“Tessa’s Home” Episode 6: Passion 4 Youth Art Program – OIM is Home

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa continues…

When I started going to OIM’s art group, I was hooked. Their mentors, and goal focused environment helped me to gain a home, get my children back, and most-importantly, my self confidence. They’ve been more of a family to me, than my own blood, and I never felt anyone take more interest, or show me more support than them. They’ve motivated, and supported me enough to want to start working at a new shelter, and also to complete OIMs urban intervention training course and to start volunteering with their street outreach team.

The people at OIM would never have a bad word to say about any of us youth in the art group, and for that, I owe them the state of my life today. That’s what home is all about I think: no judgment, only acceptance, forgiveness, love and understanding…when I go there, it’s like what going home should be – not like the last time I went ‘home’… 

Knowing they’re privately funded, each day, I thank God, for the people who helped not only me, but many of my companions, make a better life for themselves. For the rest of my life, I will be truly grateful to these people for their help and confidence in me. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I’ve never believed that more deeply, or more truly, than when I met these people, who took an interest in my life, and my goals, and my art, and then they showed me how amazing it feels, to do it for others.

This Christmas, please make a donation to help us continue our Passion 4 Youth Street Outreach program.  Together, we are making a difference! Any donation amount appreciated!  Click ‘Donate Now’

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 5: The Birth of Hope

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder on CHRI radio, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa continues her story…

I got into housing right after, but my place wasn’t that great. It was my ‘place’, but it wasn’t my home – I’d been in and out of ‘places’ of several kinds, but it was never home.   It was between two drug dealers; one sold cocaine and guns, and the other marijuana and cocaine.  That wasn’t the place I wanted my kid, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there, so I gave up my son to CAS and I went back to the streets. It was the hardest thing I ever did.

I remember being really distraught, and I was downtown in front of McDonalds on Rideau, and Outreach was there.  Two outreach workers from OIM came by and I was drawing in a little sketch book.  “You like to do art?” “Yea, I love to do art.” “We just started up an art group two weeks ago.” “Oh really?”

In the weeks to come, the same outreach worker was always bugging me about coming, but I never did. I guess when somebody tells you about something, you get this picture inside your head of what it’s like, and it wasn’t like that at all. 

So one day he came by ( and I don’t even think it was an outreach night) and said, “You coming? It’s tonight.”  I said, “OK, fine! I’ll come.” And he came and met me and I went.

I loved it.

After they introduced me to what it was, and told me about the mentoring and said they could help me with goals that I had, I thought maybe this could be helpful (and in my mind, thinking, ‘for now’). 

So like, I’ve been going there for three years, and I have missed like, four nights.

Getting this positive reaction for something I did, was not something I often got… Going through school, I had this art teacher that told me that I just didn’t have it (to be an artist). 

In the Passion 4 Youth art group I made goals to do stuff, and it eventually led me to getting my son back.  I set goals with Malley (my mentor) and she would ask me, ‘What are we working on this week?’ and ‘How’s the fight for your son going?’ and ‘What are your goals towards that?’  After working on that for a pretty long time, I got my son back, and brought him to the art room.  Everyone was really happy about that.

As Christmas approaches, please consider making a donation to help us with our Street Outreach Program.  Please click ‘Donate Now’.  Merry Christmas and thank you.

 

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 4: Disappointments on the Way Home

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa’s continues her story….

After my dad died, my head was really messed up because of it and I ended up hitchhiking across Canada. 

 At this time, I was 17 years old. Me and a friend made it all the way to Calgary Alberta in 5 days. I spent a few months out there, and eventually made my way back home to Ottawa.

From Calgary, I had had a pen-pal, who I was corresponding with regularly, who lived in Ottawa, and when I arrived back, we decided to meet. When I did, we were inseparable, and I had found, who I thought was my soul mate.

For about a year we were inseparable, (so I was 18 here) and when I found out I was expecting I went to his work (he worked at a coffee shop).  I waited my turn in the line, went up and said, “I would like to a medium ice cap and a side of ‘I am expecting your baby’”.  He looked at me in disbelief and we arranged to meet.

After that weekend I went to see him at his place, and he was gone.  He decided to move somewhere far away and cut off all contact with me.

Being very young and headstrong, my fear was soon overcome by excitement, and joy, but I remained homeless and sleeping outside until I was 8 months pregnant, and to this day, I haven’t heard from my first son’s father.

My beautiful little boy is now four years old, and I also have a one year old, both boys, and anyone with children knows how wonderful and amazing and life changing they truly are.

Please consider a Special Christmas Donation to help us continue our outreach program to people on the streets.  Your donation will help us help others, giving hope and a future where there is none today. Click “Donate Now”.   Thanks for your support!

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 3: Life on the Streets, Shelters and Drugs

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

 

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

One guy took me in (and also molested me), let me stay at his house actually burned my hair with Axe hair spray and a lighter.  That’s when I first started wearing a Mohawk.

From there I went to a shelter and then I got a ride to Ottawa.  I stayed at one shelter for maybe a month before I learned that if you lived outside, you didn’t have to listen to anybody. I didn’t like the rules they had there (at the shelter).

Soon after I started living outside, I was smoking and using marijuana.  After living on the streets for about a month, someone asked me if I had ever tried Ecstasy. I lied and said, “Yea, totally.” I started doing hard drugs more and more.  I was addicted to ‘uppers’ or Ecstasy (most of the time) or anything that made me feel happy. It took away the pain.

I was abused all my life. From the outside we lived like a happy family, but behind closed doors it was really bad.  I could never remember a time when I was as happy as I was when I was on that drug: it was like all of your bad feelings go away, and I was doing it every single day for a while.

After about 3 years of sleeping outside, couch surfing, and staying at shelters, but mostly on the street, I went for a visit to my “family”. I’d like to say ‘home’ but it never really was – not at all.  The reason I say it like this, “Family”, is because to this day, I consider the bonds I made with other youth who experienced the pain and heartache as I did, to be stronger, than those of my own blood. While visiting, I ended up seeing my lifelong abuser for the last time, and it was not a happy memory. I remember the very last words he said to me, were “take those stupid things out of your face, and grow some hair, then I’ll respect ya you freak!” I simply replied, “Love you too Dad,” and he drove away. Two days later, at around 3 a.m., the police came to my mother’s door to tell us my father had been in an accident, and did not survive.

I didn’t feel sad that he was gone. I tried to act sad, like everybody, but I didn’t.  I went in and finally was able to say everything that I wanted to say to him. The only thing I’m sad about today, is that I never had a chance to confront him to let him know how I felt as an adult.

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

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 2: More About ‘Home’

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI , click below.

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections,  Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

I remember I had to go to CHEO, ‘cause I tried to commit suicide when I was like ten years old, and tried again when I was thirteen.  So they sent me to the CHEO psych ward and my dad would cry.  Then he would tell me about his childhood: how he had to fight his dad when he was drunk, because he was trying to beat up his mom, and he got pushed down the stairs, or he pushed his dad down the stairs, and that was like stuff he would do then to me, except tenfold. 

I can’t remember when the sexual abuse started – probably when I was a baby, but I can’t remember. I remember some bad stuff, but there’s a big portion that’s just blank, just blackness. After going for testing, my counselor told me it’s a form of childhood amnesia caused by severe neglect and/or abuse, and in my case, both. I remember one time getting abused by one of my dad’s friends when I was eleven (details omitted)… I remember on the way home my dad was trying to cheer me up, asking me why I was so upset… I didn’t tell him. It freaked him out when he found out someone else was doing it – I don’t know why ‘cause he was doing it.

My dad got charged a few times with sexual abuse, (I didn’t find this out until I was older) against me and my sister. I’d go into school and they’d find bruises on me: I remember once telling them (like my counselor at school), what was happening to me. My parents found out about my complaint and made me go back to the school and tell them I was lying.  The counselor said, “Really?”  I didn’t say anything:  I was afraid he (my dad) was going to kill me.

I remember he locked us in the closet once, and said if you have to go to the bathroom, just do it on your clothes. Once I was in the closet for six hours, and I wet myself, and then he beat me up because of it.

When I was ten I tried hanging myself, but my sister found me and cut me down.  My mom didn’t know what to do, so we didn’t talk about it.  She said, ‘Don’t talk about it. I don’t want to hear about it’.

When I was thirteen I got into the bath.  Secretly I was cutting but no one ever knew. So I got into a bath and was cutting and it wouldn’t stop and I started getting woosey, and I guess my mom came in, saw the bath was full of blood, and I was covered with blood and she started laughing, then crying.

CHEO said they thought it would be good if I left that house.  They said they would help place me or they were going to remove me.

After my hospital trip, seeing how they were treating me, I figured that anywhere was better than home, so then I ran away.

I was fourteen.

As Christmas approaches, please designate a special gift towards our Youth Street Outreach program. Click ‘Donate Now’.  Thanks for your support!

“Tessa’s Home”, Episode 1: My First ‘Home’

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from family radio CHRI, click below.

Please help us spread Tessa’s story through your social media,  Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

My earliest memories? 

I remember we went on a camping trip in a tent trailer when I was three. I remember my brother catching a fish. We put it on the BBQ and it flopped off – we thought it was dead and were about to cook it.  It flopped off and went beneath the trailer, and it was so funny.

When we were going to bed, my sister did this thing like kids do, and she cupped her hands, put them behind her knees and made a fart noise. I thought that was hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing.  I thought it was so funny. I remember my dad going “Shut up! Shut up!” but I couldn’t stop laughing.  I thought it was so funny. So he picked me up and threw me across the trailer and apparently that’s when I got knocked out. My mom was freaking out and saying we should take her to the hospital, but we ended up all going to sleep.

My dad didn’t think I was his daughter, and often told me so, but I really do look like him.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m his kid, but he just never believed it. So I got talked down to a lot. We moved a lot, and I didn’t really have any friends.   

I remember when I was nine, I had a friend over to my house (my brother had a pet pigeon and I showed it to her).  When we came upstairs my dad was just standing there and he yelled at me for about 20 minutes, calling me a whore, a slut, saying I was sleeping with my neighbor, until I was on the ground, I was so terrified. I threw up all over myself, and he got even madder. I never again had a friend come over ever again.

We do not receive on-going government funding for our work, but rely on donations of people who really believe in what we do.  Please make a donation to help us continue to reach out to young people who find themselves on the streets of our city. Click ‘Donate Now’. Thanks!

I lost a piece of my heart…

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  That’s what I feel when I meet someone who just makes me want to weep.

Today I met Constantine….a proud man with a proud name.  He tells me he is seventy years young.  He tells me he is a descendant of Constantine the Great.  He is Romanian he says and has been here for many years, fleeing persecution in his native land.  He says his family left behind is better off without him, he must leave so they can be safe.  He tells me he has been here for many years but has only been on the streets a few months.  He says that mold was discovered in his apartment, that it was making him sick but no one did anything about it.  He tells me he suffered a small stroke and that scared him.  He left his apartment, for good.  Now he’s on the streets.  He has trouble finding food that he can eat because he can’t cook on the streets and his doctor has told him to not eat salt as it’s making him sick.  His legs are swollen from water retention.  He prays.  He thanks God he says every morning when he wakes up.  Thanks Him that he made it through another night.  He’s cold.  He’s wearing three jackets and three scarves today but he is still cold.  He says he has lost about fifty pounds since September, since he’s been on the streets.  He says he has hope though.  He’s pretty sure he’ll be getting another place in a couple of weeks.  He prays it is mold free.  I pray it is too Constantine.

There is something wrong with this world when we allow a seventy year old man with multiple health issues to sleep on the street.

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  I think maybe God did too……

God’s hands on a cold night…

This past Wednesday, Ottawa experienced what I hope was the last winter storm of the year (fingers crossed!). It was windy, snowy and wet. Buses were cancelled and everyone was warned to stay off the messy roads.

But that night, I was scheduled to do outreach from 9-midnight. I would love to tell you that I am a really tough/super-amazing outreach worker who is always motivated to walk the streets to do God’s work.-but that’s just not true. Last Wednesday I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around the empty streets of Ottawa in a storm. In fact, I was secretly hoping that Jeff, my outreach partner, would cancel so I could stay in my nice warm apartment. But he didn’t, so I dragged myself to the office to do outreach.

We did our normal outreach route down Elgin and throughout the market. The streets were mostly empty and quiet. (When the weather is really bad our street friends are much harder to find. Not because they are in a safe, warm place, but because they are anywhere that is an escape from the elements)

On our way back to the office, I was dreaming about the hot shower I would have when I got home, when we heard “Hey outreach!” It was Laura and Kelsey, two youth who I have met a few times on outreach.

Neither had jackets. Neither had boots. Both were soaking wet. “Do you guys have any sleeping bags?” they asked.

We didn’t have any with us, but we told them they could come back to the office with us to get some. They walked back with us to the office, and we learned that they had both been kicked out of their places so they had nowhere to go. There was no space in the youth shelter and both refused to go to the adult shelter, saying they were too scared. Instead, they were going to sleep outside.

They warmed up in the office and changed into dry socks. We gave them food and sleeping bags, and they thanked us over and over before leaving to go find a dry place to sleep.

It was easy for me to give myself a pat on the back that night. “Good job Moira! It’s a good thing you braved the elements so you could help those girls.” Then it occurred to me that I was giving myself a whole lot of credit. When really, God has these two girls in his hands and He will take care of them. He may have used me and Jeff that night, but if we had not done outreach God would have taken care of those girls. And this does not make me feel like I am not needed, but rather reassured God will take care of his children.

 

OIM goes to the Oscars!

Ok…OIM didn’t actually GO to the Oscars…but the film that won ‘Best Documentary Short’ is the story of Inocente Izucar, a street-artist who was living on the streets of San Deigo at the age of 15.  This documentary features a young woman who uses brilliant colours and unique art pieces to rise out of the challenging life on the streets to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional painter.  After watching the trailer, I am anxious to watch the full feature….a story of hope and redemption.  Perhaps you will add it to your movie list too.

Our Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program has many talented young people who are experiencing this story of hope and redemption.  It is a place for street-engaged youth to experience their true value…to feel the power that comes from knowing that you have a part to play in this world.  If you aren’t familiar with this exciting program, look on our website in the lower right-hand corner.  Some of these amazing youth are featured in our Faces Of  OIM.  See what hope looks like…

-Kim

Feeling Human

 

I met Ashley last summer. She had just left her parents house and was staying at a downtown shelter. Like many other youth who first come to the streets, she seemed nervous but excited about being out on her own for the first time. She spoke about her life like she was starting a new adventure. But just like other youth, this excitement began to fade as the harsh realities of the street began to set in. Ashley’s hope for the future seemed to fade too….Ashley showed up at the office recently. She was looking thin and exhausted and she had two fresh black eyes. We talked for awhile and she said she was feeling unhealthy, dirty and exhausted. She talked about how badly people were treating her when they passed by her panhandling on the street. Then she looked at me and said “I just don’t feel human anymore.”

It broke my heart to see Ashley losing herself. I spoke with her about the art group and encouraged her to come out to be among people who have experienced similar feelings. Ashley seemed hesitant but she showed up to art group the next week. I showed her around the art room and introduced her to the other youth but she was still looking depressed and exhausted and she sat down to sketch. As the night went on, a beautiful thing happened. Some of the youth sat with Ashley and got to know her. They complimented her art work and helped her find supplies. I was happy to see her making friends. Part way through the night, I noticed that Ashley was gone so I checked the music room. There were some youth and volunteers jamming together on the guitar, piano and drums. To my surprise, Ashley was playing the djembe. She had a huge smile on her face and was completely engaged in the music. At the end of the night, she told me what a great time she had and that she couldn’t wait to come back the following week.

To see the change in Ashley over the course of two hours was amazing. The youth in the art group are so kind and accepting that they make everyone feel welcome. That night, they made Ashley feel human again.