Shane’s Story, Episode 2: School

Shane’s Story is an eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you: Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!

Click on the play button to hear a part of her story, then read the rest below:

Difficulties at home were reflected in school. They would put Children’s Aid on our case all the time because I was depressed.  I was always acting out and they (school) blamed my dad and thought he was abusing me. They come constantly because I was depressed and my step family would yell at me, ‘cause Children’s Aid would come over and they’d say it was all my fault. Whatever… I hit a couple of them (the kids). I smashed them. Eventually you don’t care. What are you going to do? Hit me? Hit harder? Whatever… I’ll just hit you harder.

I got beat up a couple of time by my siblings. They took karate lessons and they didn’t have to hit you, they would put some move on you and you’re in excruciating full body pain and you can’t even move. If I had a chance to slug them before they grabbed me, I’d try. Try to get them in the teeth. That’d get them away from me for a little bit at least. Or it will get someone’s attention.

I got used to it. I’m just small, but feisty. Then even though I’d try, but eventually I just couldn’t get them back any more.

I started getting really desperate.

It got to the point where people were getting broken bones because of the fights we were getting in.

I started drawing pictures at school, really morbid pictures. To the point that my teachers started getting worried about my mental health. They started calling in… I remember people came into my school and they’d ask me weird questions about the pictures: Why is it all shackled? Why is it all beaten? Why is it dead? “I don’t know it just is…” I got a lot of attention, and it got me out of class. They’d always come during school  I had to go to another room, where they would have chocolate milk. Sometimes I would get a chocolate milk. That was a good day.

My brother got kicked out first – he had a guns, and switchblades and drugs in the house, and he ended up getting kicked out for having a little marijuana plant in his room. Then my sister, she got pushed out.  They made life so bad for her that she just left. Picking on her all the time. Excluding her. Her anger was pretty bad, and they were afraid of her I think. She was about 17 or so.  Then it was my time.  She (my step mom) was working down from the oldest, then it was my turn.

If you were hungry and went to the kitchen to get food, you were scolded. All of that food was hers and not for us. Even if I just wanted a sandwich – no, not allowed. I would sneak it, and if I got caught, I was in trouble. I was about 12 or 13 and I was starting to stand up to her.

She couldn’t hit me then, but she would take my things and put them in the garage. I would go looking for my shirts and they would be in a pile on the floor in the garage. She yelled, ‘Go clean those up!”  She knew I hated the garage too, ‘cause it was full of spiders.  The spiders would be mixed in with my shirts. I was scared, there might be 10 spiders mixed in the shirts.

I knew I wasn’t nice. I didn’t get treated nice, and I wasn’t nice. Don’t come talk to me or I will hit you.

School was horrible.. I got into all kinds of fights, I would even go after the teachers. They would have to expel me. I would come in and swear at them, I would draw swastikas on my note book and that would get me in trouble. They would come after me and I would put on a little riot, whatever I had to do. They would make me feel bad, and then I would go out and make them feel bad.

I think I was 15 when I was taken out of my home and put into Children’s Aid care, a foster home. I’d go hostile on my step mom to the point that I tried to set her car on fire. I started a website to get people to like kill my older step brother – anything I could do.

Finally they took me. ‘You’re out of control. Come with us.’ And they stuck me in a house full of people that I really didn’t have any business needing to know who they were.

It was an all girl house.

I had one friend at school. A chick who was aggravated with life and really hostile.  Other girls would run from us.

I was mad. Everything made me mad.

Then when I turned 16, I signed the waiver and I went out on my own.

 

Remembering Homeless Veterans

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People hurry by the large monument every day, most never pausing to look or even acknowledge it. One lonely man, white haired, in torn and dirty clothes stands alone at the base of the steps leading up to a large stone coffin. Tears running down his cheeks, his jacket showing signs that they are real, a well-worn beret clamped in his hands. People avoiding him, his actions make them uncomfortable. Slowly he places the beret on his head, adjusting it so it sits perfectly. His posture changes, he stands erect. He marches 2 steps forward, slams his right foot onto the cement and slowly raises his right hand in a perfect motion. His fingers touch the edge of his glasses and he offers a silent prayer mouthing thank you as he slowly lowers his arm to his side. Executing an about turn he marches away from the coffin. Still weeping but managing to control the tears and is quickly engulfed in the flow of strangers.

Who is this man?

He is a symbol of what we cherish the most; our freedom. But he is also homeless, a veteran of our military now reduced to living on the streets because the help he desperately needed was either denied or wasn’t made available to him. My friend John lived in a nightmare with things he was asked to do while serving our nation. Things that he refused to talk about until one cold day just after OIM’s Easter Dinner. He told me about driving a truck in some far off country, the pain still vividly haunting him as he relived the horrors and the stern warnings about not stopping for anything if the convoy was assaulted. He spoke of the methods the Taliban used to try and force them to stop, of how they would sacrifice woman and children for to achieve their goals. He spoke of the memories that came screaming back every time he looked at his little girl and how he eventually lost his wife and her to the lack of treatment. His pain was real, not something created for attention.

The man at the coffin is also George, a veteran who was forced to retire before his prime because of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) whose battles continue daily as he struggles to survive. He faces ridicule because, unlike the war vets, he fights not only his demons but the stigma of being forgotten because he has never gone to war.

This man is Jim, a warrior now forced to survive in a wheel chair whose battle is now staying alive as he faces countless medical challenges. Whose heart is bigger than anyone I have met. Whose love fills the air around him like a beacon, but who is, sadly, ignored because of the image people see.

Who are these people? They are men that I am proud to call friends, brothers, someone that I share something in common with; we are all veterans. They have been forgotten because the reminder of what we stood for is too painful to recognize. They are the walking wounded. They are the marginalized, the ridiculed, the scorned, the forgotten. Take the time to get to know them, have a meal with them, thank them for their service. Remind them that the sacrifice they were willing to make will not be forgotten, they will be remembered, and not just on Remembrance Day but every day of their lives.

The next time you find a man, or woman, weeping at the monument as they pay their respects. Put an arm around them; support, them, remember to say thank you.  When you are asked what a veteran is remind people that a veteran is a man or woman, who signed a blank cheque, payable to their country, Canada, for everything up to and including their lives. They were a special group of people willing to die , to ensure that Canadians can live free. Only two people have been willing to die for you: Jesus on the cross for your salvation and a veteran for your freedom.

– written by Ken Byars, a Canadian veteran and a dedicated  OIM volunteer

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.

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.

 

poetry

 

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.

No compassion or care for the mentally ill at the Ottawa Hospital

I have known Skye for 3 years. She was one of the first street-engaged youth I met while doing outreach. I remember our first meeting fondly: I was still new, and somewhat terrified, and she reached out and was incredibly welcoming and kind to me.

But when Skye came into my office on Friday, she was not the same kind and gentle youth who I had come to know. She was having persistent and overwhelming thoughts of hurting herself and others. The thoughts she was having were scary and disturbing and she was worried she would act on them. We talked about the different resources she could go to, but within moments, I could tell it was too late to make an appointment with a counselor.

Skye was having a mental health crisis and she needed immediate help.

She agreed to go to the Civic Hospital emergency room but she was reluctant to go alone. She did not think the doctors would take her seriously, as they have refused to help her in the past. I agreed to go with her for support.

hospital hallwayI assured her that she would get some help, and we would not leave until she felt safe.

I was hopeful when we were directed right away to the psychiatry department. The psychiatrist introduced himself and asked to interview Skye alone. I told her I would be just down the hall if she needed me.

Within 2 minutes, I could hear Skye screaming. I ran towards the interview room and saw her violently banging the furniture and walls. She was screaming because the psychiatrist had told her he was calling the police due to the violent thoughts she was having. Skye, like most street-engaged youth, is terrified of the police. She was screaming and punching herself in the face. I calmed her down, reminding her she had not broken the law so she would not be arrested. She calmed down and we waited for the police.

 

The police arrived, and did a brief assessment of her mental state. Skye told them about her violent and suicidal thoughts. The police then spoke privately with the psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist came back to us, and explained that he believed the best course of action would be for Skye to do an outpatient program at the Royal Ottawa Hospital: First, a program to deal with her addiction, and then a program to deal with her mental health issues. The programs sounded helpful, but Skye expressed that she could not wait until Monday for the program to start. She needed help right away.

“What if I kill someone tomorrow?” she asked the psychiatrist.

“Well, that might happen.” replied the psychiatrist.

I was absolutely shocked by his response.

“You are responsible for your actions and you need to take responsibility for them” he continued.

“That’s why I’m here, I need help! Why won’t you help me?” Skye yelled. At this point, Skye was furious and left the hospital to go cool down in the parking lot.

I then spoke with the psychiatrist. I explained that I believed the programs he recommended would be helpful for Skye, but that she needed more immediate help. The doctor proceeded to list off his several years of experience and education, and assured me this was the best course of action. I stressed that Skye was still expressing that she was going to hurt herself or someone else, and how could he not admit her for that?

He told me that if she hurts someone, that would be a police matter.

I argued with the doctor until I realized that he was not going to change his mind. Although I’m sure the doctor believed he was helping Skye, how could he let her leave after admitting that she was at risk of hurting herself and others?

When I got to Skye who was in the parking lot, she was still upset. She was pleading for the police to help her, even going so far as to ask them if she stabbed herself, would they help her then? The stunned police officers had no response.

I assured her that together, she and I would create a plan for the weekend in order to keep her safe until she could enroll in the Royal Ottawa program on Monday.

Before leaving, the police said “If you are in trouble tonight, if there is an emergency, call us.”

This is an emergency, I thought.

So we left the hospital, with Skye still feeling unsafe in her own body.

I left thinking: Would this have happened if Skye was not an addict? Would they have taken her seriously if she was not street-engaged? Would they have treated her differently if she didn’t have piercings and tattoos?

I have always believed that if a youth is having a mental health crisis and nothing is working, the hospital is there to take care of the youth and to ensure their safety. This belief has been completely shattered. Instead, it seems that we have a system that is more interested in intervening once damage has been done or a crime has been committed, rather than listening to the pleas of a young woman, desperate for help.

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…

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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.

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 3: Life on the Streets, Shelters and Drugs

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

 

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

One guy took me in (and also molested me), let me stay at his house actually burned my hair with Axe hair spray and a lighter.  That’s when I first started wearing a Mohawk.

From there I went to a shelter and then I got a ride to Ottawa.  I stayed at one shelter for maybe a month before I learned that if you lived outside, you didn’t have to listen to anybody. I didn’t like the rules they had there (at the shelter).

Soon after I started living outside, I was smoking and using marijuana.  After living on the streets for about a month, someone asked me if I had ever tried Ecstasy. I lied and said, “Yea, totally.” I started doing hard drugs more and more.  I was addicted to ‘uppers’ or Ecstasy (most of the time) or anything that made me feel happy. It took away the pain.

I was abused all my life. From the outside we lived like a happy family, but behind closed doors it was really bad.  I could never remember a time when I was as happy as I was when I was on that drug: it was like all of your bad feelings go away, and I was doing it every single day for a while.

After about 3 years of sleeping outside, couch surfing, and staying at shelters, but mostly on the street, I went for a visit to my “family”. I’d like to say ‘home’ but it never really was – not at all.  The reason I say it like this, “Family”, is because to this day, I consider the bonds I made with other youth who experienced the pain and heartache as I did, to be stronger, than those of my own blood. While visiting, I ended up seeing my lifelong abuser for the last time, and it was not a happy memory. I remember the very last words he said to me, were “take those stupid things out of your face, and grow some hair, then I’ll respect ya you freak!” I simply replied, “Love you too Dad,” and he drove away. Two days later, at around 3 a.m., the police came to my mother’s door to tell us my father had been in an accident, and did not survive.

I didn’t feel sad that he was gone. I tried to act sad, like everybody, but I didn’t.  I went in and finally was able to say everything that I wanted to say to him. The only thing I’m sad about today, is that I never had a chance to confront him to let him know how I felt as an adult.

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region and beyond.  We need your help to continue our outreach program on the streets.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate Now”.  Thanks for your support!

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 2: More About ‘Home’

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI , click below.

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections,  Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

I remember I had to go to CHEO, ‘cause I tried to commit suicide when I was like ten years old, and tried again when I was thirteen.  So they sent me to the CHEO psych ward and my dad would cry.  Then he would tell me about his childhood: how he had to fight his dad when he was drunk, because he was trying to beat up his mom, and he got pushed down the stairs, or he pushed his dad down the stairs, and that was like stuff he would do then to me, except tenfold. 

I can’t remember when the sexual abuse started – probably when I was a baby, but I can’t remember. I remember some bad stuff, but there’s a big portion that’s just blank, just blackness. After going for testing, my counselor told me it’s a form of childhood amnesia caused by severe neglect and/or abuse, and in my case, both. I remember one time getting abused by one of my dad’s friends when I was eleven (details omitted)… I remember on the way home my dad was trying to cheer me up, asking me why I was so upset… I didn’t tell him. It freaked him out when he found out someone else was doing it – I don’t know why ‘cause he was doing it.

My dad got charged a few times with sexual abuse, (I didn’t find this out until I was older) against me and my sister. I’d go into school and they’d find bruises on me: I remember once telling them (like my counselor at school), what was happening to me. My parents found out about my complaint and made me go back to the school and tell them I was lying.  The counselor said, “Really?”  I didn’t say anything:  I was afraid he (my dad) was going to kill me.

I remember he locked us in the closet once, and said if you have to go to the bathroom, just do it on your clothes. Once I was in the closet for six hours, and I wet myself, and then he beat me up because of it.

When I was ten I tried hanging myself, but my sister found me and cut me down.  My mom didn’t know what to do, so we didn’t talk about it.  She said, ‘Don’t talk about it. I don’t want to hear about it’.

When I was thirteen I got into the bath.  Secretly I was cutting but no one ever knew. So I got into a bath and was cutting and it wouldn’t stop and I started getting woosey, and I guess my mom came in, saw the bath was full of blood, and I was covered with blood and she started laughing, then crying.

CHEO said they thought it would be good if I left that house.  They said they would help place me or they were going to remove me.

After my hospital trip, seeing how they were treating me, I figured that anywhere was better than home, so then I ran away.

I was fourteen.

As Christmas approaches, please designate a special gift towards our Youth Street Outreach program. Click ‘Donate Now’.  Thanks for your support!