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. 

Everything I Have

vaccuum

“It happened again. I have to leave,” she told me in a panic.

Laura had called me several times that week. She was always in a panic because of the abusive partner she was living with. Things were getting progressively worse for Laura, but she had never before talked about leaving.

This time was different. Laura no longer felt safe.

She knew she would have to leave, yet there was nowhere to go. No family to turn to. No friends to crash with. Laura had been off the streets for over a year, and though she was glad to be indoors she felt like the streets would be safer than staying in her abusive relationship. Laura kept telling me she had to leave.

However, Laura was worried about her stuff – the processions she had collected throughout the year. She knew she couldn’t carry them all with her on the street, and had nowhere to store them. She asked if she could store some of her stuff in the art room. I agreed, and we planned to meet there later.

What I didn’t know, is that Laura did not own luggage, she had nothing to put her possessions in, no bags or boxes. So, she improvised. She fit as much as she could into a small laundry cart. Then, she looked for something else with wheels…..the vacuum cleaner. She attached a laundry hamper full of her stuff to the vacuum cleaner using packing tape. Once everything was packed and secured, she left the apartment and started walking to the art room.

I want you to think about how tired she must have felt dragging these heavy loads with her. How embarrassed she must have felt, as people looked at her drag the vacuum cleaner. Then imagine, walking with this baggage for over 2 hours. That’s how far her apartment is from the art room. And with no bus tickets or car, walking was her only option.

She arrived at the art room completely exhausted. We packed her stuff away and she thanked me. She said it was a relief knowing that her stuff would be safe.

She told me that one of the items was a stone memorial from the grave of her parents – her most precious procession.

It was heartbreaking to see Laura in such a state; still I was happy that if nothing else, she had the art room as a special space where she could store her prized processions. I felt honored she put her most valued possessions in my trust. When you have very little, those few things represent a whole lot; enough to make it worth a trip with vacuum in tow.

~Moira, OIM Staff

When Can I Take This Off?

I was talking with someone recently who had obtained housing. They have been on the street since their early teens—both sleeping on the street and in flop houses. They haven’t seen stable housing in years and have a weathered look about them. It is impossible to tell if someone is homeless simply by looking at them, but this individual carries the stereotype, and most on lookers would assume that they were homeless.

We were walking down a street the other night, with condos and old houses on either side, talking about the new place. They had been there for about a week. There was excitement in their tone, as they told me about the new wood floors, the paint, and the windows. The conversation continued casually until they said “a homeless person like me”.

I stopped walking and looked at them: torn pants, rugged hair cut, and rebellious attitude. And, I said “But you’re not homeless? Not anymore.”

“No, not exactly.”

It struck me that this individual walked around with a big sign duct-taped to their back: HOMELESS. Even when they had a home, a place that was their own, where they could sleep indoors, safe and tucked away from Ottawa’s nightlife, they still saw themselves as homeless. Even when they had a key, and a door, and a lock that only they could unlock, they saw themselves as homeless.

I thought about a story I was told recently, where a street-friend who had been on the street for 13 years had found housing. After a year he had to leave that situation and went back on the street. He was discouraged about the situation but a staff member congratulated him.

“You’ve lived on the street for 13 years, and then you lived in doors for a year! That’s a big deal.”

Many of our street-friends seem to be used to the transient life style of moving around, sleeping in doors for a few nights and being outside the next. Shelters, flop houses, couch surfing…there are ways to make your way inside but you will still carry that label.

My question is, when do they get to take it off? What could finally change so that they don’t feel like it is the core of their identity? What can I do to stop allowing this to happen? Being ‘homeless’ doesn’t seem to go away when you find housing. Many of our street-friends have housing, be it through ODSP, OW or their own means. The problem seems to have very little to do with the home.

So, what are we really saying when we use that term? Or, what scares me more, is what do those we label hear when we say it?

Yet, a better question may be this: What will that person have once they remove that label? Who will be their community, and with whom will they share their culture?

What if this label has become a shelter, an identity and a safety-net? I think of the street-friends who lost his housing after a year; isn’t it easier to leave the label on then being forced to put it back on? It is like saying, with no expectations I can have no disappointment.

I pray these two individuals can both see themselves and be seen as so much more than their labels. Where they sleep should not define who they are, and I continue to ask myself where my place is in that. Though I cannot change how they see themselves I can try and show them how I perceive them.

Stories from the Street: Size Doesn’t Matter

This episode of ‘Stories from the Street’ is a little different, because it is not a verbatim story told by a street-friend. Instead, this is a description of a series of discussions.

Not every street-friend who participates in OIM’s programs is living on the streets, we welcome anyone who is street-engaged to participate in our programs. Last week’s ‘heARTfelt Thursday’ post talked about what some call the ‘hidden homeless’, individuals in unsafe or temporary housing. As well, we have many individuals who have housing through a program like OW or ODSP but are still struggling with poverty.

Greg, who loves coming each week to our Stop-In is quite a talker, so it has been easy to find some things we have in common. Specifically we talk a lot about our apartments. No specifics; we don’t know where the other person lives. Mostly we talk about our small spaces, how to buy in bulk so you save the most money, and how and where to store things so they don’t go bad. We discuss closet space, cupboard space, and how to live frugally but not have stacks of boxes up your walls.

I graduated from university and moved to Ottawa last year, so right now I am in my first ‘home’. Now, my apartment isn’t the biggest place in downtown, it is small and cozy with very little counter space. It certainly doesn’t look like something out of Homes & Gardens, but I am very proud of what I have done to make it my ‘home’.

This is an idea that Greg understands very well. We both live in small places that we are always trying to reconfigure to suit us best. He has given me lots of good ideas on how to make the best of my space, and I think he would make a great professional organizer!

The thing I love most about talking to Greg about his apartment is that he has a lot of pride in his space. I imagine it isn’t the fanciest apartment downtown, but he has obviously put a lot of thought into making it his ‘home’. I don’t believe we always need to be content with what we have; it is important to strive for better (not necessarily more). But, it is easy to get caught up in that mentality, thinking we deserve to ‘get’ something nicer than what we have. Greg has taken the time to take what he has been given and ‘make’ it better, and because of the work and creativity he has put into his home I think he has a kind of pride that others may not.

He has inspired me to care more for the space I have, and to stop telling everyone how I would do ‘this’ or ‘that’ in a bigger place. The fact is, I have a ‘home’ right now, one the suits me and my needs, and I should take pride in that. Not because I have something someone else does not, but because I have the opportunity to work to make a ‘home’ for myself.

Hard to believe, but 2013 marks our 25th Anniversary!

So much has transpired since Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward filled  a couple of knapsacks with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking boxes, and walked the streets seeking to come alongside those who were neglected, abused and in need.  Now, after 25 years we affirm  the faithfulness of God and His care and concern for people experiencing poverty and homelessness!

Here’s what happened last year: 5,000+ visits to our drop in program; 7,600+ connections on the streets; 2,700+ contacts with street-engaged youth; and with five full-time and two part-time staff we leverage our resources with over 100 current, active volunteers on the streets, at our day programs, and behind the scenes.  PLUS an additional 50 volunteers that help on us on an ad hock basis.  What an amazing God – that He would enable us to accomplish so much for His Kingdom!

From humble beginnings we now lead the City in the number of street outreach teams and are well-known for being the people that ‘touch the homeless’ with care and compassion: foot care, chiropractic care, touch care and volunteers caring and interacting with sincerity and love.  Amazing!

STAY TUNED for upcoming events to celebrate our 25th year!!

More beautiful for having been broken…

Recently Moira sent me something that she knew would intrigue me.  It is a picture of a piece of pottery that was broken and then repaired with gold or silver laquer.  It is an art called Kintsukuroi .  When a piece of pottery is broken, what is our first impulse?  To throw it out of course!  To us it’s a useless piece of hard clay now, no longer good for its intended use.  But this art is about taking something broken and making it repairing it ‘understanding that is more beautiful for being broken’.

We are all broken people and then God puts His gold repair on us and makes us more beautiful in our brokenness.  No need to pontificate…the picture says it all…

Where did He call home?

Have you heard the story about the little boy who shared his lunch with a homeless man?  The little boy had found the older man in a park and was so enthralled with this man’s beautiful smile that the boy apparently had no fear of him, sat next to him for an extended period of time and shared his bologna sandwich and cookies.  Later, when his mother had asked the little boy what he had done that day, the little boy answered, “Today, I shared my lunch with Jesus!”

Now, this is NOT a real story….I don’t think….but yet there is something so interesting in it that I’ve taken it a bit to heart.  It has made me think about the face of homelessness from Jesus’ perspective.  You know, when you think of it, Jesus was homeless through much of his life. Oh sure, he sounds as if he had a home growing up but once he went into ministry, he was effectively homeless.  Nowhere in scripture does it say that after a busy day of healing the sick and lame and preaching the good news to the masses, Jesus went HOME and spent a lovely evening in front of the fireplace, with his newspaper and hot tea.  Nope, not our Savior.  He “couched surfed”, much like the guys we serve here at OIM.  He spent time in the homes of people who could put him up for a night, or two.  Or, he laid his precious head down where he could….under a large tree maybe?  Or in a garden perhaps?  Maybe next to a city wall or other structure somewhere?

It makes me wonder a little…..what if Jesus came today?  Where would he sleep?  Shoved uncomfortably into a store doorway maybe?  A dark, smelly, dangerous alley perhaps?  Or, maybe a dirty recycling bin typically made for cardboard?  Would a little boy share his lunch with HIM?  Would you?  Would I?  Kind of makes you think a little, doesn’t it?  It should…..

-Erin

“I hope we’re the only ones with cold toes tonight”

Volunteering with OIM has introduced me to many new experiences, some sad, but most of them great! One defies categorization, however. That is, the desire to NOT see a dear friend. I mean, this is something that lots of people experience fairly regularly, if you’re having a fight with a spouse, or feeling guilty about what you said to a friend, you may try to avoid them, or hope not to see them for a few days, or something.

But say everything is going really well in a relationship – usually you want to see that person! And look forward to it! But some days, especially REALLY COLD days (of which we’ve been having a fair number recently) I find myself thinking: “Oh, I hope I don’t see Bob tonight.” Not because I don’t like Bob, but precisely because I do! But I want Bob to be someplace warm and safe, not out on the street. Sometimes, as an Outreach team, we find ourselves praying together before going out: “Dear Lord, I hope we don’t see any of our street friends tonight. I hope our sandwiches go completely wasted. I hope we’re the only ones with cold toes tonight. Amen.”

This is a small thing, but one more example of how poverty twists relationships: we shouldn’t be in situations where we find ourselves praying that we DON’T get the chance to spend time with someone we love.

-Jeff

The Longest Wait…

…for some of our street friends at least: from December 20 or 23 to the end of January.  It’s the longest time of the year to make your BIG $531 welfare cheque last – PLUS whatever you might spend at Christmas.  Right at this time of the year and this day of the month it is most difficult. You could almost taste the stress and anxiety at the drop in today.  Tempers flared several times, and one of our guests refused to leave when asked.

I hate when that happens. There is so much ‘stuff’ happening in our friends’ lives that they certainly do not need any additional woes: they are cold, wearing soaking wet running shoes, inadequate clothing for the weather, they have no one to talk to really, and no one to care for them.  They have no-where to go.  They really are just trying to manage themselves to get through another day.  No money. Some have on-going health issues. No home, for many.

Then there is a flair up with someone across the table – an altercation – with someone who is also experiencing all of those same troubles and with a short temper, and both parties get to take the ‘day off’.  ‘Day off’ means you can’t stay here today: I have to send you out into the cold, the wet, the loneliness and the cold concrete jungle of the city. What? Won’t go? Well if not, we have no choice but to call the police to escort you out – just for today sure, but that doesn’t mean much when ‘today’ is all you really have.

It sucks.

I know it has to be done – keeping peace within the drop in, showing respect for others, respect for what we’re doing, and on and on and on …  I know.

It still sucks.

-Ken

Turkey time!

The aroma of turkey and all the traditional trimmings wafted from the kitchen at drop-in this week.  Nothing says ‘come, sit and enjoy’ like a great turkey dinner! The temperature outside dipped to the lowest it has in 10 years, but inside the windows were steamed up and hearts were warm as we hosted our annual Christmas Dinner.  Close to 200 plates of hot savory goodness were served by 40 volunteers to our guests.  Each one served with a bonus smile. Thanks to everyone who provided the food items and the hands that served it.

Our special dinners are always a favourite for those who attend.  It’s an opportunity for our guests to enjoy a holiday meal and it’s a chance for those who don’t normally volunteer with us to come out and see what it’s all about.  You don’t need to be a regular volunteer to join us these days.  Easter’s coming…are you  in?

 

-Kim