry, that means a lot.  The whole table agreed that the food was great.

I started to be at a loss for words right about then, but really came up with a big zero when Rod leaned across the table, and thoughtfully (and sincerely) asked me, “Do you think they are doing this for us or for them?” 

Are we doing this for us or for them? 

Million dollar question!  A question that deserves serious consideration, or meditation, or maybe even some prayer time.  Who are we doing this for?  Is it to make us feel better, less guilty, more ‘loving’? 

Or is it because ‘the love of God compels us’ to reach out to others?

Wisdom from the streets calls us to examine ourselves, our motives and our hearts.

Now everything has shifted: it’s not about the worship/preaching/eating group – it’s about me.

OIM Relocates Drop In

Some time ago, we learned that our weekly drop in program would be interrupted for a period of three to six months while a construction renovation occurred at our current downtown location.

 Just two weeks ago, Jelica (OIM’s managing director) informed me that the scheduling for the renovation was imminent.  We would have just three weeks to find a new location, go through the necessary steps with our new ‘landlord’ (which might take several weeks or even months to get approvals), move our supplies, inform our street friends, set up and continue to provide needed services.

 There were some specific caveats involved that severely restricted our options: we needed a downtown location, a place which could accommodate a minimum of 120 people (and up), a serviceable kitchen, a large space for eating our community meal as well as additional spaces for foot care, touch care, hair care, chiropractic care, and clothing distribution.  We needed a space that would allow all these services to be a part of the larger group, and at the same time, is separate enough for individual care.

 In a perfect world, we would also like to be in a pleasant venue with natural light, clean and modern washrooms, and maybe even a garden.  We were looking for a world class venue that would suite the people that we are working with.  Someone said, ‘Put a person in a prison like environment and they’ll act like a prisoner.  Put a person in a world class venue and they’ll act like a world class citizen’. 

 This is not a simple list of items, but it is what we need.  These are the needs of our operation, and became the criteria around which we directed our search.

 The day after the news of our immediate need, I gathered staff for prayer and waiting on God.  We met that morning, again that afternoon, and the next morning.  We didn’t need ‘a space’; we needed the ‘right space’, and so made inquiry of the Lord.

 Good news!  In less than one week we had an offer of ‘the perfect space’ for our needs!

 Dominion Chalmers United Church has very graciously opened her doors to host our drop in until the renovation is complete – mid July!  In every sense, it is the perfect space!

 Woodside Hall is where we have hosted our annual community dinners and accommodate 160-200 guests; there is ample room for services, with our volunteers having their ‘own space’ and feeling like they are a part of the larger drop in at the same time; we have access to D.C.’s private garden which Is accessed directly through Woodside Hall; the kitchen is perfect for our needs, and there is parking!  In every respect, this is a perfect fit for our present needs. 

In less than one week from the time of the announcement of the imminent need to relocate, it was all looked after.   Thanks be to God (and thank you Dominion Chalmers)!

You can check out photos on their website:  http://www.dc-church.org/

Youth Art Show III

A totally unexpected outcome was realized at our youth art show just a few months ago, and I don’t think I told you about it.  So have a read, and let me know if you don’t think that this is the coolest…

The kids were pumped, everything was ready, all the art work was in place, snacks, interactive art table (the kids’ idea), it was all so special, so beautiful.  But none of it was really as beautiful as this.

I mingled with the kids, the volunteers, and introduced myself to some of the early arrival guests.  I had the chance to meet some people that I did not recognize, and early into our conversations, they identified themselves as parents, relatives, grandparents, cousins or some link of family members to the artists in our Passion for Youth art program.

At first, I thought this was very cool.  Then, as I met more and more relatives of the kids, whether on my own, or one of the kids would introduce their ‘kin’ to me, the degree of coolness increased significantly.

It had not occurred to me that the kids would have relatives come out to such an event (I am not sure why).  It sure meant a lot to the kids though.  Of course, some of the parents/ relatives were very interested in winning the bid on certain of the art pieces.  I think each was successful.  While they did not bring their kids home that night, they took a piece of them through the art work their kids had created.

In debriefing with our youth outreach worker, Jason, I mentioned that there was quite an interest on the part of the relatives of the kids, and was this an expected outcome?

No, it wasn’t really, but it made sense to me when Jason gave me a bit of explanation.  Most of the ‘events’ that the kids are involved in with other social service agencies in the city, have to do with such things as safe sex, harm reduction, drug use, safe drug use, etc. – which are exactly NOT the sort of things the kids wanted to sport in front of their parents or relatives.

But an art show?  Bring it on!

The kids were so proud of the fact that they were the featured artists, that ‘many others’ in the community wanted to come (and pay) to see their creations, that they were the centre of attention, that people wanted to talk to them about their art, their stories, their ideas – it was a win-win-win situation.

THAT they could invite their relatives to. 

Five of the kids had one or more family members at the exhibition/silent auction that evening. 

I’d say that is taking a step in the right direction, wouldn’t you?

BIG day at the Drop In

We receive many donations of clothing at the drop in and we invite folks to help themselves to whatever they need.  From time to time we are presented with genuine needs that go far beyond any donation.

Jimmy takes a size 15 boot and has difficulties finding this size anywhere in the city.  Bill has a rather large circumference and has the same problem.

I approached Bill and told him we could help.  If he would like, we could go to a big box store and he could get a couple pair of pants.  He declined, saying that his sweat pants were serving their purpose quite well, and that there was no need – perhaps I could find someone who was really poor and who needed it.  After some further conversation, he hesitantly admitted, well, he might be able to use some 52” waist trousers given that his other pair of pants were shorts (and he had been wearing them this winter!!)  He was too shy to come with me, but if I went to the box store, he would need 52” a (not 50”) waist.  I asked if we should do a measurement just in case, but we couldn’t find a measuring tape.

Final words, “Fifty-two.”

“No problem”, I replied, “You wait right here.”

South on Bank Street, and my two BIG questions (nice pun!) at the box store, “Do you have 52” waist pants and size 15 warm winter boots?” was answered in the affirmative.  Back to the drop in.

I discretely passed Bill the inside out bag with two pairs of pants and suspenders, and encouraged him to go try them on for size.  “Are they 52?” he asked. 

“Yes, they are.” 

“Then they will be fine, thank you very much.   Fifty-two’s will be just fine.  Thank you very much.”

“It might be good to try them, just in case.  Sometimes store measurements can be a bit off,” I proposed, and, after receiving a somewhat hesitant affirmation, I went off to find Jimmy.  Word got out that I had been looking for him, and he was waiting when I returned.  Before I told him about the new boots he mentioned that his feet were wet and cold from the snow, and size 15 were not common.  I told him that was just what I wanted to talk to him about.  He welcomed the news and we went to the car, and he tried on the boots right there. 

“Are these size 14?” he asked.

“No, these are size 15 – hey, here’s the tag,” and showed him the big ‘15’ on the box.

“Hmmm, nice.”

I passed him one of the boots and he asked for the other.  “My left foot is bigger,” he explained.

Long story short, the left foot was a bit tight, but the right fit perfectly.  He was very pleased and thanked me profusely.

Back downstairs to see how Bill made out. When I was only just in sight, he yelled, “Good one Ken!  Thanks to Lord too,” and explained how the pants did not fit properly – maybe an inch and a half too short of buttoning up. 

“Maybe get a 54 or 55 would be good.  Don’t be shy.  Sorry for the trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” I replied, “Better to find out now and make the exchange.”

South on Bank Street, and now just one BIG question, “Do you have 54” and Matt promptly searched for the right numbers.  “Do you have 55?” I inquired, “that might be better.” 

“If it’s just 1 ½ inch, then a 54 will fit just fine.”

Back again to the drop in – it was almost deserted by this time – and no Bill.  Anybody seen Bill?  He was upstairs getting his hair cut, so all was well.

“Got the 54’s,” I said, “No problem at all.”

“That will be great,” he replied.  “Thanks so much.  I am so sorry for your trouble.  Thank you.”

“Maybe you should just try these on to be sure,” I offered, confident that I had achieved my goal.

“As soon as I’m done.”

Twenty minutes later he came out of the washroom with a concerned look on his face.  “Ken, they only just fit.  Will they shrink?  What if I just hung them to dry?  What if the woman that sometimes helps with my laundry forgets, and puts them in the dryer?  They just barely fit now. And they’re 54’s (sigh).”

“That’s not so bad.  One of our volunteers has a cousin that takes a 60.”  He raised his eyebrows.  I’ll take them back and get the next size up.  Come to the office at noon tomorrow, and we’ll get the right size.”

“I’m so sorry about all this,” he said sadly, ”It is so much trouble.”

“Tomorrow you will have pants that fit properly. You will enjoy them for a long time to come.  It’s worth it to do this right. “

“Around noon then.  Thank you Ken.  Thank you.”

Drop In to our Drop In, New Year’s 2011

A sunny bright first week of January and many greetings of “Happy New Year” were offered from our friends at the drop in.  New Years is just so much better than Christmas.

In addition to the beautiful day, some of our folks were only just receiving their cheques from December (some glitch in the matrix of ODSP/OW) on this day, so it was doubly beautiful (maybe more).

Our numbers are down a bit because of the cheque thing (a typical first of the month pattern), but we have given up trying to estimate our effectiveness through the number of people served a meal.  Instead we count the number of positive interactions our volunteers have with our street friends – more than ‘the Big three’ of news, weather and sports. 

Downstairs, there’s a couple of euchre games on the go, people visiting with each other, relaxed, informal – a nice place to hang out. 

Let’s ‘drop in’ on a few of my encounters with our friends:

I met Bill who is 19 years old and his sister Chaucery (or so I thought, until Bill told me it was his mom), and we chatted.  Two years ago he ran from a fight only to have a severe stab wound in the skull: “See the mark?” he says as he points to the top of his head.  We talked of a few things, but he told me he didn’t want to talk about his father, one time Chaucery’s partner.  Then, after about twenty minutes,   he brought up the topic of his father, and how he had been so severely mistreated.  Usually, among people who have been mistreated as children it is their fathers who have been the primary causes of abuse.  He didn’t want to talk about it, but then he did.  He had been diagnosed with some condition of mental illness (before the knife wound and somehow associated with his father), he explained, and lives with his mom.  Their hydro had been cut off, and it was a good thing I wasn’t part of the blanket-blank agency, or they would have some choice words for me.  They were going to make it, the mom said, because hydro was not their heat source, and their landlord had allowed them to have an extension cord running to a power outlet in the hall.  “We have lots to be thankful for,” Bill reminded his mom.

On the way to the coffee urn, Wayne came in and asked if he could have a hamper to take home with him (before the appointed time for hampers) because the service technician was coming to his new place to hook up a phone that afternoon.  Wayne has undergone a remarkable recovery from alcohol, drugs and the street scene.  He has been clean for over a year now, and has every intention of continuing to improve his life.  After many, many attempts to obtain housing, he now has a place of his own.  I marvel at what he has accomplished against overwhelming odds, as well at his determination to keep on the ‘straight and narrow’.

 Jelica, our managing director, put together a few groceries, while Wayne showed us pictures of his two daughters and grandchildren.  “Wow”, I said, admiring the photographs and smiling, “You don’t look it, but you truly are a rich man.”  He quickly nodded assent and told a condensed version of the powerful reconciliation he recently had with one of his daughters – after being estranged from her for many, many years.

“Thank you so very much for the food,” he said, and put the pictures carefully in the front part of his knapsack, and the groceries in the back.  “I’m off to catch the 12:10 bus.”

As he climbed the stairs out of the building, my eyes met Jelicas’, and there was a simultaneous sigh of gratitude and wonder at this example of a transformed life.  More than words are needed to grasp the deep significance of what was happening all around us. 

It’s all a gift from God, and gifts of God.

These kinds of encounters happen all the time, each one purposefully and intrinsically orchestrated by our Heavenly Father:  each one a display of His splendor .  Mother Theresa coined it well when she said, “We see Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

You should find out how you could be a part of this somehow.  Happy New Years!

Add a Homeless Person to Your Christmas List – II

Merry Christmas!  Just a quick note today, on the eve of Christmas eve, to invite you to do a last minute gift purchase – for someone experiencing homelessness – for someone you don’t even know.  Click on the banner above for more info.

AND, if you would visit www.chri.ca, you can listen to the podcast of the interview I did with the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson.  This is not a political maneuvering or ‘nail him to the post’ interview, but an opportunity to hear our Mayor’s heart regarding the less fortunate in our city: how at an early age, he learned to care, what he is doing now, and some ideas how citizens of Ottawa (and beyond) can become involved.

Take opportunity today and make a donation.  We’ll be sure it gets to where it’s needed most!

Add a Homeless Person to Your Christmas List

Merry Christmas!  I did some research about how much money Canadians spent last Christmas – it amounted to thirty-four and a half BILLION dollars ($34.5B).  Then the latest stats indicated a family of four would spend between $1,200 and $1,500 on average, with a single Canadian spending an average of $809.

Canadians are generous people.  In fact, in 2009, Canada tied with Ireland for the third highest donators to charity in the world.  Charitable giving to religious organizations ranked three times higher than the second category (health institutions). 

We have enough for ourselves, and we have enough to help others!

This Christmas, why not show your generosity by adding a homeless person to your Christmas list?  It’s common for us to add an additional person to our Christmas shopping list from time to time, what about giving something special to people who really don’t have anything (and who are not really on anyone’s list!)?  This would really make a difference in someone’s life.

You could give a Winter Street Survival Kit or buy someone a Christmas Dinner for $2.69, or make a donation and we will ensure help gets to where it is most needed.

On the banner above are ways that you can quickly and easily add a homeless person to your Christmas list. I have found that people who call the streets their home are very, very grateful for the acts of kindness and gifts that are given to them.   On behalf of those who will be recipients of your generous giving, let me say, “Thank you.”

Tell a friend, challenge them to step up to the plate, and make a difference in your world!

The Gift of Christmas (volunteer social dec. 2)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders, And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9; 6, 7

The Gift of Christmas is all wrapped up in Jesus, is Jesus, and is the meaning of Christmas.  His message is the gift that keeps on giving as the gospel unfolds: cradle to cross, Jew to Gentile, one person told another person, who told yet another, they told somebody who in turn told someone else, who that person told someone else and so on to today, and the gift continues to unfold to the world.

You are the gift.

Drop In: I stood at the doorway to the sanctuary and watched: Rudy just finished cutting someone’s hair and asked if he would like prayer; a volunteer doing foot care right in front of me; sounds of Carolyn and Wendal distributing clothing upstairs and beside the stairs a staff spoke quietly with one of our street friends, behind me in the sanctuary, two more foot care volunteers massaged and soothed tired feet and Clara worked her touch care on tired aching backs… and I marveled at the gift unfolding…

Youth Art Show: in the moment I stood back and surveyed the room: young street artists, volunteers, donors, partners, prayer warriors and intercessors all there.  Many of the kids didn’t recognize the gift but each knew there was something special happening right in front of them.  I sensed the Giver of gifts painting on the canvas of human hearts, and it was a powerful moment.  All the work, the people, the prayers, the gifts working through His people… and the gift was unfolding…

Years ago on Street Outreach, Steve and I peered into a loading dock in the Byward Market and made out the figures of two small girls.   The one that spoke told us they just arrived from Montreal, that they were both sixteen, and were OK.  We shared what we had, noted references to places where they could get help, and in some way, I sensed that Steve and I were the gift, unfolding…

Sparky had taken refuge in the Laundromat near our office and I went in to sit with him for a while.  He was pretty intoxicated and did not do too well hiding the bottle of cooking sherry from the Laundromat overseer lady.  We had a conversation, and I stayed a bit longer.  When I got up to leave, Sparky told me in a very clear, impassioned plea, “No.  Please stay with me,” and for a moment I could not tell whether I was the gift or if he was, just unfolding…

Years ago at a downtown drop in, William, who was at times subject to alcoholic seizures, tottered and swayed, pointing his finger in my face and prophesying, “The Lord is blessing you.  The Lord is blessing this place and what you do,” and he became the gift, telling me we were the gift.  And it keeps on unfolding…

We come alongside one another as the gift unfolds through us, in us and through our street friends- in whom the gift is birthed, delivered and manifested.  And we thank God for each one.

You are the gift unfolding, Christ in you, the hope of glory, and I watch it all the time.  And I count it as a gift and privilege from the Gift Giver Himself to come alongside you and walk and work with you as we together we watch the gift unfold.

There is a tradition in some churches to speak over the communion elements of bread and the wine, to say, “The gifts of God for the people of God”, and the response comes, “Thanks be to God.”

Here tonight, in and with each other, I present each of you to all of you, and say, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” and we say together, “Thanks be to God.”

Any Second Chances?

I spoke with Walter on the street outside our drop in and listened as he shared his frustration with the current state of affairs with housing in Ottawa – specifically how he has been unable to secure a place to live off the streets.  He is also pretty peeved about his inability to access meals in the downtown core, because of his past behavior.

He does not have any kind of track record of ability of keeping an apartment, and therefore does not have any references.  And, when he tells prospective landlords that he is able to pay because he is a recipient of ODSP (Ontario Disability Service Plan), it serves as a final nail in his coffin.  It appears that Landlords are not interested in housing people who are on disability, probably because they have experienced difficulties with others in the same situation.

But Walter is not the same person who was barred for three lifetimes from one of the service agencies downtown.  (Yup, you read correctly, three lifetimes!!!  What’s that?  I don’t know.)

The stigma that is associated with Walter stems from his past involvement with alcohol, addictions and violence.  But the thing is, Walter has not touched alcohol or drugs now for over a year!  Nothing.

Still, he is refused housing because he is on ODSP and does not have a reference from any landlord because he has lived only on the streets; and he is refused services because of events that happened six years ago. 

What kind of any chance do people like Walter have?  How can the stigma be broken?  Who will do some advocacy on Walter’s behalf?  Some people ‘turn over a new leaf’ in order to get what they need and then turn the leaf right back over, but this is not the case with Walter.  Is there any kind of ‘second chance’ today, when people can have a fresh start?

Walter’s determination to remain clean and sober, is an demonstration of courage and determination far above what I could imagine for anyone else in the same situation. 

What motivation or reason is there for Walter to sustain the significant life changes that he has demonstrated?  His journey over the past twelve months is inspiring!!

Long story short, Walter is going to drop by the office tomorrow.  Maybe he’ll find someone who will believe his story and do a bit of advocacy on his part: make a few calls, give some affirmation of Walter’s character and sobriety.  Then maybe someone will believe him.

If you would like to send some encouraging words to Walter through responding to this blog, I will make sure that he gets your note.  Maybe, just maybe, he will be encouraged through your words and our actions.  Cheers!