Searching for Affordable Housing

You would think that in a city like Ottawa, when a vulnerable citizen faces a crisis and loses their housing, there would be a system in place to support him in finding affordable housing.

And there is. But the truth is – the system is flawed.  

Take Jack: a young man in his twenties with a history of trauma, family conflict, homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. He has worked hard over the past five years I’ve known him to make positive choices like getting sober and finding legitimate employment.

This summer, he lost his housing. He was devastated by the prospect of starting over again. With no family support, and not wanting to enter the shelter system, he opted for staying outside.  

I worked hard with him to find housing. We applied for the Social Housing Registry, YMCA monthly housing, the Salvation Army Housing Response Team and any other housing wait lists we could find. Each time, Jack was put on a list and told to wait.

Every day, he spent hours searching for housing online or went to agencies that specialize is helping with housing – but there was very little he could afford. Even the bug infested rooming houses were often out of his price range. 

As the months went on, and it began to get colder, Jack grew more desperate. He even questioned if he should go back to selling drugs so he could at least afford a place to live. My heart broke when he said “No matter what I do, I’m never going to get ahead.”

Jack is by no means an outlier. Over 10 000 households are on the Social Housing wait list this year, waiting an average of 3 years, with many waiting much longer.

Jack never heard back from any housing wait list.

But there is hope in this story – Jack did find housing. He found it on his own. It’s expensive for what it is – a small room in rooming house, but at least it is safe and warm. But the hope is not in our housing system, but rather the resilience of young men like Jack, who persevere despite a painful past and a flawed system.

The Bob Series: Marginalized survivors

Note:  To protect the identity of the people I write about, I have chosen to use the name ‘Bob’ in the following piece…

All of the people I share with you are real men and women. Friends with hopes and dreams and all the same desires shared by us all. As a result of some extreme circumstances or mental health issues, their lives have been marginalized to that of outcast in our society.

When we look at those experiencing poverty and homelessness we tend to fit them into a framework and think they have earned the place they have in our culture. It helps us to justify the favour and blessings in our lives.

Yet  God does not see anybody that way. He sees all people through the eyes of the cross.

Namely, who they can be, at their fullest potential, the bride of Christ, clean pure and amazing. We should look at all people through those same eyes of love and then apply action to support them with our time, our prayers, and our resources. I have up to now and will continue to share with you stories about “Bob,” attempting to paint a picture of the incredible resilience and ability there is in the human spirit to survive.

I started this blog with, these are true stories about real lives, of men and women and youth with all the same feelings, desires and dreams that we all have. So remember, as we look at our street-engaged community we need to engage, and also remember that the cliche saying “there but by the grace of God go I”. This may be more of a reality than we care to admit.

Rick Ojala, Staff

 

*To see more from the series, click here to see part 1, part 2, and part 3.

 

 

 

A Place of Third Chances

With his long, white flowing hair pulled back in a ponytail, Simon walked into our drop-in and back into our lives, eager to “give back” as he put it. As Simon explained, he had been released from prison and was getting his life back together. Estranged from his ex-wife and with a 14-year-old daughter to raise, Simon did not want alcohol or his past troubles to hold him down…again.

That’s because this was his third time around.

Having taken the next steps to go through an alcohol treatment program and transition into a community living facility with employment-readiness training, Simon was finally looking forward to the future. “My graduation from the treatment program is tomorrow,” he beamed. “I was up at 5:30 this morning writing my graduation speech – seven pages so far!”

Simon’s sense of accomplishment was evident.

But so was his desire to move forward. “I need to stay busy. I want to get a part-time job and to start volunteering at OIM.” We were happy to welcome him, to come alongside him in his journey back to health and stability. “You guys were there for me when I needed it,” he told us, “and now I want to give back.”

It was gratifying to know that Simon felt welcomed at our drop-in (not an easy thing for ex-offenders to find in any community, as you can imagine). But, there he was, helping us set up, serve lunch, and tear down at the end of the day.

He was in a place where he felt welcome to start over (again).  And while the road to stability is not easy, often paved with setbacks and disappointments, giving ourselves – and others – permission to make some mistakes along the way can make all the difference.

 

Jelica, Staff

 

 

Just a couple of Canadians (eh?), talking on the bus.

I ran into one of our clients the other day.

It happened as I got on the bus & looked around for an empty spot.

“There she is!” I heard someone say. It was Ted.

He was sitting alone. The rest of the bus was crowded, cramped. But Ted had an empty seat on his right and an empty seat on his left. Holding an enormous paper bag (a 6-pack of beer inside), he looked weathered, frail, wrinkled, and slightly intoxicated. He smiled up at me.

I sat next to him and we spent the next 10 minutes catching up.

It was like any conversation you might hear on any bus in Canada.

We spoke about Canada Day (how chaotic it was!), the weather (how warm it’s been lately, eh?), and music (I play 1 instrument; Ted plays several. “Like most Newfoundlanders,” I say. He smiles ).

Ted was chatty, friendly; polite and encouraging (“When I was on the streets, your outreach teams helped me out so much!” he says to me. “They are amazing.”)

I couldn’t help but wonder how odd the two of us looked to the other passengers who eyed us cautiously.

I hoped that their expectations were challenged. I hoped that they could see beneath Ted’s rough exterior and see what I saw: the talented musician; the sympathetic listener; the amiable fellow:  a typical Canadian.

A deeply troubled background? Yes. Complex mental and physical health issues? Yes. Making strides? Yes.

And above all, still just a guy, talking to a gal, riding on a bus, on our way home.

Jelica, Staff

 

 

“At Risk”

 

 

The term “at risk youth” is thrown around a lot, often without much thought or care. It’s a label that can feel very cold and dehumanizing.

But what are “at risk youth” really “at risk” of?

I think if we stopped and answered that question, we wouldn’t use the term so casually.

Because the truth is, right now, these youth are at risk of dying.

Drug addiction and overdose are not new to Ottawa, but the surge of overdoses over the past year is unprecedented. The youth I work with are more at risk of dying from an overdose than ever. So much so, that lately when a youth does not show up for our weekly art group, I get a knot in my stomach worrying they are the latest overdose victim.

It’s a really dark time.

But in the midst of this, the youth at Innercity Arts provide hope. Even in this darkness, they remain resilient and build each other up – like no other community I’ve ever seen.

I’m inspired by their strength. I’m humbled by their generosity. I’m thankful for their compassion.

I’m always amazed by the beautiful things they create. This year, they have created some incredible pieces of art and music and will showing it to the community.

I hope you can attend the show, and be witness to a truly hopeful thing in this dark time.

Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/131027517429263/ 

 

Danielle’s Story: Episode 7 – What’s happening now

 

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

Jason baptized me in the Ottawa River. He used to drive me to church with his family. It was a turning point in my life.

I graduated from the art program, and entered Algonquin College for Animation.  I graduated last year.

Right now, I am getting closer to getting a studio job as an animator.  In another couple of weeks I’ll do another interview and then I will be able to complete my homelessness journey, and support myself without relying on others.

My art is more than creativity, it was my means to escape the horrors of abuse and homelessness. It kept me going. I  escaped the temptation of drugs, and turned to my stories when I needed to escape that world.  It was my home when I had none.

Homelessness taught me what happiness is all about. It is not about materialism. It is not about having money.

I was happiest, when I was with my friend and her mother.

I was happiest when I was at OIM, as a part of the art program, and their staff and volunteers offered so much – support, encouragement and acceptance.

This has made all the difference in my life. Life is about love.

 

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 2 – The Beginnings of Abuse

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

 

This is Danielle’s story in her own words:

We moved to Ottawa when I was six, that’s when the abuse picked up. I remember coming home from school, afraid even before I got there. School started, and every day when I got home from school I would hide in my room, covering my ears when the stomping of feet began. I knew a beating was coming. My mother or stepfather came quickly down the stairs to hurt one of us if there was a noise, or if the baby had woken up.

As  the years went by, the abuse became more serious and frightening. I knew something was wrong- but I didn’t know what to do. Even when social workers would come to investigate, my mother would threaten us not to say anything. I didn’t dare speak up, for fear the beatings would become even more severe.

I had to take Reactin to help with my skin condition, and my step mom would take that away from me and I’d get hives. I could write my name on my arm, the hives were so bad.

Finally, when I was 15, my grandmother intervened and insisted that my mother could not take care of me. She took me out of province to live with her. For a while, things were going well- I was happier, I felt more confident. But one day, before a field trip, when I meekly asked my grandmother if I was driving to school with her, she suddenly grabbed by the arms. I still have scars from her nails and I went to school covered in blood.

Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone.

Why not let them know that they are NOT alone?

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

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.

 

The state of metal health services for homeless youth

istock_102_pp_sad_youthWe see so many of our youth struggling with mental health issues. A major disorder that we see is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to traumas at home, school and the streets. Not a lot of people associate PTSD with youth. This is a disorder usually associated with soldiers and trauma of war.  The stress of being homeless has been widely known to cause PTSD. Our youth struggle to juggle everyday needs, such as finding shelter and food, with the weighted needs of their addictions and mental health issues. Many of their addictions form from the need to self-medicate such issues as PTSD or depression or anxiety disorders. This doesn’t even address more complex issues that we see such as schizophrenia, bi–polar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Finding resources they can rely on long term and that they can trust is very hard. It is our experience that many youth and young adults who are ready to receive therapy are ultimately put on long waiting lists. Often the waiting lists for free services are more than 6 months or longer. Therapist, counselors, and psychotherapists are not readily available without coverage. These marginalized youth then become discouraged and give up on finding help. We have seen this over and over again. One of our youth, a boy of 18 years old, has been so traumatized by events at home and being left defenseless on the streets that he barely can speak. He has been in ‘the system’ for a few years now but has yet to get the help he really needs. We watch him every week come in looking lower and lower. He struggles to communicate, to eat, to smile. We can barely connect with him. It breaks our hearts but our hands are tied. And he’s not alone. We see all sides of mental illness, and those who have been lucky enough to get into a crisis program are left hanging at the end of the program as there is so little follow up available. There is such a lack of resources that symptoms are bandaged and root causes can’t be addressed.

Here, let the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness say it best:

“Youth homelessness has existed in Canada for decades; however, recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of young people with complex mental health issues who are also facing the isolation and struggle of homelessness. In communities across the country, the failure to address the specific needs of homeless youth with complex mental health needs, and the lack of appropriate, timely services is resulting in a crisis for homeless young people, their families and the community agencies that seek to support them. The results are devastating as Canada’s most marginalized young people fall between the cracks. They are often ineligible for, or not well served by children and adult mental health systems – nor well suited to services developed for homeless adults with complex mental health needs.”**

** National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness 2012 Canada

For more information please read the whole article: http://homelesshub.ca/resource/backgrounder-homeless-youth-and-mental-health#sthash.BdChOF51.dpuf

 

Prayer Request

It was a particularly cold night on outreach last week when we came across Brian. It was our first time meeting Brian – who informed us he would be sleeping outside that night. I shivered at the thought – I was freezing cold and had only been outside for about half an hour. We offered him things to help him stay warm – gloves, a hat, a sleeping bag, a cup of hot chocolate.

But Brian said “You know what would help keep me warm? A prayer. Would you pray with me?”

We knelt down with Brian as he led us in prayer. He thanked God for His love, and all He has done for Brian. He then asked God for help to overcome his addiction.

Brian thanked us for our prayers, and we told him we would continue to pray.

If you’re reading this, say a prayer for Brian.