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….

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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.