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.

Mural Reflections

The Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program spent the summer painting a mural on the wall of Trinity Anglican Church. It was an amazing experience.

Below are two reflections on the project:

On the right in a drawing by one of the P4Y artists, which depicts herself painting the mural.

On the left is a poem written for the mural unveiling by Jamaal Jackson Rogers.

Thank you both for sharing with us.

BRIDGE OF FAITH– by Jamaal Jackson Rogers 20140917_150339

From the moment that we realize
That our pens, pages, voices, stages
And a little bit of spray from an aerosol can
Creates art
It’s like magic
Manifesting in even the most unsuspecting of places
It’s as if our eyes have turned on a silent inner light
Of faith
And beauty
A bridge for which our hearts can find comfort in community and a place to call our own
In a second
The landscape of a forgotten brick wall can become the vibrant canvas of which youth can call home
An abandoned language
Spoken in splashes of camaraderie
Between the sinews of streets and shops and churches
Whispered in wisps of concrete sermons
To bring life back to the seemingly bleak and obsolete
Giving birth to purpose and legacy
You see
It was never about how we find refuge when the world seems so dark
And dull
For the lovers of life
And the crafters of art
Can take just one thought and turn it into actions of love and brilliance and truth
For truth can be seen
And has been said can set you free
So if we agree
Then I ask us to look
With our hearts wide open at the scene that has come together
Built through movements of giving, selflessness, dedication, respect, understanding, activism
And discover how faith and beauty intersect by a little bit of spray from an aresol can
Look at how life is a like a journey on the longest bridge we will ever have to cross
And with the blessings of art
It won’t be so hard
We will rediscover what puts the passion in compassion
Marvel at the wonder and awe of the subtle lines and wavy curves of the human condition
Revel at the power of the robust colours that hold the secrets to our universal connection
But I ask you to not stand still
Eventually I want nothing more than all of us to travel in succession
From our alienated lives of dust, wood and concrete
Into a congregate existence of unity, harmony and positivity
There is hope
In the eyes of the young who know what it’s like to be found but once was lost
There is hope
In the elders who have much to give from the experiences they carry in their palms
There is hope
And the miracle of it all is that you don’t have to search very far
You don’t have to be a scholar graduated from Harvard or own a Bank account that holds plenty of dollars
Because hope lies right here
In this moment
At the feet of life’s bridge that joins abstract and simplicity
Fantasy and reality
Stories and history
Self-expression and self-reflection
So today let us honour the citizens of our society
Who have strived to make a mural that represents a philosophy of mutual solidarity
Those who have called our minds eye to look again
To find meaning in these streets
A renewed belief composed in a house of paint where we can set the burdens of our differences free
That faith, beauty, hope, art
Can spark change
Inside and out.



“I’m so glad you’re open today”

We had to close our drop-in for a few weeks this summer due to a scheduling conflict with the church we use. I missed seeing our regular drop-in guests, and I wondered if they missed the drop-in too. When Millie arrived our first week back, I knew the drop-in had been missed: 

She walked into the drop-in – the blanket she was wrapped in was soaking wet, it’d been raining all morning. Her face was bruised, her eyes looked tired. She buried her head into my shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably. All I could make out from her muffled words were

I’m so glad you’re open today.”

Once she calmed down, she told me what had happened. She’d recently been evicted from her apartment, so she was staying with her long-term boyfriend, Fred. Fred and Millie had been together for years, and during the entire course of their relationship, he’s been physically and emotionally abusive towards her. Lately he’d been worse, and she told me horrific stories of how he’d dehumanized her.

Am I that worthless? Am I that bad a person?” She asked me.

She wouldn’t believe me when I told her about her real value and her true worth.

She then told me that Fred only valued her as a way to make money, as he tried to force her into prostitution. When she refused, he kicked her out. She’d spent the previous night wandering the streets.

“I was just walking around in the rain, with nowhere to go, and then I remember the drop-in. And I just prayed you guys were open.”

Like so many women trapped in abusive relationships, Millie was not ready to accept help at a woman’s shelter or other agency. Even though I wanted to force her to get some help, I knew I couldn’t. All we could do was get her some dry, warm clothes, a hot meal and a cup of coffee. We tried to show her just a little about how she deserves to be treated. My hope is that one day she sees her true value and that she surrounds herself with people who love her and treat her well.




The Light – P4Y Poetry

There is a new youth who has been coming to art group recently.

I met him on outreach a few years ago and I discovered that from a young age he has been dealing with addiction and homelessness. Despite this, he possesses a great sense of humour, a strong connection to spirituality and to the world around him, and a deep rooted inner strength.

A few weeks ago he was in the music room writing on the chalk board.

This is what he wrote:

Madness looms overhead
Like and eagle searching for prey
Slow as a turtle, sure as death
The path from darkness
is long and painful
twisting and turning to
it’s hearts content.



The Problem with Focusing on Problems

Meet Nicky: homeless,  alcoholic, mentally ill.

Nicky joined the art group last year.

She told me that most of her childhood had been spent in the offices of mental health workers, who were trying to “fix” her.

When asked “What’s wrong with you?” Nicky could answer with a lengthy list.

Nicky was used to this familiar approach that her workers would use:

Identify the problem 1) Analyze the causes 2) Decide on goals to fix these causes 3) Make plans that will achieve the goals 4) Implement the plan.

Sounds like a good plan, right?

But every time, this plan led to Nicky feeling two things:

1) Powerless to solve her own problems (a reliance of professionals), and

2) Hopeless… like there was something inherently wrong with her.

That’s the problem with focusing the problem: it doesn’t get rid of the problem.

At P4Y, we use a Strength-Based Approach. Rather than focusing on the deficits of youth, we focus on their strengths (and believe me, they have TONS of strengths!) , and build on them. We and others have found that big changes occur when you focus on strengths. Rather than feeling powerless and hopeless, the youth feel empowered and hopeful.

After working with Nicky to identify the strengths she saw in herself, as well as the strengths staff and volunteers see in her, we made her a small card (pictured) for her to carry around in her wallet. The words represent her personal strengths. The idea is for Nicky to remember that she has numerous strengths that she can use when she is faced with a problem.

Nicky is now feeling motivated and empowered.

Let me reintroduce Nicky:  high school grad,  compassionate, empathetic, insightful, resilient.


Nicky SAI pic

Housing in Ottawa: What we don’t see…

When Laura arrived at art group, she was excited to share her good news–she got her own apartment!

After a year or so of couch hopping, she finally had her own space. It was a small room in a rooming house, but she didn’t mind. She was just excited to have a space to call her own.

housing 2This excitement faded quickly the day she moved in when she saw that the repairs the landlord had promised to do before she moved in had not been completed….or even started. In fact, the room had not even been cleaned. She took pictures of her room on the day she moved in, and I was horrified by what I saw: holes in the wall, garbage and dirt on the floor, a hole where there should be a door handle, tape holding the door together….Certainly not a place where anyone would feel SAFE. 


But the worst was yet to come…..bed bugs.

bed bugs

Laura arrived at art group with welts all over her body. She says her room and mattress are completely infested with bed bugs and the constant biting makes it hard to sleep.

This is the reality of housing in Ottawa. There is just simply not enough affordable housing in this city. And youth like Laura are forced to take what they can get.

How do we expect these youth to thrive when they do not even have somewhere safe to sleep?






The beautiful thing about Laura, is that she continues to look at her future optimistically. She is not letting this experience hold her back.

Check out the beautiful painting she was working on last night.


I’m constantly amazed by the strength and the resilience youth like Laura show.



Ottawa Home and Garden Show. Why?

OIM has been given a booth at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show, March 20 to 23 at the Ernst and Young Centre.  Why?

A friend of the ministry donated this 10’ x 20’ exhibitor’s space so that people who are thinking about renovating, redoing and re-fixing their own homes might take a moment and consider people who don’t have any home at all.

Our booth will have an area where visitors can see some of the art work that our Passion 4 Youth artists have created; we will be showing the 7 minute OIM DVD and also another shorter DVD featuring interviews from three of the youth from the program; we will have a visual aid of a home (on Bristol board) where visitors can buy a brick for a donation of any amount, and we can collect funds for new space (which we desperately need).

Then we’ll top it off with not one, but two (and maybe three) surprises that you can only discover if you come by and have a visit with us.

The Ottawa Home and Garden people are expecting over 20,000 visitors to the show this year, and it is a privilege to represent OIM there.  We have scheduled volunteers and staff for the entire weekend, and you will want to see how this works!

Please consider this your special invitation: ‘Come on down’ and visit us!


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


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.



It was there all the time.

It was right before my eyes all the time, just waiting for me to wake up and see it!

Typical of many smaller organizations, our needs often outweigh and outnumber our resources.  While OIM has a good number of faithful supporters whom we rely upon for things like prayer and donations and volunteers, there really is no venue for me to speak to ‘my people’ except through written correspondence (newsletters, letters and email).  This can leave one with a feeling of distance at times as the communication piece is generally one way.

An idea was stirring in my mind for some time, and at the drop in last week, I shared it with our street friends. Just before lunch I asked our group for their attention and said:

It is common in church settings that the Pastor can come to his congregation at special times and ask for things like prayer for special needs that the church might have whether it be in the church itself or within the community.  We have people that faithfully support our ministry, but I never realized that I have a congregation right here from whom I can ask for help, and up until now,  I have never asked for any help from you.

I’m asking for help today.

We need to find new space that will accommodate our office and our outreach program to street youth. It has to be in the downtown area and should be about 3,500 square feet.

I know that many of you pray, so I am asking you to pray for this need.  Whenever you pray, whether it is daily or just once in a while, if you could remember this prayer request, I would really appreciate it. 

Thank you.

Even while I was talking I saw several people scrambling to find something to write on (and with).  There were a few questions of clarification.  Many, many heads nodded in agreement.

For the rest of the day, people came up to me and said things like: “I already prayed.” “I will be praying for you.”  “I wrote it down and will remember you.”  “Praying for you.”

The positive response was overwhelming!  So many positive things will come of this, perhaps the least of which will be the space for our office and youth program!

It was an idea ‘come of age’, and will bring certain results!

Over 2,000 times in Scripture we hear how we are to look after those who cannot look after themselves: the poor, the orphans, the widows, the strangers in our midst. These are ‘my people’.

Our drop in is a ‘sleeping giant’ of a resource that will change the face of OIM through the power of prayer!

It took a long time to recognize it, and its  effects are eternal.

Question: Do you think that God hears the cry of the poor in a special way?

Caring – Even When it Hurts

This past week, Moira, our youth outreach worker got the flu – the bad kind.  After a few days away she thought she could return to work and attend a seminar, but at noon I told her we needed to go.  She did not look well.  She tried to take some chicken soup, but that did not go well.  She rested at the office, but it wasn’t enough.  We had to cancel Passion4Youth art program and I told her I would drive her home.

On the way home, Moira took it upon herself to personally contact each of the kids in the art group, to let them know of the cancellation, that she would be OK, and that if they needed a food hamper that they should to come to the office.

I was deeply moved by her interactions with the youth, and equally by the caring responses by the kids.

From what I heard (by accident) the kids were very sorry she was not well, yes they would be fine, and how could they help? One offered to bring tea to her apartment. Others suggested a hot bath, plenty of rest and drinking lots of water.  All good advice, but even more so when we realize that these kids hardly looked after themselves.

The caring responses by Moira perfectly completed each scenerio.   Concerned more for the kids than herself,  Moira consistently and skillfully redirected each conversation back to the kids themselves.  “Are you going to be all right?” “What happened then?” “Wow, what do you think will come of it?” and many more questions of concern were made came as we travelled to her home.

No wonder our youth group has done so well! That kind of care and attention to people is not something that just happens every day. It is a beautiful thing.

(The following is an observation, and is not meant to reflect pride (although I am very proud of the people who come alongside us to be a blessing)).

Multiply that by almost one hundred volunteers, and it is not hard to see why our street friends and youth hold OIM in such high regard.

Question:  Think of the times when someone reached out to you – at a cost to themselves.  Remember how much that meant to you? If you were alone and lonely (like many of our friends who call the streets their home) can you imagine that the impact would be that much greater?