What a difference a year makes….

outreach workerSeptember 27, 2013 was a very special day for Eva: it was the day she moved off of the streets into her own place. It was a small room, but it was hers. And it was the first time in years that she had a place to call her own.

Eva left home in her early teens. Eventually, she became homeless and addicted to drugs. As a young woman on the streets, she was quite vulnerable. But she learned how to take care of herself and when I met her on outreach several years ago, I quickly discovered that she was one of the strongest young women I had ever met. Despite having to be in “survival mode” on the streets, she still had a loving and generous spirit.  She would often point out others who needed help, or tell me places to go where she knew I would find more people needing outreach. She often joked that she should do outreach, because she knew how to find people.

I soon learned that Eva was artist, and in fact, she was one of the first youth to join the art group. One time at art group I remember talking with her about her future, about getting sober and going back to school. She told me that she would never stop using drugs. When I asked why, she told me that last time she tried to get sober she became suicidal. Using drugs was her way of coping, and she was scared to take away that coping mechanism.

But a year ago something changed. She started making small changes in her life, which led to big changes like stopping her drug use, reconnecting with friends and family, and starting to think more about her future and what it could be.

This September marked some big landmarks for her: not only did she celebrate one year of living in her apartment, but she also re-enrolled in high school for the first time in years.

September 25th marked another incredible moment: it was her first night doing outreach as an OIM volunteer. Together, Eva and I walked the streets of Ottawa handing out sandwiches, socks and drinks. Most of the people we met on the street had to look twice at Eva, often saying “Hey it’s you!” or “I knew you looked familiar!” before congratulating her on becoming an outreach volunteer.

They were so proud of her.

And we are too.

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Eva.

Her new outlook on her future? She plans on becoming an addictions worker.

Mentorship

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” 
― Benjamin Franklin

mentors

Mentorship is one of the most important components of the P4Y program. Each youth in the program is paired up with one of the volunteers. That volunteer meets one-on-one with the youth each month and they encourage goal setting and offer one-on-one support. It is not our intention to force life changes or lecture the youth. Instead, our goal is to empower these youth by helping them identify their unique strengths they each possess.

Not long ago, a new youth joined the program and I was explaining the mentorship program.

One of our long time P4Y youth was sitting near by and added her two cents to my explanation: “Basically, you get to talk with someone who actually wants to listen to you. It’s pretty cool.”

What a beautifully concise expression of the mentorship program: someone who actually wants to listen.

Each week, I am simply amazed by the mentors capacity to show the youth just how much they are worth. It’s amazing how powerful listening can be.

 

 

The Small Things Guy…

Following from last week, my friend ‘Jesse’, the ‘small things guy’.

So last week at the drop in, I had to call the police and ask them to remove Jesse as he would not cooperate and leave when I asked him.  The reason?  He was drinking (no surprise) openly (not allowed) and blatantly (not allowed) and was not showing respect to the church where we house our drop in (the biggest offense), neither did he respect the staff and volunteers who make things work.

I was hurt – OK, so I know it’s not about me – but it pained me that my ‘friend’, who in his last letter from jail called me his ‘Best Friend’ walked and stomped all over me (not literally) and our friendship (I thought).

He left the premises last week only when Ottawa’s finest escorted him out – no problem.

So my week goes on and I think about Jesse a lot, and our friendship, and wonder how badly it’s been violated.  Then I’m looking through my shirts and I find one that I think Jesse would like and bring it to the drop in, thinking I would meet him there today.

On the way it struck me that Jesse would not remember even one of the details of our encounter last week.  Nothing.

Staff called to tell me he had arrived at the drop in and I came shortly afterwards.

We connected.  I gave him a shirt.  He liked it. I told him I loved him, and he knew that.  I told him he was not respectful last week and I had to call the police.  What?? he said. Didn’t remember a thing.  Truly.  We hung out for a while and he said he would help me with the memorial service to come later that day.  It was a new day. Fresh start. My Best Friend.  Again.

So what to do?  Life goes on.  Hold things lightly.  Hold others with a firm grasp.  Never let go of hope.  Never give up on people.  Love unconditionally – people need to be loved.

Question: What about the seventy times seven plus one? Does love ever draw the line?

PS (and unrelated): It’s not too late to join our Urban Intervention Training for new volunteers: next session Feb 6. 2014

Unexpectedly – my day completely turned for the BEST!!

Sitting in a coffee shop in Hintonburg last week with  all my attention focused on the completion of a report for an upcoming meeting, my deadline is today and I am thinking and writing furiously, when my attention is diverted to a very pleasant voice of the barista chatting up one of the customers.

In my experience, most baristas are rather pleasant – maybe it’s part of the job description, or maybe pleasant people want to serve delicious drinks to people and it’s natural thing, I’m not sure.

Anyway, this is beyond the ‘usual’ niceness– a college girl, super pleasant, she seems so genuinely caring in dealing with all the customers.

So now, I am struggling to concentrate and write my report, all the while half-listening to the barista  fulfil the customer’s order, talk to him about his day, wishing him the best day ever, and I am losing my focus on my work. As I finish the sentence in my report, hey, I think ‘that voice sounds familiar, could it be?’

I look up from my report and YES IT IS – one of the graduates from our Passion 4 Youth art program!! No kidding! I haven’t seen her for two years!!

In a flash it all comes back to me. How she heard about our program, called us to see if she could be a part of our program (although she didn’t think she was very good at art), then joined our work skills program, then graduated, and next year will graduate Algonquin College with a diploma in animation .

I walked to the counter and she passed me a chocolate coffee drink (without looking up) and in a cheery voice, ‘This must be your drink?’  ‘No, I think it’s hers’, and she looked at me, looked again, quickly gave the drink to the lady beside me, and ran around the counter as fast as she could, threw her arms wide open, and gave me a great big hug, “Ken, I can’t believe it’s you.”

Wow!

We caught up with news and so on, and tried to figure out how long since she had been involved in P4Y.

“You guys really helped me get through that time.  Those were hard days. Really hard. You helped me so much.”  We talked as much as we could (she had just come to fill in for a shift – her first time at that coffee shop) we exchanged contact information and she is going to come by the office, and we’re all going to go for lunch!

In that moment, in that encounter, it was as if all the world stopped, all troubles ceased, nothing else existed or mattered, and life was so worth it all – and it was good.

Real good!

Question: A coffee shop I frequent rarely; her first time filling in a shift for another employee; the timing for both of us; me sitting close enough to hear and recognize her voice; What do you think? Coincidence or divine encounter? Think God arranges these kind of re-connections?

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.

You Take Donations Don’t You?

We came in this morning to find a note from one of the outreach teams that was out last night.  The team had come across a friend in need and they gave him a bottle of water.  He wanted to pay for it, but the team assured him that it wasn’t necessary.  He then asked ‘you take donations don’t you?’  He then passed a loonie to our team as a donation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this among our community.  So many times, people will come into drop-in and need some item of clothing…a new coat for example to replace one that has grown too big or small.  They don’t simply take a new one, but they leave their coat because they know that someone else could use it.  They give back.  One of our friends came in a couple of weeks ago with a kettle to donate because they had been given another and they didn’t need two.  She said ‘your ministry has been good to me when I’ve needed things…I can give back this way.’

Time and time again…those with the least give the most…

-Kim

Hard to believe, but 2013 marks our 25th Anniversary!

So much has transpired since Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward filled  a couple of knapsacks with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking boxes, and walked the streets seeking to come alongside those who were neglected, abused and in need.  Now, after 25 years we affirm  the faithfulness of God and His care and concern for people experiencing poverty and homelessness!

Here’s what happened last year: 5,000+ visits to our drop in program; 7,600+ connections on the streets; 2,700+ contacts with street-engaged youth; and with five full-time and two part-time staff we leverage our resources with over 100 current, active volunteers on the streets, at our day programs, and behind the scenes.  PLUS an additional 50 volunteers that help on us on an ad hock basis.  What an amazing God – that He would enable us to accomplish so much for His Kingdom!

From humble beginnings we now lead the City in the number of street outreach teams and are well-known for being the people that ‘touch the homeless’ with care and compassion: foot care, chiropractic care, touch care and volunteers caring and interacting with sincerity and love.  Amazing!

STAY TUNED for upcoming events to celebrate our 25th year!!