Who’s really asleep here?

As I write this, you should know that I am really, really angry!  I am angry as I witnessed and was even an unwilling participant of inflicting yet another injustice on one of our less fortunate.  Less fortunate, yes.  Less fortunate because he becomes so easy to pick on, to blame, to push out of the way, hide somewhere where we, the general public, don’t have to see him.  Hide him somewhere where we don’t have to see his poverty, smell the stench of his pain and suffering so that we can walk by, not knowing, not caring.

Harry was just sleeping.  Of course I knew that he shouldn’t be sleeping outside of OIM’s office door.  I knew that it might upset someone, someone who might prefer not to see him there, might feel that it would be better if he slept somewhere hidden, but really, who was he hurting?  He wasn’t hurting anyone and it’s not like he can go home to sleep.  Home to sleep behind the garbage cans in the back of the office building or in some store’s doorway somewhere.  So, he slept, next to our office door, waiting for our drop in to open.  He wasn’t hurting anyone but he bothered someone and I got the call to wake him up please as he’s bothering me, him sleeping outside your office door.

Harry didn’t like to be woken up and he was angry, angry at the injustice of it all but he left his “comfy” sleeping spot, groggy from lack of sleep and went outside, away from eyes that really did not want to see him, did not want to acknowledge his poverty and pain.  Instead, he went outside and promptly fell asleep outside our building door, on the sidewalk, amid the cigarette butts and spit but not out of sight of the general public and the injustice of it all.

So, instead of sleeping inside, he slept outside – still in view, still in need, and still a commentary on our inability to look after the most vulnerable.  Maybe it’s time that WE woke up.

The Mundane Is Extraordinary..

“Do you have room for one more?”

It was the end of the day at our drop-in and I was getting ready to clean up the foot care station. I was tired. I had been there for four hours cleaning and massaging feet of all sizes, shapes, and conditions. And yet I was drawn to this disheveled, but gentle old man. “Of course I have room,” I replied. His eyes sparkled with gratitude. I proceeded to fill the foot basin with water, Epsom salts, and soap. He carefully removed his worn shoes and dirty socks. He looked ashamed as he revealed his soiled, foul-smelling feet. I pretended not to notice.

Then he soaked his feet and we began to talk.

I do not recall that our conversation was particularly meaningful or deeply personal. We exchanged pleasantries, mainly. We shared a few stories about our lives. We talked about the weather (how typically Canadian!). We discussed our mutual love of animals, too. After about twenty minutes or so – after his feet had been cleaned, massaged, and clad with a fresh pair of socks – I thanked him for coming. As he got up to leave, he slowly turned to me and said, “y’know, I was not having a very good day, but I just wanted you to know that you have turned my day right around!” I smiled and told him that I, too, had enjoyed our conversation. It was not until I arrived home later that afternoon, however, that I allowed myself to receive this simple, yet powerful gift of gratitude.

I have yet to understand, fully, why this interaction has stayed with me these past five years. And while I have learned much at OIM, one thing stands out above the rest: God seems to delight in using the most ordinary, routine, even mundane, acts of service to do some extraordinary work.

 

Jelica

God knows what we need..

I can’t help but feel a profound sense of sadness and tragedy some nights during outreach.  But, once in a while you stumble upon an individual who truly inspires and humbles you in the face of such “despair”.  One such individual I have seen on a rather consistent basis in the past month, and he never ceases to inspire and reaffirm the greatness of God.  “On one hand,” he tells me emphatically, “On one hand I can count the number of times, in the last five years, when I have been hungry.” Amazed, I am pretty speechless at this point in the conversation.  This fellow then goes on to give all the glory to God, Who he says (correctly I might add) will provide to those who ask with a sincere heart.  A rather jolly fellow, I always look forward to chatting with him; I have since come to realize that God is most certainly among our street friends, giving them all that they need.  “The difference,” he goes on “is that we may not always know what we need, but God does.”  Leading a simple yet humble life, this street friend demonstrates how little we need to be faithful and reverent – two qualities God very much adores.

Kevin

The bright shining key

Well, it wasn’t exactly bright and shining.  It was more like a dull and well-worn silver key, but the glow that came off the face of our friend Danny made it shine like the my grandmothers newly polished silver.  Danny has been trying to find housing he could afford for a very long time.  The week before at stop-in, he was waiting for news about an apartment that looked very promising.  He was just waiting for the landlord to give the final approval.  He was pacing in the office, he simply couldn’t sit still because he was so anxious and excited.  We prayed with him that the answer would be positive and that he would be able to stop sleeping on the streets.  When the doors opened at drop-in last Tuesday, he bounded up to me waving his key all the way down the hall.  “I GOT IT!!!!” he said.  He was wearing his key around his neck and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the pictures I’ve seen of athletes when they wear their medals around their necks.  I joined in his excitement and asked him what he needed now to set his place up.  He could have said ‘everything’, but he only mentioned one thing.  He wanted a clock.  He said that when he wanted to know what time it was he had to go outside and find someone with a watch.  How incredibly simple…he just wanted to feel home…

-Kim

Love and Respect

Some of the most down to earth and insightful exchanges I have are during outreach with OIM.  Week after week I stop with my fellow OIM volunteers to chat with people with diverse backgrounds and histories.  To us it doesn’t matter where they came from, or where they may be headed; the point is to be there for them in whatever way they desire.  If they want to chat, we lend an ear; if they need something to eat, we give them some food; if they don’t want anything, we move on.  At OIM we aren’t there to judge, but to do what God has called us to do, and that is to love others as we would ourselves.  We are there to give a little bit of respect to people who perhaps deserve it more than people think.  Day in day out they are scrounging, facing judgment, being humiliated, ignored, and sometimes flat out disrespected.  Once you get to know our street friends, you might see that they deserve a little more than what they get.  Being blessed, God gives us the privilege to go and deliver the love and respect that He so readily offers to everyone.  And of course without fail, I see God forge true friendships between volunteers and street friends time and time again – not surprisingly.  Praise God!

Kevin

Where everybody knows your name

Community: We all crave it. From adults to children, men and women, CEOs to stay-at-home moms, we all want to belong or at least find a place ‘where everybody knows your name.’

And yet for all our desire to create community, our society is becoming increasingly fragmented. We resemble less a community than a collection of individuals consumed with blazing our own trails, not bothering to see who or what we’ve left behind.

There is an unlikely group of people, however, that are real role-models in reversing this trend: our homeless and street-engaged friends. Marginalized, ignored, forgotten, they are society’s original ‘displaced persons.’  And yet, their communal deprivation from the mainstream has been the very thing that has propelled them to prioritize community while living in the margins.

“We are not here for the food,” John explained to me one day at our drop-in. “We are here for the friendship.” It was our first day at our new drop-in location and we were running 10 minutes behind schedule for lunch. I made the announcement to our guests, apologizing profusely for the delay. After informing our guests, John approached to reassure me. Looking out into the crowd, several others looked my way, smiling encouragingly and confirming John’s words. These were the same individuals who scarcely got by on the meager resources they had; the same people who sifted through our donated clothing each week searching for that one item that may just fit; the same ones who desperately needed one of the free chiropractic, touch and foot care services we offered each week. John cocked his head at me that day, looking at me inquisitively, as if to say, “Did you not know?”

Friendship, not food: This is how community begins. This is where God’s love reigns supreme.

Jelica

“Heroin Saved My Life”


“Heroin saved my life.” Not something I ever thought I would hear, let alone, believe.

One of the youth in the art group said this to me last week. He was talking about trauma he experienced as a child and how it led him to severe depression. Things got so bad that he was considering taking his own life. That was when he got into drugs. The drugs gave him an escape, or at least temporary relief. Using drugs also gave him something to do, even a sense of purpose. For the past several years, heroin has distracted him from the suicidal thoughts that plague his mind. So in a way, I understand what he means about heroin saving his life.

But this thing that he thought saved his life then, is now killing him, now, and he knows it.

Now he is desperately seeking a place to go for rehab.

Sometimes we see addicts on the street, and shake our heads thinking “How can they do this to themselves?”  But how do you give something up that has been keeping you alive?

–       Moira

Joy was all over her face..

She wheeled the stroller into drop-in.  It was a bitterly cold day and the bundle inside the stroller was barely recognizable…But WE knew who it was!  Since we have known Gladys, she has been talking about gaining full custody of her granddaughter who was in the foster care system.  She and her husband are housed, receive a pension and were fighting hard to get three year old Amy back.  They had a lot of hoops to jump through, but they did it and as she walked into the drop-in a couple of weeks ago, Gladys could barely contain her joy.  Once she was freed from the confines of her snowsuit, Amy mirrored her grandma’s big smile and said that she got to live with grandma and grandpa ALL the time now!  She talked non-stop about how much she loved being with her grandparents and how happy she was.  This couple doesn’t live high-off-the-hog, but they have a lot of love to give this little girl and she has a lot of love to give back.  We count ourselves blessed to be a part of their support system!

Kim

Who gives more?

“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.

Thoughts from Jeff…a member of our Wednesday outreach team

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.