Caution: P4Y Poetry

The Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program was fortunate enough to have Bruce Narbaitz come in and do a slam poetry workshop with the youth. Many of the youth had never tried poetry, and some were nervous to share their poetry with their peers. To be completely honest, I was nervous to give slam poetry a shot too! It’s an intimidating thing to get up in front of people and share poetry.

But Bruce made everyone feel very comfortable. He placed some objects on a table: a sleep mask, a toy Chewbacca, a piece of police caution tape, and a pirate flag.

He encouraged everyone to take 5 minutes and to write anything about one of the objects.

The results were absolutely amazing.

Check out one of the youth’s poem that was inspired by the police caution tape. This youth is commenting on how she feels about her interactions with the police while panhandling.




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.




When I approach an Aboriginal person while on outreach, I suddenly become very aware of the cross embroidered on my outreach vest. The Aboriginal peoples have been so hurt by Christians that I often fear that the symbol of the cross represents danger and mistrust, and I worry about how I will be perceived.

I had this fear when I approached Sherry, and middle-aged Inuit woman who was sitting on the sidewalk panhandling. To my relief, she greeted me with a smile and asked me to sit with her. She spoke to me about her life, her family, and her love of art. Then she asked me to pray with her. She asked that I pray for the strength to give up alcohol. I prayed with her, and when we were finished she looked at me and said “Naakuumik.” She told me this meant “Thank you.” She then spent the next 15 minutes or so teaching me several words in Inuktitut. I was a terrible pupil, as languages do not come easy for me. She teased me about my terrible pronunciation. Then she got out a small piece of paper and wrote out some words phonetically for me. You can see this in the picture below.


What a blessing to have spent time with Sherry. What a miracle it is, that after all the pain she and her family have experienced at the hands of Christians that she has not lost trust in people, or faith in prayers.

As I walked away she shouted “Aakuluk!” I looked at my card  – “Love you.”

Choosing Compassion

compassion quoteIt’s not uncommon for the youth I work with to tell me about the negative experiences they’ve had with police officers. Most of the youth deal with police on a daily basis, as police monitor the downtown core, discourage loitering and dole out tickets. I’ve heard so many stories of mistreatment by the police that unfortunately I’ve actually become quite jaded towards the police and I often expect the worst from them.

Last week however, one of the youth was in a crisis situation so I made the decision to call 911. Two officers arrived and assessed the situation. The circumstances were complicated (mental illness, homelessness, addiction etc.) and there was no easy solution. Both officers expressed their frustrations to me, grieving about the “system” which often fails to help the youth, leaving the police to deal with the consequences. They told me that there was not much help they could offer to this youth, that their “hands were tied”.

Once I heard that phrase, I expected them to leave. But then one of the officers did something that surprised me: she spent the next 2 hours with the youth, trying in every way possible to help. She listened to her, empathized with her, offered support and advice and even advocated for her.

This officer could have left the situation once it was no longer a crisis. But instead, she made the decision to help as much as possible. And this made all the difference. This youth, for the first time in her life, has now had a positive interaction with the police. This is a big deal.

And I realized something: in the helping profession, whether it’s policing, social work, the medical field…we all get jaded and frustrated with the system. We all feel like our hands are tied and we have no control over the situation.

And sometimes that’s true.

But, we ALWAYS have control over the compassion we show. We always have a choice to act with love.

I said it was a complicated situation with no easy answer.

But maybe the answer is compassion, and that’s not that complicated at all.

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

Rideau Street, downtown Ottawa…



We didn’t get her name:  it wasn’t offered and it was too early to ask.  Maybe she was seventeen, but the hard life on the streets made her look older.

Her gnarled and twisted hair matched the attitude she portrayed in her ‘survival mode’- you can’t show weakness on the streets.  Once she had the ‘look’, but it really was too costly to maintain.  Now she managed with a few mismatched pieces of clothing from the bin.  Dirty and ragged, she survived within her small circle of ‘friends’ that looked after her – for a price.

I looked again and my heart was broken.  Whose daughter was this?  Could this be my neighbour’s little girl?  She had to grow up too fast, too soon.  She should be enjoying her teen years:  sleepovers at her friends place, painting nails and doing hair do’s, giggling, pizza and movies with her small group of friends, long talks late at night with mom, shopping for that special prom dress, planning for the future, getting ready to leave the nest and spread her wings…

This wasn’t even on the radar.  Maybe it never was.  Instead there is the ‘exchange’ of  services to get what she needs – food, shelter, drugs.  Anything to deaden the pain.

Something broke somewhere.  Maybe it’s sexual abuse or an alcoholic dad who vented too many times.  Maybe a new ‘dad’ in a blended family that didn’t work out.  Too many foster homes, too many broken promises, too much pain…

Her circle of  ‘friends’ is small.  Who will reach out to her?  Dealers looking for a  ‘runner’?  Pimps – men who would use her and then treat her like an empty styrofoam cup – a commodity to discard when no longer useful.

Last week something happened. An outreach teams made a connection and another dimension has been added to the picture.  The beginning of an intervention of love and mercy into a darkened world.  It’s a dawning of a new day.

Outgrowing and Overcoming

Many street-engaged youth struggle with addictions. Below is a work of art by a P4Y artist. This artist has struggled with addiction for years, and has now made some big changes in her life in order to overcome her addiction. This amazing work of art shows the strength of the artist and her ability to overcome any obstacle.



“She’s breaking her bonds and she’s growing up and changing as a being.”

– P4Y Artist 

A Special heARTfelt Thursday: Sneak Peek!

P4Y Art Show Collage 2013-11-191

Texture, colour, pattern, meaning…

OIM is excited to extend an invitation to friends and community members for the up-coming Passion 4 Youth art show.

The Passion 4 Youth artists have been hard at work this Fall to create pieces that explore the idea of violence and social structures. Each artist has created an art piece that represents a major structure in our city that has had a positive or negative influence on their lives. From the perspective of a street-engaged youth, we will be looking at the Children’s Aid Society, the criminal justice system, financial institutions, immigration, the media, health facilities, and many more.

We encourage you to come out. Doors will be open 7:00pm-9:00pm, and there will be a suggested $5 donation at the door. Light refreshments provided.

Tabaret Hall, Room 112, uOttawa–550 Cumberland St. 

Reality Check








I was walking home from work yesterday and had to take a second glance at one of the youth that was panhandling on the streets of Ottawa. I know in theory that these people live on the streets, have nothing and have to beg for money as a way for survival but until this moment it never became as real as it did yesterday. This young man was probably in his mid to late 20’s and just sitting there minding his own business with a cup in front of him on the ground. He was not bothering people, yelling at them or even begging them but simply sitting there trying to get a little money and hoping that people would be kind enough to donate.


When you see all these men and women at the drop in or stop-ins each week it almost becomes easy to forget that they actually have nothing and many live on the streets. You see them all the time but until I saw this young man on the streets it never hit me like it did then. This is there reality, a constant fight for survival not knowing if they will be able to eat that day or even make it to the end. Many of them live with addictions that have completely taken over their lives while others live in absolute depression that hits them so hard they don’t even want to live. The only thing I can think to myself is, how can we impact this person’s life to bring even a glimpse hope to what seems to be a hopeless situation?


Written by Samara, OIM employee

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……