“Excuse me m’am…do you have any bus tickets? I have to get to an appointment this afternoon.” I was speaking with a couple of our friends at drop-in this week when a quiet and somewhat unsteady woman approached me and posed the question. I answered that we only give out tickets from the office and that there was no one there right now. I was just starting to tell her that I would double-check that when Corie, one of the friends in the group I was standing with, reached into his pocket and gave her 2 loonies. He doesn’t have much himself. Each week he gets a bag of groceries from our food-bank and I know that the ends don’t often meet in his budget. To say that I was humbled would be an understatement, but we see examples of generosity in the street community all the time. At the office the other day, one of our friends gave his gloves to another because he had a warm place to sleep and the other guy didn’t. I think we’re often guilty of thinking that we have so much to teach our street friends…but maybe…it’s the other way around.
If you look at me, and squint really hard, I look like God.
Whoa! Don’t be hasty! Unless you ask my little sister, I’m not that cocky. What I mean is, I’m made in God’s image. If you’d like to use a different metaphor, I have my Father’s eyes.
I bring this up because sometimes people ask me what I do when I volunteer with OIM. This is an easy one to answer! I do exactly what God has always intended I do in every single interaction I have with any human being (street engaged or not): I try my best to look like God. Polish up that blurry image so that it’s as clear a likeness as possible.
So whether I’m sharing a laugh in an after hours Laundromat, debating the best legal strategy for a court appearance, huddling in a doorway to discuss the impact of Winterlude on the street engaged population, or peering into the corners of a market parking garage, what I’m hoping for is that someone will see me, do a double-take, and then see God.
It’s only fair. Because it’s a pretty regular occurrence for me to turn a corner, see one of my street friends, and catch a strong glimpse of God.
And I usually don’t even have to squint.
Going to work this morning, I came down the same hill at the same time and saw the same bus going up the other side. I got on my usual bus with the same driver and saw the same people going about their routines too. Before that, I got up, checked my email…watched the morning news as I had my coffee and said goodbye to my family as I do every morning.
Routine…predictability…we might be tempted to see it as boring…but it’s actually healthy! Of course we like to shake it up every now and then to keep it interesting, but mental health experts say that routine and knowing what tomorrow will bring is a key factor in your overall health. The stress of not knowing what tomorrow will look like can be seen first in a lowered immune system leading to frequent illness, and chronic stress leads to changes in the very biochemistry of one’s body leading to conditions such as depression.
What did your morning look like? Many of the people we see at OIM woke up not knowing where they will eat today, or where they will sleep tonight. Many don’t know where they will be tomorrow, let alone in a week.
Routine…predictability…doesn’t sound so bad does it?
Very different indeed. A bit hard to process for some, so let’s paint a picture of the reality of kids on the street. Many issues certainly, here are a few:
Physical Abuse: most kids are fleeing domestic violence. Hard as street life is, it’s viewed as better than ‘home’.
Substance Abuse: if it hasn’t already started, it comes into the picture big time when the kids hit the streets. It begins as self-medication to try to deal with pain of whatever they are facing. Then it turns into a physiological thing and then the kids need to maintain so as not to go into withdrawal.
All alone: Even though they hang out in larger groups for safety, each of these ‘tough kids’ is just a kid, like the kid across the street from you, who has HAD to put on an image in order to survive. It is a mask, necessary for survival. No support, no one to help, none. None.
Violence: is a part of it all, along with ‘survival tactics’ that are less than pretty: prostitution, drug use with needles and prescriptions and whatever else comes to hand, even running drugs for the ‘boss’ man.
We deal with these issues, portrayed through kids who mostly never had a fair chance because of their background. So we love on them, encourage them in the smallest things you can imagine, build self-esteem whenever we can, and really, just try to hang on to them.
Statistics report that there are a few levels of socio-economic backgrounds of kids on the streets, but guess what? The pimps, dealers and other exploiters, really do NOT care. They see a source of income, a piece of meat to ‘sell’, a means to their own selfish ends.
They come to us. They come every week. They have no other place to go that is positive, encouraging and supportive.
Yea, it’s hard work, and it really hurts sometimes, but we believe in these kids with all of our hearts.
March winds blow, or it pours rain, minus 30 with the wind chill – or any combination thereof. Only in Canada, eh?
We can look forward to spring, but it seems a long time coming.
No less for our street friends – not that’s the understatement of the year.
Christmas is a time typically when there is a generous outpouring of love and generosity to those on the streets and we are thankful for this. But what about after Christmas?
Maybe we don’t think about it all that much, but the winter is a misery when you are on the move all the time, with no place to rest your usually wet, cold, freezing feet. The laundromat is usually a good place, but it is often the case that the proprietors of the same are on the lookout for people who don’t wash their clothes. The laundromat just beside our offfice entance is a good example. It is common for the police to be called to this place, because some of Ottawa’s homeless population need a warm place.
In extreme cold -whatever that is- I guess it depends on whether or not you are in the cold all the time . Street-engaged people are herded up and forced to go ‘inside’ (not the Chateau Laurier). This experience can be worse that staying outside, because it is yet another violation of their persons (the force that can accompany can be excessive) – there are reasons why people cannot access services.
I guess I’m painting a pretty dark, bleak picture. A bit negative, eh? But it is what it is – I’m pretty sure about that.
What then? Well, don’t forget about those on the streets, even when the weather has some degree of improvement: the nights are still very cold.
Why not think about doing something about this problem? You could contact one of the local agencies in your city and volunteer to do something. Maybe you could give something – time, talents or money. Stop and talk to someone you pass who is panhandling on the streets: you would be surprised how ‘invisible’ someone can become as soon as they sit on a curb with a ball cap and ask for money. Give or not, it’s up to you, but you need to see that this is a real person, with a real story, he/she is where she is, not from choice, but from a cascade of trouble that they could do nothing to change (it usually begins with childhood abuse – how can we hold someone responsible for that?)
Give some change if you like – better a bill. Once you give, forget about what will happen to it. We hold people so very responsible for so little, when we are so careless with the treasures with which we have been blessed.
One thing for sure: we really can’t do nothing about this. In our affluence, remember the poor.
Make a difference. Go out there and change your world.
Merry Christmas! Just a quick note today, on the eve of Christmas eve, to invite you to do a last minute gift purchase – for someone experiencing homelessness – for someone you don’t even know. Click on the banner above for more info.
AND, if you would visit www.chri.ca, you can listen to the podcast of the interview I did with the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson. This is not a political maneuvering or ‘nail him to the post’ interview, but an opportunity to hear our Mayor’s heart regarding the less fortunate in our city: how at an early age, he learned to care, what he is doing now, and some ideas how citizens of Ottawa (and beyond) can become involved.
Take opportunity today and make a donation. We’ll be sure it gets to where it’s needed most!
Thirteen street youth will be presenting their art work for show and silent auction on Monday, November 15, 2010 from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at Dominion Chalmers United Church in Ottawa.
The kids have been preparing for this show for several months and will demonstrate techniques and applications in the course of the evening.
It’s all a part of building self-esteem and self worth into lives that have experienced only abuse and trauma. Passion for Youth, means our passion for youth, but also identifying things that the youth are passionate about, working with those in a proactive, positive way. Our mission statement: Empowering street youth by engaging their passions though ABCD (Assets Based Community Development). It seems to be working just fine.
“It’s amazing to see the difference a bit of encouragement and hope will do with these youth,” says Jason Pino, OIM’s Youth Outreach Worker. “In just a few months, we have seen kids get housing, get jobs, finish high school and begin to think about rebuilding their lives.”
Volunteer mentors spend time with the youth discovering, setting and working towards the realization of their goals. In just two months of the program, four of the young people have reached their goal of reducing their drug use, and two of these have found jobs.
Come out Monday night, check out the artwork and meet the kids. See you there!
Generally speaking the needs on the street are increasing and for many charities across Canada, there are dwindling resources as people are faced with financial crises of various sorts. We are hosting a fund raising auction that I would like you to attend. The details are in the rotating banner above, but if you are interested, I would like to share with you some of the events of the evening:
Greg Paul, well-known speaker and author will be our guest speaker. Greg is from Sanctuary, Toronto, and in addition to his role as a pastor of a church in the downtown core, has authored two best sellers: God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle. Another book will soon be released. Greg is a member of the National Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness and a member of Street Level.
Dave Smith, a renowned philanthropist, businessman and entrepreneur in Ottawa has agreed to be our auctioneer. Dave has a heart for youth, and has founded the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre. Additionally, Dave has been instrumental in the process of bringing a residential detox program to Ottawa.
In addition to over 150 Silent Auction items, we have a number of live auction items. The live auction items will include, but not limited to the following list:
- The Rideau Canal Story – a set of 8 customed framed prints celebrating the 150th anniversary of the building of the Rideau Canal, value $1400
- Stradivarius Violin (copy) & Two framed prints: Damsels with Stringed Instruments, value $1,000
- The OLD WEST Collection: 26 volumes, faux leather covers, time-life series, value $600
- Lunch with the Chief Vern White. Value: priceless!
- Romantic Getaway #1, one night at the Lord Elgin, $100 coupon from the Keg, a camera, bath set. Value $410
- Romantic Getaway #2, two nights at the Auberge de mon petit chum, Wakefield, $100 coupon le Moulin Restaurant Wakefield, Book “Celebration of Love”, special “Basket of Healthy Chocolate”. Value $500
- Big Girl’s Special, One month membership tanning package, Nine West designer sunglasses with Coach case, a gift certificate for cut, style and highlights, and SPA bath set. Value $650
- Big Boy’s Special, One hour plane ride over Ottawa in Cessna 150, Complete car cleaning, DeWalt heavy duty drill, 40 pc socket set, 5 Guy tools, Jack Astor Restaurant Certificates, Haircut, Certificate Play It Again Sports. Value $545
- 98.5 the JEWEL Advertising Kit, Forty 30 second spots on Ottawa’s own “the Jewel” 98.5 fm. Value $2,000
- Pitt Special SA2 A plane ride on one of eight ‘Red Baron’ biplanes in Canada. A ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to ride the wind. Value: $450
- ROOM REDO – Upper Room Home Furnishings Gift Certificate $2,000 towards a consultation and furniture remake of a room of your choice in your own home.
Tickets are available by calling our office 613-237-6031.
Love to see you there. Thanks for your support!
It sometimes takes years to build enough trust for some of our street friends to talk to us about their lives. Red is thirty-six and we have spoken fairly regularly over the past eight years.
Most of our conversations revolve around things that are of concern to Red. He is preoccupied with the spiritual world and speaks of his battles with demons, and even the devil himself. Wisps of hair from his bangs fall down over one eye, both eyes glisten and he speaks of the devil coming at him with a gun, but he is stronger and uses his own power to beat him up. That would be God’s power in him. His world is complex and difficult. He stays at the local shelter mostly, but has taken to the streets when that doesn’t work out. He suffers from schizophrenia and his endless conversations with the voices that are inside his head lead to sustained self-medication.
This week we had opportunity to talk once again over coffee. There were the usual demonic and satanic battles that he was waging, with strong testimony that he will not be overcome. Then his tone changed.
He told me that one of the staff at the shelter want to talk to his mother who lives in the Maritimes. He refused to allow this because, well, what would she tell her? He said his parents know he is on ‘skid row’ and he doesn’t want to bother them about his own problems. He told me his dad is a retired firefighter and he has a brother four years older than he.
We spoke quietly about his family relationships and about his drug use. He has seen it all on the streets, the back alleys and everywhere in between. The people at the shelter remind him to take his meds, which are working quite well for him at this time. In fact, he hasn’t taken any pills (street drugs) for four days.
Red doesn’t stay in any one place for any lengthy period of time. He was on his fourth coffee, downed it and said it was time to go. On his way out the door I wished him a good weekend, and hoped that when I saw him the next time he would be able to say he hadn’t taken any pills now for seven days! He smiled and agreed.
Seven years. I found out more about Red in the forty minutes we spoke together this day, than I have in seven years. We can build on this. We can talk more, and maybe… well, anything could happen.
We see people panhandling for loose change all the time in our cities. It’s commonplace. We have come to adopt certain attitudes towards panhandlers and developed our own patterns of giving (or not).
We make assumptions about those who would ask us for a handout, and we have prejudices about the different approaches people take when asking for money. However we respond, we walk away and the next person on the sidewalk is hit for a donation.
Generally, those who ask, ask unashamedly, without reservation, boldly, maybe even arrogantly. Some have learned to hit the right buttons and tell one (maybe of several) stories that have brought them success in the past. It looks so easy, like anyone could do it.
That’s what it appears to be right now, but it wasn’t always like this.
What about the first times?
What would it be like to have no other choice but to ask others for help? When you have exhausted all of your options? You ask people for money: not your family or friends (that ended long ago), but complete strangers (who generally are opposed to what you are doing).
All of your resources are gone and you have hit the wall. You have no other options, so you do what you have to do to survive. Pride is long gone and the memory tapes of ‘loser’,’ useless piece of ____ ‘, useless bum’ – that were ingrained into your thinking from childhood come to the resurface, are reinforced and become your reality.
The first few times it would be hard – maybe the first few thousand – but it becomes a part of who you are. Blame, shame and desperation have become your daily portion.
There’s no way out. It’s your life now, and you get used to it. You get better at it. You harden yourself to the shame, and do your ‘work’. You know where to go, what to avoid, work the angles, develop the stories, and push yourself farther and farther away from who you once were.
Panhandling, it’s pretty simple. Easy. Straightforward. Right?
“Hey mister, any spare change?”
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