Staff Perspectives: What Our Street Community Has Taught Me

Hi, my name is Gabriela. In March, I joined the OIM team as the new Administrative Assistant.

I’m originally from El Salvador and I moved to Canada last year. When you come from a country like mine (a beautiful country but with many problems, including widespread poverty and homelessness) it’s hard to think that a country like Canada still faces homelessness.

But, unfortunately, it does.

Before working with the street-engaged community through OIM, I didn’t give much thought to why someone ends up homeless. Even just walking downtown, where you see homelessness staring you in the face, you can become numb to the situation. You see it everyday. So, without even bothering to look at a homeless person, you simply walk by.

That’s why I am grateful to be working at OIM.

My time with this ministry has been an enriching experience in so many ways. My perception about homelessness has changed, I have learned so much from our street friends. I have learnt how empathy can change things even if it’s not always easy to imagine what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes. At times, it’s just easier to judge or to assume that if someone is in that situation (homeless) it must be because of their life choices. But, it’s more than that. Much more.

And I’ve also learned about the strength of character that resides in each person who visits us at the office.

Every week our street friend ‘Rob’ comes to the Stop-In at our office. He is constantly struggling with mental health issues and feels overwhelmed and negative towards life. But what surprises me about him is that even in his toughest week he never forgets to ask me how I am doing and how my week is going.

Being at OIM has definitely been a one-of-a-kind experience. I have learnt to never underestimate what a small act of kindness can do; you don’t need to do extraordinary things to help others. Often something as simple as having the time to listen or share with someone is enough.

It is in conversations with individuals like ‘Rob’ that I have learned to become more caring, understanding and patient.

That’s what our street friends teach me, each and every day.

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week – just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, “I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn’t feel like it tonight at least.”

Stop. Pause.

What if it was you?

You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of ‘no good’, you’ll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort…

Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits…

How would that make you feel?

For the one’s and two’s and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, ‘everything’ (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home.

A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was ‘you?’ I know it would mean a lot to me.

Ken MacLaren

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.

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Marcel at the drop-in.

 

Giving Their Time

A few weeks ago a handful of our youth participated in a fundraiser for Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat is a small northern Ontario community which has declared a state of emergency due to the large volume of suicide attempts from their population. Our youth felt the pull to show support for the youth in this small community. This was a wonderful event with beautiful traditional ceremonies and dances. The youth participated by creating live paintings for auction. With their work they were able to raise just under $600. I was so proud of them. They worked hard and produced some of the best work I have seen from them in just under 2 hours. Check out the incredible work they did below.

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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

 

A Blessing on the Street

pannerIt was just a few days before Christmas and you could feel the hustle and bustle in the air. Everyone had somewhere to go so the streets were full of shoppers.  I was walking into work when I saw Laura. Laura is a youth on the streets who is heavily addicted to crack. She was crying so I stopped to make sure she was okay. I began to comfort her but she was sobbing and yelling and moving erratically on the side walk. Everyone who walked by us would stare at Laura. I could barely understand what Laura was saying, but then I heard her say over and over again “People don’t even treat me like a human!”

That’s when Jillian approached. (Jillian is an older woman who struggles with schizophrenia. She has lived on the streets for several years and rarely speaks to others. When she does speak, she is often delusional and yells at people). As you can imagine, I was nervous when Jillian approached us. But to my surprise, Jillian looked at Laura and gently asked “Do you need some spare change?” Laura nodded, hesitantly. Jillian then handed Laura a few dollars. She smiled at Laura and walked away.

Jillian’s kindness touched me. Despite the extremely difficult mental health challenges Jillian experiences, her gentle, kind and generous spirit still shines though. She was able to treat Laura in a loving, compassionate and humane way. I felt blessed to have witnessed this.

 

 

Eric’s Christmas Wish

“Eric’s Journey” is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to Eric read his Christmas Wish on  Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below

 

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Eric at art group 2015

“This year was an amazing gift from God.

I hope life remains positive for me and for many, many other people.

Smiles and laughter can go a long way, and they have the power to touch and change people’s souls.

Merry Christmas 2015 by Eric Larkin

Christmas card made by Eric, Dec. 2015

What I wish for Christmas is that more people would be able to receive more joy and become more joyful. Usually when you help people, you become more joyful yourself – you are passing the joyfulness along.

My Christmas wish for the art group is that they should enjoy God’s gifts and that more kids on the street could come to the group and enjoy doing art together.

In life, God allows you to go down the right path. The right path really means walking towards God.

God is waiting for each of us to come to Him. He wants to give us joy.

That’s my Christmas wish. Merry Christmas!”- Eric

 

 

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click Donate Now. Thanks!

 

Eric’s Journey, Episode 6: Eric`s New Life

“Eric’s Journey” is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button belowFollow along all month to hear this amazing story! 

Eric Continues His Story. . .

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Eric with the bench he painted at Dundonald Park in June 2015.

“So many things changed in my life since the accident. I`m back in relationship with my dad and my mom and we are really enjoying one another’s company. It`s so great to be back with my family.

I just completed my high school training at the adult high school in Ottawa. I go to the gym every week, I jog regularly (of course), I meet with my psychologist. I go to the visitor centre, I hardly ever miss the OIM art group and I even joined the youth choir with the Kiwanis music festival.

Undoubtedly, the biggest change that happened in my life is that I perceive Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. I`ve been baptized in water and I have been attending church regularly with my dad.

I have hope for the future and I want to make a difference with my life. The old Eric is gone, and I am a new person!

My life is a miracle – a gift from God. ”

 

Coming Up on December 24th – A Special Christmas Wish from Eric

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click Donate Now. Thanks!