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 3 – A repose in the midst of trouble

“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!

As soon as I turned 16, my friend’s mother invited me to live with them. It was a very emotional experience finally escaping my family once and for all.

It was a highlight of my life.

I remember laying down in the small bedroom that they let me stay in. They painted a nice cloud on the ceiling and they all were so very sweet.

At the same time, I was worried about how they might treat me. I had these panic attacks, with my heart racing and feeling like I was about to die.

I was confused emotionally, and scared, I guess.

My friends mom was very structured. She taught me about doing chores: doing dishes, laundry and all that. She never yelled at me, included me in the trips to the cottage, included me in all their family activities, helping in the garden.

They noticed that I was struggling with my homework, so they sat down with me at the table and helped me focus. I just wanted to write stories, but they helped me get through school.

 Living with my friend proved to be the safest time in my life that I have ever felt. My grades went from D’s to A’s. 

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.

 

Changing the Legacy of Youth Homelessness

How can we change the legacy of youth homelessness in Ottawa?

This is a complicated question with an array of possible answers.

Back in June, we partnered with A Way Home Ottawa and set up a table at Glowfair. We asked people to answer this question in just one sentence, and write it on a piece of cardboard.

Tons of people made signs and pretty soon our table was surrounded by cardboard. People had all sorts of great suggestions: more affordable housing, advocacy, community outreach… But of all the signs, the one that stood out the most was a sign made by a little girl, who was probably around 7 years old.

When asked how to help homeless youth she wrote: Love everyone. Every day. Every night.

love everybody sign

Yeah….I think that if we all took her suggestion the legacy of youth homelessness in this city would drastically change.

 

 

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Celiac on the Streets

Some people have a policy to only give food to panhandlers. Some even get offended if the panhandler rejects the offer of food. For these people, let me tell you about Sal….

Sal has struggled20160211_151618 with homelessness for 5 years. She’s 20 now, and finally has an apartment – but she’s still struggling to make ends meet. Her health has always been a challenge as she has experienced debilitating digestive problems. After numerous doctors’ visits and tests, she was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease – a hypersensitivity to gluten. I saw her on the street the other day and she was panhandling. She looked very thin. Since her diagnosis she’s lost about 60 pounds. With tears in her eyes she told me how hard it’s been to eat gluten free. Her small social assistance cheque does not leave her much for food so she depends on drop-ins and food banks – both of which generally offer cheap, gluten rich foods like pasta. She says lots of people give her food when she’s panhandling, but it’s usually donuts, muffins or sandwiches – all of which she can’t eat. But she accepts them anyways so as not to appear rude.

While it is very kind to offer someone food, it’s good to remember that giving people something like a gift card allows the person to choose what they eat. For someone like Sal, this can mean the difference between eating comfortably or not eating at all.

 

“What Am I Supposed To Do?”

Last week, I was doing outreach downtown when I came across Ben.

Ben is one of the “oldtimers” – one of several men who have been on the streets for decades. He was friends with all the oldtimers……Ed, Carl, Joseph…..all of whom have passed away over the past year. Ben says he’s one of the few left.

2015 has been a big year for him so far – he finally got housing.

His eyes lit up when he started talking about his new place. “It’s a huge one bedroom! I’ve even got a flat screened TV!”

But as he continued to talk about his apartment, his tone changed… “I don’t know what I’m doing down here….”

“I know I shouldn’t be downtown. I know I shouldn’t be doing this….” He showed me the bottle of rubbing alcohol in his pocket, “But I don’t know what to do. What am I supposed to do?”

Ben’s days used to be comprised of panning change to make money for a drink, and then sharing drinks with friends in the park. Then going to sleep, waking up, and doing it all over again. It may have been unhealthy, but this lifestyle provided 3 important things: routine, purpose and community.

Now he has housing – but what community? What routine? What purpose?

 

 

Shane’s Story, Episode 5: My Own Place

Shane’s Story is a 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!”

Listen to a part of her story by clicking the ‘play’ button below, then read the rest of her story in this post:

I got my place last spring.

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The door of Shane’s room the day she moved in. Notice the hole where the door handle should be.

I met this kid panhandling and he lived in the building. I told him I really needed a place. I told him I had a dog and really need somewhere safe and warm to keep him. He told me there was a room available in his rooming house. It was beside his room, and the place was really disgusting.  It was really gross. It’s a building full of bachelors, of addicts and dealers but that’s what you get. There were spiders, cockroaches, bedbugs – but there’s no house centipedes though, and I’m pretty happy about that. None! The room though was an absolute pigsty. There was grime to the point that I had to scrape it off with a knife. There was something that kept coming up off the tile that was really gooey and sticky. Really sticky. You had to scrub it off with hot water.  I don’t know what I was cleaning up there, but it was pretty bad. Once I got it tolerable, I put my stuff in there. It took like two weeks to get it at least decent. That’s like without cleaning the walls or without cleaning the window, or checking under the bed box to see what garbage is under there. I still don’t know. It’s a secret (laughter). The underneath of my bed – I don’t want to know. (laughter)

It’s weird sharing a shower and a toilet with like 20 other people. They pee all over the floor. I have to wear my shoes into the toilet, you have to take toilet paper with you and bring it back with you.

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The floor of Shane’s room.

I’m paying $470 for a tiny little infested room that’s not even up to code. Like one of my windows is not really a window – it’s a board with a nail holding it in place. I had to make my own ‘fixes’ – they wouldn’t put caulking under the box for my bed and the bugs were crawling in and out of there. ‘No, don’t do that to me. I don’t want bugs near my bed’, so I finally got some white duct tape and taped it. They (landlords) don’t really do much.

Bedbugs? Oh yea. Landlord only sprays one room at a time, so each time the landlord sprays one room, the bedbugs that survive just over to the next person’s room. He sprays that room and they crawl upstairs to where it’s safe. They just keep going. We just push them around really. I’m waiting for the time they push them back into my room, ‘cause I’m highly allergic. My face will swell and it’s bad. I had to go to the doctor a couple of times, and get hard core allergy medication.

They’re not in my room now. I had to go out and buy powder that’s safe for animals. I put that on the floor around my bed, and if they come in, they’re dead.

You brush it into the baseboards, and if they try to get in there and hide, they die. It’s pretty bug proof.  Cockroaches though, I don’t know how to get rid of them. They just keep comin’. From my dresser too- I don’t know why ‘cause in there there’s only clean clothes. They’re not in my pantry though. Not even a nuclear bomb will kill them.

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A swollen bed bug bite on Shane’s arm.

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.

The Hidden Homeless

 hidden homeless

Hidden Homeless: People who are temporarily crashing with friends, relatives or others because they have no where else to go.

I have been doing outreach several times each week for nearly three years. So, I’m familiar with most of the youth downtown. If I don’t know them by name, I at least recognize their faces.

Last week at art group, I saw a new face. His name was Patrick, and he said he was 17 years old. Why haven’t I seen him before? I wondered.

He told me that he’s been homeless for about 6 months now. He grew up in Kanata, in the suburbs, but he can’t go home…he wouldn’t say why. He tried the shelters, but they scared him. So he was “couch hopping”, crashing anywhere he could.

Patrick is considered one of Ottawa’s “hidden homeless”. He is not who most people think of when they think of the homeless: i.e., a man sleeping on a park bench. Instead, he looks like your average teenager who blends in with the crowd.

After just a few years of doing outreach, I have seen a change on the streets of Ottawa: there are less youth sleeping in plain sight on the streets. While this may seem like a positive thing, it’s not. Youth tell me that over the last several years, the city has made it more difficult for them to sleep outside. So, they are forced to “couch hop” (sleep on friends floors or couches). Not only can this be dangerous (many youth are victimized when couch hopping), it also makes it harder for support services and outreach workers to find them.

How do we help these youth if we can’t find them?

When I asked Patrick how he learned about the art group, he told me that he heard about it from other youth. He made the effort to seek out support. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of Ottawa’s hidden homeless youth are out there, hoping that someone will help them.

“We therefore cautiously estimate that there are 3 people who can be considered ‘hidden homeless’ for every one who is in an emergency shelter and/or is unsheltered…..As many as 50,000 Canadians may be ‘hidden homeless’ on any given night”

–          The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

Housing in Ottawa: What we don’t see…

When Laura arrived at art group, she was excited to share her good news–she got her own apartment!

After a year or so of couch hopping, she finally had her own space. It was a small room in a rooming house, but she didn’t mind. She was just excited to have a space to call her own.

housing 2This excitement faded quickly the day she moved in when she saw that the repairs the landlord had promised to do before she moved in had not been completed….or even started. In fact, the room had not even been cleaned. She took pictures of her room on the day she moved in, and I was horrified by what I saw: holes in the wall, garbage and dirt on the floor, a hole where there should be a door handle, tape holding the door together….Certainly not a place where anyone would feel SAFE. 

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But the worst was yet to come…..bed bugs.

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Laura arrived at art group with welts all over her body. She says her room and mattress are completely infested with bed bugs and the constant biting makes it hard to sleep.

This is the reality of housing in Ottawa. There is just simply not enough affordable housing in this city. And youth like Laura are forced to take what they can get.

How do we expect these youth to thrive when they do not even have somewhere safe to sleep?

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful thing about Laura, is that she continues to look at her future optimistically. She is not letting this experience hold her back.

Check out the beautiful painting she was working on last night.

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I’m constantly amazed by the strength and the resilience youth like Laura show.