There is a Chill in the Air

 “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” –Lucy Larcom

After Day Light Savings it feels as though the weather is just teetering between mild and cold. The mornings are chilly, with a crispness that is refreshing and awakes sleepy commuters bustling to and from work. Afternoons are pleasant enough, though you can’t get away without bundling yourself up.

Nights are different, as the concrete and darkness lend themselves to chilliness. Around this time of year the OIM office finds itself passing out more and more winter grade sleeping bags. As I type this our Office Manager is preparing to give out another one, a grey nylon bag she is marking with our acronym: OIM. Someone else is calling out, asking where the mittens are, and putting together a packet to hand-out.

One street-friend, when commenting on the cooling weather, explained he had a system to fight off the chill.

“I have layers. See, I have on three sweaters (hoodies) right now. But this will definitely help,” he said, holding up a new winter sleeping bag.

Winter is a hard time of year for our friends, even for those who may have a place to stay at night, as panhandling on the streets during the day can be frigid. It is interesting to hear street-friends share the ways that they keep warm, from using emergency blankets (the reflective aluminium ones), to layering socks on top of gloves, to the places they find to stay cozy. It is obvious to any listener that these men and women are survivors, and they appreciate help when it is given.

Last year our Street Outreach Teams gave out over 300 pairs of winter socks each month during the cold season, as well as 236 pairs of gloves/mitts (with the potential to give away over 300). As a whole, last year we gave out 110 sleeping bags to street-friends in need.

Keeping warm is a major concern for those sleeping outdoors and there is a high demand for coats, winter boots, hats and gloves. Items such as sleeping bags are essential to our ministry and are very valuable to our street friends.  (It is not unusual for us to hear about a sleeping bag getting stolen.) Recently we received a donation of winter jackets, and it is exciting for OIM staff to be able to provide these much needed items.

This year OIM is Warming the Streets with Winter Survival Kits. Friends, families, churches and youth groups are putting together backpacks filled with much needed items for street-friends. These backpacks are filled with everything from hats to toiletries to socks and more! For more information about how to can help our street-friends keep warm this winter visit our Winter Survival Kit page.

A Table to Share

“Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” –Ephesians 5:20

Thanksgiving Dinners are a time to gather together with family and friends over an abundance of food—a feast to celebrate the Fall harvest. It is a time of celebration as the air chills and the leaves finish changing colour.

Though Thanksgiving is normally celebrated on the second Monday in October we choose to celebrate the season three weeks later at our Tuesday Drop-In. There are 12 holiday meals available in the city for men or women who may not have the means or company to celebrate. We wait until the turkey has worn off to celebrate with our street-friends—our OIM family.

That is exactly what it looked like last week; if you had been there you would know exactly what I mean. During each of our two sittings we had tables of 10 packed with folks sharing coffee and tea, with servers scuttling between the rows. Tables were covered with tablecloths and floral centrepieces, while plates were heaped with turkey, stuffing, and veggies. One-hundred-fifty friends, 32 volunteers and OIM staff filled Dominion Chalmers with the meal taking place in the hall and the movie “Evan Almighty” playing in the sanctuary for those waiting to be seated.

With the laughter, bad jokes and enticing smells it was a family dinner multiplied by forty! The mood was spectacular as all seemed in high spirits—the wonderful pumpkin and apple pies might have had something to do with that.

We are so incredibly thankful to be able to share those moments with our friends; we are privileged to experience the warm-hearted moments with them.

We are thankful for the churches and businesses that support our organization, the individual donors who enable us to do this good work; the volunteers who serve alongside us; the street-friends who have invited us into their lives and God for sustaining our ministry these past 25 years.

Specifically, we would like to thank everyone who donated to our dinner and our wonderful volunteers. These dinners are such a wonderful opportunity to do something special for our friends, as you might invite a guest to your own home to celebrate the season.

As I poured coffee for an older woman, she held her Styrofoam cup and looked me in the eye, “It’s always so nice to get out of the cold.” She was certainly right, and I was thankful to have for her a place to invite her into, and a hot drink to share.


OIM Staff

A Big Thank-You for a Wonderful Evening

Everyone here at Ottawa Innercity Ministries, staff, volunteers and street-friends, would like to thank our supporters for coming out to our big event last Friday night. Ballet Magnificat!, premiere North American Christian ballet company, performed its two critically acclaimed pieces: The Arrival and Deliver Us.

The event was an astounding success, with seats filled and the dancers at their best. It was an evening of art and worship.

Proceeds from the event are going towards our ministries, and we would like to especially thank those who made additional contributions throughout the evening.

Our 25th anniversary year is almost done, with the approach of a new year only a few months away. We thank all of those who have continued to support us both with their time, donations, and prayers.

As we celebrate 25 years this year we are celebrating not only a great ministry but the 25 years that we have been privileged to serve the poor. Ottawa Innercity Ministries (OIM) was established in 1988 after Rev. Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward answered God’s call to leave their jobs and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the streets.  Years later, in 2003, Rev. Ken MacLaren assumed the duties of Executive Director and has been faithful leading our mission ever since. While street outreach remains the largest component of OIM’s work today, other ministries include our weekly drop-in, office ‘stop-in’ services, a dynamic youth art program, work skills development as well as advocacy and referrals.

Here at Ottawa Innercity Ministries we believe in giving hope to people who feel that there is none left. Whether on the streets, at our office, or at our drop-in, we offer individualized support and care to those who are feeling lonely and isolated, young and old, and who are just struggling to get by. Our many volunteers help us put our vision into action on a daily basis in order to reach out to all those who call the streets their home.

We would like to thank the Ballet Magnificat company Alpha who made Friday evening the spectacular event it was. As well, thank yous to CHRI Radio for promoting our event throughout the city, Salem Storehouse book store for their efforts getting tickets sold, Swiss Chalet for their in-kind donations, and Woodvale Pentecostal Church for their assistance as a great host.

The ol’ Watering Hole: A Survey

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)

Ever wonder why some watering holes have more traffic than others? Recently, we did an informal survey of the top 10 reasons why our street friends enjoy coming to OIM’s programs and services. Here are the top reasons (in no particular order):

  1. “Good listeners”
  2.  “Everyone wants to listen to my stories!”
  3. “No judgment”
  4. “Good food”
  5. “Caring volunteers”
  6. “Friendships”
  7.  “helped me with clothing, shopping”
  8. “helped me get a bursary for school”
  9. “Ken makes me laugh!”
  10. “Good Company”

As our society becomes increasingly fragmented, resembling less a community and more a collection of individuals consumed with blazing our own trails, our street friends are falling further and further behind. Many come from broken families with nowhere to find comfort or company. That’s why our drop-ins, street outreach, and youth art program remain so important. As we look for ways to serve our poor and homeless, we must not forget the significance of friendships and support networks that can get them through some very difficult times.

When Can I Take This Off?

I was talking with someone recently who had obtained housing. They have been on the street since their early teens—both sleeping on the street and in flop houses. They haven’t seen stable housing in years and have a weathered look about them. It is impossible to tell if someone is homeless simply by looking at them, but this individual carries the stereotype, and most on lookers would assume that they were homeless.

We were walking down a street the other night, with condos and old houses on either side, talking about the new place. They had been there for about a week. There was excitement in their tone, as they told me about the new wood floors, the paint, and the windows. The conversation continued casually until they said “a homeless person like me”.

I stopped walking and looked at them: torn pants, rugged hair cut, and rebellious attitude. And, I said “But you’re not homeless? Not anymore.”

“No, not exactly.”

It struck me that this individual walked around with a big sign duct-taped to their back: HOMELESS. Even when they had a home, a place that was their own, where they could sleep indoors, safe and tucked away from Ottawa’s nightlife, they still saw themselves as homeless. Even when they had a key, and a door, and a lock that only they could unlock, they saw themselves as homeless.

I thought about a story I was told recently, where a street-friend who had been on the street for 13 years had found housing. After a year he had to leave that situation and went back on the street. He was discouraged about the situation but a staff member congratulated him.

“You’ve lived on the street for 13 years, and then you lived in doors for a year! That’s a big deal.”

Many of our street-friends seem to be used to the transient life style of moving around, sleeping in doors for a few nights and being outside the next. Shelters, flop houses, couch surfing…there are ways to make your way inside but you will still carry that label.

My question is, when do they get to take it off? What could finally change so that they don’t feel like it is the core of their identity? What can I do to stop allowing this to happen? Being ‘homeless’ doesn’t seem to go away when you find housing. Many of our street-friends have housing, be it through ODSP, OW or their own means. The problem seems to have very little to do with the home.

So, what are we really saying when we use that term? Or, what scares me more, is what do those we label hear when we say it?

Yet, a better question may be this: What will that person have once they remove that label? Who will be their community, and with whom will they share their culture?

What if this label has become a shelter, an identity and a safety-net? I think of the street-friends who lost his housing after a year; isn’t it easier to leave the label on then being forced to put it back on? It is like saying, with no expectations I can have no disappointment.

I pray these two individuals can both see themselves and be seen as so much more than their labels. Where they sleep should not define who they are, and I continue to ask myself where my place is in that. Though I cannot change how they see themselves I can try and show them how I perceive them.

Extra, Extra…Read all about it!

If you haven’t already heard our Youth Outreach Worker was featured recently in a piece by a local journal.

The Ottawa Anglican Journal, CrossTalk, featured our Outrrach Worker Moira Davis in this month’s issue. You can read the piece on our Facebook Page or in the online version of the journal.

Here is a teaser to wet your whistle….


Moira Profile Photo 2013

If you came across her on the street, you probably wouldn’t notice Moira Davis. She can easily blend into the crowded sidewalks, or be seen whizzing by on her bike. That is, you probably wouldn’t notice Moira if you saw her as she goes about her day off the clock, but the four times a week she is on the streets working you couldn’t miss her in that bright red vest. …

Taking things for granted???

Ken Pic

She walked into the drop in with her head held high, her long strawberry blonde hair (it had seen better days) swirled around her head like flames of fire looking to devour anything in its path. Our eyes meet when she entered the room, and I said ‘Hi,’ but she ignored me and quickly moved through the room. I don’t remember meeting her before.

She was both street wise and street tough – a survivor by anyone’s standard. I guessed she was in her mid 20’s, but she looked older.

I tried to connect with her about 1/2 hour later but was ignored – again. Oh well, sometimes it happens…

Today is an unannounced BBQ lunch and now I’m outside in the garden at Dominion Chalmers with my apron and tongs, cooking up a storm. 125 burgers and I’m almost 1/2 done.

Who comes out into the garden but ‘Firestorm’.  She quickly glances around, assesses the situation, comes directly over to me and asks, ‘Can I flip some burgers?’

‘Sure,’I replied, ‘But you’ll need a hair net,’ and pulled the gray net up from around my eye brows.

She quickly wrapped her flowing locks in a double hair bun with an elastic, and ran inside for a net.

She ran back, grabbed the tongs, we cooked burgers together and chatted.

As she turned burgers on the BBQ, we watched the flames from the fire circle, twist and coil all around the grill, she said, “When you’re homeless, you never get to cook.  I love cooking.  Thanks so much for letting me help.”

Question: What other ‘regular’ things do we take for granted?





Stories from the Street: Something in the Silence

Sasha is a very quiet young woman, someone who has seen a lot of the darker parts of life. It is evident in her silence, and her eyes, that she is struggling with hurt. It would be unfair to her to go into the details of it, and honestly it is a hard story to hear. To say the least, it is remarkable to see a young woman so wrapped up in tragedy, struggling with loss, abuse, self-loathing and addiction. Yet, Sasha is such a wonderful example that we are each given endless opportunities to change. Coming from a broken family life and coping by retreating deep into herself there was a possibility Sasha may not be able to find s balance in her life. She was not taught many of the necessary skills children need to survive in this often harsh world. Yet, she learned on her own and with support from caring individuals around her.

Sasha is now on the government regulated methadone program, and is considered ‘clean’ (she no longer uses illegal drugs). She has a partner with whom she is raising a beautiful child, and though it is hard you can see glimmers of contentment within her. She expresses pride, bashfulness, joy, and peace, allowing others to see into her life even if it is just for a moment.

These are the monuments of OIM’s success. Though seeing individuals seeking change and making steps towards health and wholeness it is this healing of the heart that is most meaningful. What bring us to these moments? What formulaic process do we use? There is none, just as God works within us as broken individuals in need of care and comfort, so we are called to treat our brothers and sisters with kindness and gentleness, recognizing their importance in our father’s eyes.

Sasha has a long way to go towards completely healing from her past, but she has taken some of the greatest steps already. You can see it in her silence, which is less and less a silence of isolation and fear but of comfort. She has begun to trust the community around her, and even more importantly, she has begun to believe that she truly is an important part of it.

heARTfelt Thursdays: I Just Need Somebody to Lean On

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” -Albert Schweitzer

Collage - Woman                   Collage - Wedding Couple

Grace is a very bright person, you can see it as soon as you meet her; it is in her smile, her abundant laughter, and especially her kindness. Now, Grace is not technically a street youth, to our knowledge she has never lived on the streets, but she is at risk of homelessness. Struggling during her adolescence, Grace felt lost and dropped-out of high school. She found friendship among her street-engaged peers. Another P4Y participant brought her to the group and she immediately connect with what P4Y is all about. With that extra support, mentorship and care, Grace has continued to grow into herself. Now employed, with a good relationship with her family, and back in school, Grace is a great example of what personal support can do for someone. Grace didn’t start coming to P4Y for the art, though what you see above are two wonderful collages, she has always said she wasn’t very artistic and has been hesitant when creating. She came for the community, and it is evident how much it has done for her.