He fought like a soldier

Every Tuesday for the last several years, you could always count on Marcel to greet you at the drop-in. Walking in first thing in the morning (with a Tim Horton’s cup in hand, of course), he would make his way to his regular table, but not without first greeting each staff member and volunteer.

He had a special connection with two of our volunteers: Ken and Kirk, who are both veterans. You see, Marcel was a proud veteran himself – having served in the Canadian military for several years. But like so many other veterans, after leaving the military he felt lost. He struggled with alcoholism for years, which eventually led him to the streets. But Marcel was a strong man, who persevered. He fought to get off the alcohol and to reclaim his life. He got sober and got a small apartment. But even after surviving homelessness, his life was not easy. He struggled daily with depression and PTSD. But he fought. He fought like a soldier.

This Tuesday at the drop-in, Marcel did not show up to greet us. One of his friends brought us the news that he had died over the weekend due to a heart condition. There were tears shed, as friends comforted each other.

So this Remembrance Day, the OIM community is remembering Marcel. We remember his courage and his resilience.

We thank him for his service.

And we will miss him dearly.

Marcel 3

Marcel at the drop-in.

 

Fabric Art

Last week, local artist and OIM volunteer Ruth Allison did a workshop with the youth at Innercity Arts. She talked to the youth about her love of using fabrics in her art. She said she gets inspiration from music, and then creates art pieces that reflect the music. She showed the youth techniques for using fabric on canvas. Although the youth were more used to using paint on canvas, they had lots of fun exploring with fabrics.

Check out what they made!

20160908_202542

20160908_202530

20160915_203155

 

 

Reaching a Milestone

Innercity Arts reached a significant milestone this week: we registered our 100th youth.

This is a pretty amazing feat, given the programs humble beginnings.

It all began back in 2009, when our Youth Outreach Worker met a youth on the street and noticed the therapeutic and transformative nature of art. After getting input from Ottawa’s street-engaged youth, we decided to start a strength-based arts program called the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program (now Innercity Arts).

On the first day of programming, our Youth Outreach Worker set up the art supplies and waited for the youth to arrive.

But they didn’t.

Not the first day at least. But pretty soon, they started showing up. But by the end of 2009, there were nine youth in the program. These nine youth saw something special in the program. It was their word of mouth that caused the program to grow.

Today, we see over 40 youth each week in our program.

It may have began with one youth and one idea…..but it THRIVED because of the support of volunteers, donations, and prayers.

Thank you to all of our youth and supporters.

 

Kindness

A few months ago, a new person walked through the doors of the drop-in.

He was friendly but seemed very cautious. He asked a lot of questions….as if he wasn’t sure if he could trust what we were up to. So I showed him around and tried to give him some answers. I offered him coffee and invited him to sit with some others who were playing cards.

About an hour later, he came to find me again. His demeanor had completely changed – he looked happy and excited.

“Did you see those women washing feet? I can’t believe that!” (He was referring to our foot care volunteers, who wash and care for the feet of our street friends.)

He said he wasn’t used to seeing this level of kindness –just a few days before he had been released after spending several years in jail. Jail was rough, and kindness was rare. He said he couldn’t believe the kindness of the volunteers at the drop-in.

The very next week, my new friend brought in 3 handmade dream catchers – one for me and one for each of the foot care volunteers. He said he wanted to extend kindness back to us.

Since then, my new friend has attended drop-in every week. He always arrives with a smile and offers to lend a helping hand.

dreamcatcher

Here is a photo of the dream catcher he made me. A reminder to me of how meaningful kindness can be.

 

Changing the Legacy of Youth Homelessness

How can we change the legacy of youth homelessness in Ottawa?

This is a complicated question with an array of possible answers.

Back in June, we partnered with A Way Home Ottawa and set up a table at Glowfair. We asked people to answer this question in just one sentence, and write it on a piece of cardboard.

Tons of people made signs and pretty soon our table was surrounded by cardboard. People had all sorts of great suggestions: more affordable housing, advocacy, community outreach… But of all the signs, the one that stood out the most was a sign made by a little girl, who was probably around 7 years old.

When asked how to help homeless youth she wrote: Love everyone. Every day. Every night.

love everybody sign

Yeah….I think that if we all took her suggestion the legacy of youth homelessness in this city would drastically change.

 

 

20160617_213139 20160617_213147

 

Art Show….Sneak Peak!

The youth of Innercity Arts have been working hard, creating some amazing art for the upcoming art show. Here’s a sneak peak!

Desktop1

Please come out and show your support!

Thursday May 12th from 6:30 pm-9:30 pm

Lansdowne Horticulture Building 1525 Princess Patricia Way

 

Adulting101

Although I consider myself a fairly competent adult, sometimes the youth in the art group ask me questions that leave me stumped – and I feel like I need to go find a “real” grown-up to help.

This happened a few weeks ago when Mark asked me about credit checks. While I knew a little about them, I brought in one of the volunteers (Doug: aka a “real” grown-up) into the conversation…just in case. Doug was able to answer with ease, which led Mark to ask more questions about banking, taxes etc.  You see, Mark had been homeless for years but he recently gained employment and moved into his first apartment – so now he’s trying to navigate adulthood.

At the end of the conversation Mark admitted that he felt stupid for having to ask these questions.

He said “I’ve been homeless since I was 13…..I should know this stuff.”

My heart sank.

Because of course it makes sense that he doesn’t know this stuff. While most youth have parents to transition them to adulthood, Mark’s been on his own for years.

I reflected on this and thought that even at age 30 I have so many amazing people who I can call up when something about adulthood is confusing me. It would be awesome, I thought, if I could lend my people to Mark to help him navigate adulthood.

And that’s basically what we decided to do.

Together, Dana and I created a seminar called “Adulting101”. Any youth could attend to ask questions about living independently (taxes, banking etc…), and we would try our best to answer. We also brought in some experts to help: a career coach, a financial adviser, an entrepreneur and a few other highly successful adults. The results of this night were amazing. There were tons of questions like: “If I get a job, how does a boss pay me?”, “What if I’ve never filed taxes before?” and “How do I start my own business?”.

It was an incredibly simple night – no structure, no complicated programming. Just young people eager to ask questions and adults willing to listen and offer guidance. Simple but so effective.

A Volunteer’s Reflection

Lots of people tell me that they think I’m doing so much when they hear that I do street outreach with OIM. I go out each week to hand out sandwiches, socks and a kind word hoping to share the love of God and encourage people.

bicycle-against-wall-1563544But yesterday I ran into Sue who OIM has been helping for many years. Many people dismiss Sue without knowing how sweet she really is.  Sue knows that I ride my bike all winter and the first thing she asked me was whether I had ridden my bike yesterday.  When I said “Yes”, she immediately took my hand and began to pray for me:

“Dear heavenly Father, please protect Rick with your love and mercy and keep him safe”.

In that moment, Sue gave me more than I had ever given her and she changed ME.

 

By Rick – Rick is an OIM outreach and drop-in volunteer who has been volunteering for several years. 

 

Knowing You’re Loved

A few weeks ago, I was looking through an old box of memories from my childhood when I found this:

12734030_10101479171780899_733849219093541543_n

It was a valentine I received when I was probably about 15, given to me by a friend named Rebecca. Rebecca was not a close friend of mine, but she took the time to make this for me and for her other friends. As an awkward, insecure teenager, I was touched that someone would take the time to do this for me. I kept it all these years because it was a nice reminder of how nice it is to feel loved.

After rediscovering this valentine, I decided to pass on the love to the youth I work with in the art program. Dana and I made valentines for each youth – each one personalized with attributes we love about them. They looked like this:

love final

We handed these out at the art group and it was easy to see that they had an effect on the youth. Some youth smiled, some thanked us with hugs, some said they’d keep the valentine forever – while others read the card silently – not knowing how to react to the unfamiliar sentiment.

Years ago someone asked me “Do you love the youth you work with?”

Of course, the answer was yes.

But then they asked “Do the youth know you love them?” – and I wasn’t so sure.

Since being asked that question, I try my best to show the youth that I love them. But sometimes, it’s best to tell them – because they deserve to know for sure.

 

Celiac on the Streets

Some people have a policy to only give food to panhandlers. Some even get offended if the panhandler rejects the offer of food. For these people, let me tell you about Sal….

Sal has struggled20160211_151618 with homelessness for 5 years. She’s 20 now, and finally has an apartment – but she’s still struggling to make ends meet. Her health has always been a challenge as she has experienced debilitating digestive problems. After numerous doctors’ visits and tests, she was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease – a hypersensitivity to gluten. I saw her on the street the other day and she was panhandling. She looked very thin. Since her diagnosis she’s lost about 60 pounds. With tears in her eyes she told me how hard it’s been to eat gluten free. Her small social assistance cheque does not leave her much for food so she depends on drop-ins and food banks – both of which generally offer cheap, gluten rich foods like pasta. She says lots of people give her food when she’s panhandling, but it’s usually donuts, muffins or sandwiches – all of which she can’t eat. But she accepts them anyways so as not to appear rude.

While it is very kind to offer someone food, it’s good to remember that giving people something like a gift card allows the person to choose what they eat. For someone like Sal, this can mean the difference between eating comfortably or not eating at all.