Above and Beyond

wednesday team

Wednesday night team on the first snowy night of the season.

When OIM staff pack up for the day and lock the doors at 4pm, we know that OIM’s day is not over. Each evening, a team of volunteers will come in and pack up the outreach wagons, and then venture out onto the streets to connect with people and provide much needed supplies. 

I’m in the office several evenings each week for our youth programs – so I’m lucky enough to cross paths with many of outreach volunteers. What I’ve noticed is that many of our volunteers do special and thoughtful things as they pack up their outreach wagons.

I get to see Rose, as she packs a small zip lock bag full of tea bags for Larry, who appreciates this gesture each week.

And Jess, who made sure to buy Halloween candy when it was on sale so she will have treats to hand out.

And Doug, who brings a thermos full of hot chocolate on the really cold nights so he can offer a warm drink to our friends.

And Laura, who writes down the name of every person she connects with on the street, and prays for them by name when she returns to the office.

I feel honoured to witness these acts of love. We are so lucky to have such kind and dedicated volunteers who go above and beyond each night. As the winter approaches, pray for our teams who go out no matter the weather. And pray for the folks they meet on the street, that they may feel the love the outreach volunteers have in their hearts, and they may find safety this winter.

The 52-Hertz Whale

Have you ever met someone who is just amazing at remembering names?

That person who you met once 3 years ago, who remembers your name as soon as they see your face. And you feel bad as you frantically skim your internal Rolodex trying to remember their name.

the-whale-2464799_1920That’s Ash.  Ash remembers everyone’s name. Even people she briefly meets. She often remembers details about them too. “Yeah we met that one time last year. You were wearing a red sweater and we talked about the election.”

“How do you do that?” I asked her once.

She shrugged. But in the next breath she said “No one ever remembers me. So I just want to make sure I always remember other people.”

Ash only shares snippets from her childhood. But these snippets show a lot of trauma.  She told me once “I grew up feeling like a consequence…the result of my mom’s bad decision. I was bounced around between relatives. And they always made sure I knew what I was – a consequence.”

She did not have loving, supportive people in her life. In fact, she had a lot of people in her life who actively hurt her. 

Yet she makes an effort to treat people with respect and love.  She greets people by name, with a smile and usually a hug.

“I don’t think anyone would blame you for completely giving up on people. But you haven’t – that’s pretty incredible.” I said. 

“Have you ever heard of the 52 hertz whale?” She asked me – I shook my head no.

“You know how whales communicate with each other using sounds frequencies? Well there is this one whale that has a frequency of 52 hertz. It’s the only whale in the ocean with this sound. So no other whales can hear it. It’s called the loneliest whale because it swims around all alone because no other whales  can hear it.

Sometimes I feel like that whale, like I’m destined to be alone. But then I watched a documentary on it. And even though it’s been alone all its life, it keeps calling out as it swims around the ocean. It keeps looking for other whales who can hear it. It doesn’t give up. So I guess I’m like that. I haven’t given up.” she said.

Sometimes when I meet with a youth I feel like I am meeting with a wise elder who is teaching me valuable life lessons. The resilience in Ash is astounding, and her willingness to connect with people despite what she’s been through brings so much hope in a world that is often so disconnected.

 

 

Mandala Workshop

“Mandalas are an ancient artistic technique used in many cultures around the world as an aid to understanding who we are as individuals and as part of the universe around us. The inside of the circle represents our inner world and the outside represents the outer world.” 

This was the perspective that local artist Claudia Salguere from MASC Ottawa brought to Innercity Arts, where she recently led a workshop on mandalas. Claudia led a calming and meditative workshop, giving each participant identical instructions. Two things struck me by the end of the night: the first, was how peaceful the energy in the room was during this exercise as everyone was focused on their mandala. The second, was how different each persons mandala was despite being given identical instructions and materials. We laid out each mandala at the end of the night and were amazed at the diverse approached each artist brought to the exercise. Thank you Claudia! 

 

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Larissa’s Journey: Life On My Own – Homeless On The Streets

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

homeless on the streets

I don’t remember when I left the shelter. It just was not working for me. I got a boyfriend, and we slept outside together. We were on the streets for about a year.

The pattern was that I would sleep outside in the spring, summer and fall, and go to a shelter for the winter (usually, although there were some winter nights I would be outside). Each time I went outside I’d be sure to have a new boyfriend. It was not safe to be alone.

Life on the streets is different. Everything you knew before, all your survival skills are not enough to survive. You have to hope that someone will have pity on you and give you money, or one of the drop in centers you go to during the day will have everything ready for you. For example, if the showers are not available, you are not showering.

To be able to have food, water, and safety – which can mean being around the right people – that’s the survival skill, along with camping skills. You have to be able to camp to survive outside or on the streets. How to start a fire, what to do on a snowy night when you’re outside (you can die in your sleep from hypothermia), how to find shelter (I’ve slept under a bridge where it’s the most freezing cold place ever) or just sleep along the side of the road. Freezing to death was one constant worry. In the summer, I’d worry about sleeping somewhere and maybe someone with a knife would find you and there is such danger.

I was homeless for four years, and on the streets for three.

We went to drop ins during the day: we made the rounds to all the drop ins, ‘Out of the Cold’ programs, and any place warm wherever we could  stay for a while. Free food was very important.

I got jumped once, and got beat up badly. I did not call the police because the girl that beat me up sometimes let me sleep at her place.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares her experiences first coming “Off The Streets.” Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Teen Years

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on-air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s JourneyNo more foster homes would take me. No more group homes. I had aged out. They asked me where I wanted to live. Since I had always wanted to live in Ottawa, I chose there. They dropped me off at the young women’s shelter, and left me on my own.

I didn’t feel ready to be on my own, but it was a rush – at least at first.  I was so new to everything. At the shelter I could go out whenever I wanted (in group homes you weren’t allowed to do this), and I felt like a free bird. After three weeks though, things were very different.

I had freedom yes, but there were also responsibilities. Before the shelter, anything I did, I got a slap on the wrist, and told not to do that again. Consequences came at the shelter. Anything you did wrong, you had to answer for it and deal with it. It was terrible to be an adult. At sixteen I was forced to be an adult, and I wasn’t ready.

My clothes were always stolen by other girls. I was a bit smaller than everyone else, so tighter clothes on the other girls was very popular. I watched them in my clothes, and I felt like crying. Some of those clothes had memories.

At the shelter, for example, I learned that you couldn’t share a toothbrush. Hygiene was different for me too. I really didn’t know how to look after myself. I still don’t know some things. I don’t do dishes. I used to fill the tub with hot water, soak the dishes in the tub with ½ tub of bleach, and you let them soak. When you can pull them out and there’s no food stuff on it they were ready.

When I was about 16, I went to see my mom, and found her Percoset and OxyContin pills and my mom was doing crack. I used those drugs for about one month before they almost killed me. Every step was like almost floating on clouds. I felt like I was on a big marshmallow. I couldn’t feel the ground under me

I went home to the kitchen and dropped.  I went to the hospital for a couple of weeks. I almost lost one of my kidneys. That was the end of drugs for me. 

I was at the shelter until I was seventeen. I left when I was banned and was homeless.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares what it was like to be living on her own, homeless on the streets. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

When the Streets are Safer than Affordable Housing

Homelessness andAffordable Housing (2)“Honestly, sometimes it was easier living on the streets”

You may be surprised to learn that I have heard this been said many times. Today, it was said by Sarah – a young person in our art program.

Up until a couple of years ago, Sarah was living on the streets and things were rough. But that all changed when she discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner made the decision to raise their child. They searched for housing and eventually found something affordable with a landlord willing to rent to them.

Since then, both of them have changed their lives dramatically and they put their child first.  They are the thoughtful, dedicated and loving parents to a one year old. They are also working hard to complete their schooling, and both are involved with community advocacy.

But it did not take long for there to be issues with their apartment. Issues like it being unbearably cold in the winter, extremely hot in the summer, serious pest issues and much needed repairs, including water damage, being ignored by both the landlord and bylaw. The apartment does not feel safe and causes the new family endless stress. 

“Things are supposed to be easier when you get housing.” Sarah told me, looking completely worn out.

But the truth is – there may be “affordable” housing in Ottawa – but it is not always safe. So families like Sarah’s, who have no other option but to live in this housing, are victimized by landlords.

Sarah and her partner have been trying for months to find a better apartment. But their limited income, combined with prejudiced landlords who refuse to rent to them make it nearly impossible to find adequate housing. They need a break.

Until then, it is Sarah and her partner’s resilience and resourcefulness that make me confident that they will persevere. But I can’t help but feel angry at the system that keeps them victimized, even in housing.

Every Life Has A Story

We see and hear a lot as we serve in this ministry. And although we’ve come to expect that everyone’s life story is unique in its twists and turns, that expectation does not prevent us from experiencing surprise or sadness at hearing it.

 

One of these uniquely complex stories involve a gentleman by the name of ‘Jim.’ I have been blessed with the opportunity to help him as he tries to navigate the social system. Difficulties with speech and social skills have opened the door for us at OIM to advocate on his behalf and I see that he is so very pleased that we take the time to listen as he shares his thoughts and ideas.

 

One day while in conversation he started sharing about life in jail. I was really caught off guard as he talked because I just could not equate his gentle and pleasant demeanor to someone who had spent time in jail.

 

I was actually moved with sadness at the thought.

 

You find yourself with certain individuals wishing you could protect them from the harsh realities of their lives. It is always a good thing that you can be touched by someone’s story and not become numb to the lives our street friends live.

-Rick, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

 

 

Lost, but not forgotten

Double digit forecasts are just ahead as spring casts aside all thoughts of the harshness of freezing rain, below zero winds, and yes, big galoshes and snow shovels. All will soon be lost to the recesses of storage sheds and to memory…

Life is like that at times and people somehow seem to end up in the dark recesses of memory and disappear behind the urgency of the lives that are in the forefront of the current battles.

Kris and Gus come to mind as many of those in this category. They were once at the forefront of the urgency of the seasons of their lives. Struggling with inadequacy and self worth and pains that were buried so deep an excavator could not unearth them. One day they disappeared without a syllable said as to their whereabouts. I have not seen them, but can only hope that they are well.

Not every story ends with a wonderful testimony. It is the reality of what we do here at OIM. But it does not mean that I do not think of them every now and again or pray for their well being.

Please take 30 seconds over the next 30 days to support Kris, Gus and many others who like them have been lost in the deep dark recesses of life. Pray that while yet there is light of day that God, “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)” will meet them where they are.

-Lloyd, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

 

 

All that we have

We get the most random requests at the office.

I have been asked if we had the following items from different people who have come to our door at different times. Things like:  pens, garbage bags, aluminum foil, forks, folders, light bulbs, notepads, calendars, paper clips, boxes, triple A batteries…Things that I take for granted and would never think are needed on the streets. But, for some, they are needed. And when someone asks and we have the item, the look on their face is priceless. It’s as if they’ve struck gold!  It often makes me wonder how long they have been looking or asking others for this ‘simple’ item. While we are known as an agency that provides immediate felt needs – food, clothing, toiletries – I am glad that we are also able to give ALL that we have (including office supplies 😉 ).

-Gaby, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

Building Relationships On The Street

Building relationships with those experiencing poverty and homelessness is a cornerstone of our ministry. So when I have the privilege of getting to know someone on a deeper level, I count it a real blessing.

One of those individuals who I have met while on street outreach is “Bob.” Bob has been living on the streets for many years. I count it a blessing that he seeks me out for conversation. I know that Bob lives in difficult circumstances as he carries his entire life on his back with the occasional reprieve when he can find a safe location to hide away his belongings.

We have some very interesting conversations as Bob’s outlook on life is quite unique. Bob, though, never gets angry or refuses to listen when I discuss Jesus and the topic of religion. In fact, we could all take a lesson in manners and upbeat, positive behaviour from him. I know some of the difficulties of Bob’s life and, yet, he still always manages to show a smile, crack a joke and share something encouraging. It warms my heart to see it. Bob has, in our more intimate conversations, told me that he admits to having a dark side, but most of the time he can push it aside and find a glass half full.

I am truly honoured to know my friend Bob and count it a privilege to share the love of Jesus on the streets.

-Rick, Staff

 

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs including a permanent location for our OIM Office as of Aug 1 .

Thanks and God Bless.