Searching for Affordable Housing

You would think that in a city like Ottawa, when a vulnerable citizen faces a crisis and loses their housing, there would be a system in place to support him in finding affordable housing.

And there is. But the truth is – the system is flawed.  

Take Jack: a young man in his twenties with a history of trauma, family conflict, homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. He has worked hard over the past five years I’ve known him to make positive choices like getting sober and finding legitimate employment.

This summer, he lost his housing. He was devastated by the prospect of starting over again. With no family support, and not wanting to enter the shelter system, he opted for staying outside.  

I worked hard with him to find housing. We applied for the Social Housing Registry, YMCA monthly housing, the Salvation Army Housing Response Team and any other housing wait lists we could find. Each time, Jack was put on a list and told to wait.

Every day, he spent hours searching for housing online or went to agencies that specialize is helping with housing – but there was very little he could afford. Even the bug infested rooming houses were often out of his price range. 

As the months went on, and it began to get colder, Jack grew more desperate. He even questioned if he should go back to selling drugs so he could at least afford a place to live. My heart broke when he said “No matter what I do, I’m never going to get ahead.”

Jack is by no means an outlier. Over 10 000 households are on the Social Housing wait list this year, waiting an average of 3 years, with many waiting much longer.

Jack never heard back from any housing wait list.

But there is hope in this story – Jack did find housing. He found it on his own. It’s expensive for what it is – a small room in rooming house, but at least it is safe and warm. But the hope is not in our housing system, but rather the resilience of young men like Jack, who persevere despite a painful past and a flawed system.

Making a Difference In The Midst of Adversity – Is It Possible?

Every time I do street outreach in downtown Ottawa, I can’t help but notice the constants. Like the difference between those who are blessed with “enough” and those who aren’t.

I see it each Sunday night in the stylish clothes some people wear or the cars others don’t have. It’s visible in their health or sickness. It’s in their expectant or distant gaze.

Affluence in Ottawa abounds. We work hard and from a “world” perspective, deserve this. It is apparent in the streetscapes of the neighbourhoods we visit in the downtown core. Walking purposefully north from the office on Bank Street to Sparks Street, over to the Market and then back along Elgin we see the imposing, manmade landmarks; great buildings old and new. Our parks are pleasant places to rest and take in the abundant fresh air. In the evenings at least, the streets are quiet and clean. Ottawa is a world class city. It abounds with hope and a prosperity.

But from a spiritual perspective, things are not always so positive.

There is much strife on our streets and we see it every week. It, too, is world class…

In spite of this, I love going downtown in the fall. We start before the sun sets and end after dark. The vibe doesn’t change; just the ratio of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ alter as the night marches on.

The trendy restaurants are full during the dinner hour but afterwards, while the bright lights still shine throughout the downtown core, people begin to flee open air events like the light shows and canal cruises. Stores close and tired workers escape to the relief of their homes.

But the homeless have no home other than the streets we find them in. Our street community is diverse and reflect a variety of circumstances. There are two happy and informed 62 year olds who I have come to know separately, who never complain and are joyful in our conversations. We frequently meet youth on Rideau Street who are similarly outgoing, but often in various states of sobriety. Then there are the despondent who can’t seem to grasp the severity of their situation nor seek adjustment to it. The more difficult ones are those who suffer from the unkind effects of psychological disorders. They share a common home and often a similar future.

Last Sunday night my young colleague and I sat down beside a woman seated on a curb in an Elgin Street parking lot. She was obviously in a saddened state, bent over crying. She had two plastic bags on the ground beside her, stuffed with clothes that she may have had to rescue in an attempt to escape an unfortunate social situation.

We spoke to her compassionately, telling her we were “outreach”, asking how we could help but to no avail. She wouldn’t lift her head from within her cupped hands nor acknowledge our extended hearts. All we could do was leave her a sandwich and a bottle of water with the good news that “Jesus loves you”.

My accomplice and I are both blessed with happy, healthy homes to go back to at the end of our short shift on the streets. But as we hang up our red vests we are easily reminded that our friends are not as fortunate.

However, we believe that, through our small effort, we leave them in the love of Jesus Christ and continue in the hope that there be a positive change in their lives.

Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer

 

 

The Bob Series: Marginalized survivors

Note:  To protect the identity of the people I write about, I have chosen to use the name ‘Bob’ in the following piece…

All of the people I share with you are real men and women. Friends with hopes and dreams and all the same desires shared by us all. As a result of some extreme circumstances or mental health issues, their lives have been marginalized to that of outcast in our society.

When we look at those experiencing poverty and homelessness we tend to fit them into a framework and think they have earned the place they have in our culture. It helps us to justify the favour and blessings in our lives.

Yet  God does not see anybody that way. He sees all people through the eyes of the cross.

Namely, who they can be, at their fullest potential, the bride of Christ, clean pure and amazing. We should look at all people through those same eyes of love and then apply action to support them with our time, our prayers, and our resources. I have up to now and will continue to share with you stories about “Bob,” attempting to paint a picture of the incredible resilience and ability there is in the human spirit to survive.

I started this blog with, these are true stories about real lives, of men and women and youth with all the same feelings, desires and dreams that we all have. So remember, as we look at our street-engaged community we need to engage, and also remember that the cliche saying “there but by the grace of God go I”. This may be more of a reality than we care to admit.

Rick Ojala, Staff

 

*To see more from the series, click here to see part 1, part 2, and part 3.

 

 

 

She is Not Unknown

 

You see her every day on your way to work. Usually she is sitting at Tim Horton’s or resting on a bench.  She is hard to miss – a small woman, probably less than 100 pounds – wearing many layers of clothing which make her look even tinier. She is small but strong; carrying several bags as she walks quickly down the streets. 

You have heard her mumbling to herself, or occasionally yelling at nobody in particular.

One day, you don’t see her at the Tim Horton’s.  As the weeks pass, you wonder where she has gone…is she safe? Has anyone else noticed? You worry about the fate of this unknown woman.   

But she is not unknown. 

On the streets, she is known as La Petite Joanne – a kind and generous woman. She often shares her money with panhandlers and offers them her food. In turn, others on the streets look out for her and protect her.

By her family, she is known as Jocelyne. She grew up on the East coast, one of 10 children. She graduated high school and went on to become a secretary. Her career brought her to Ottawa, where she worked on Parliament Hill. She was proud of her work, and her family was proud of her too. It’s hard to imagine this woman, the woman muttering to herself on the streets, working for the federal government on Parliament Hill.  But that is how swiftly and drastically schizophrenia  can change a life. Her family remained loving and supportive. Although far away, they spoke to her often, visited, provided financial resources and attempted to get her medical care.

One day, her family received a call from Jocelyne. She was in hospital after having some health issues. During that call she recited the Lord’s Prayer with passion…

“Notre Père, qui es aux cieux, que ton nom soit sanctifié…”

Days later, they received word Jocelyne has passed away in hospital. They brought her back home to the east coast, where she was mourned by those who knew her as sister, aunt and friend.

Indeed, she was not unknown or forgotten.

At the funeral, the eulogist beautifully articulated this by saying “I am absolutely convinced that God knew Jocelyne….and I am equally convinced that she knew Him.”

At OIM we knew her too. And we shall miss her.

 

Moira, Youth Outreach Worker 

A Place of Third Chances

With his long, white flowing hair pulled back in a ponytail, Simon walked into our drop-in and back into our lives, eager to “give back” as he put it. As Simon explained, he had been released from prison and was getting his life back together. Estranged from his ex-wife and with a 14-year-old daughter to raise, Simon did not want alcohol or his past troubles to hold him down…again.

That’s because this was his third time around.

Having taken the next steps to go through an alcohol treatment program and transition into a community living facility with employment-readiness training, Simon was finally looking forward to the future. “My graduation from the treatment program is tomorrow,” he beamed. “I was up at 5:30 this morning writing my graduation speech – seven pages so far!”

Simon’s sense of accomplishment was evident.

But so was his desire to move forward. “I need to stay busy. I want to get a part-time job and to start volunteering at OIM.” We were happy to welcome him, to come alongside him in his journey back to health and stability. “You guys were there for me when I needed it,” he told us, “and now I want to give back.”

It was gratifying to know that Simon felt welcomed at our drop-in (not an easy thing for ex-offenders to find in any community, as you can imagine). But, there he was, helping us set up, serve lunch, and tear down at the end of the day.

He was in a place where he felt welcome to start over (again).  And while the road to stability is not easy, often paved with setbacks and disappointments, giving ourselves – and others – permission to make some mistakes along the way can make all the difference.

 

Jelica, Staff

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: Somebody see me

Welcome today to my third blog. I find myself again wanting to continue our “Bob series” (part 2, part 1). Next month I think I will interrupt this adventure, and connect some dots. It is of critical importance that we see Bob’s tremendous value that equals our own.

I wanted to share today about a gentle soul that I have been blessed to serve on several occasions. Bob has never responded to me except to speak with the eyes or a nod of the head. I don’t know what mental health issues or traumas are at play here but when I see Bob, I pray for the wisdom to look in Bob’s eyes and know what treasures are hidden there. I always feel an emotional tug when engaging Bob. I feel I have the opportunity to carry a very fragile and expensive piece of China for a brief moment and I want to do its value justice. I never want to dismiss or take for granted that here is a child of the King and there is no limit of the time and resources that should be shared regardless of the return that I might receive. It is humbling for me to be around Bob because I can so easily be in the business of serving people and forget to see the one. Jesus talked about leaving the 99 to search for the one lost sheep and “carry” it home.

Those who serve and those who support OIM are the ones who allow for these precious and valuable moments.

I pray that God will use me to show his overwhelming love for Bob that comes with no strings attached. I also pray that God will soften Bob’s heart enough to let someone inside and represent that overwhelming love that comes with no strings attached.

Rick O, Staff

 

 

One evening, while on street outreach…

Earlier in the day at church I prayed for increased spiritual closeness to our street friends. Wow, was I rewarded!

Later that evening, my young street outreach partner and I met 52 street friends. They represented all facets of this diverse culture; those just trying to get by, those seeking secure and comfortable housing, those on disability and those suffering with addictions.

A former “hooker” hugged me while we were ministering to someone and told us both how OIM has positively influenced her life.

Later, a middle aged unmarried couple asked for prayers for themselves and also for the man’s son who was also present. The couple expressed their love for one another and inquired as to how they could be married by a minister.

We had several open and friendly lifestyle conversations with young adults living on the edge and the fringes of society. One young woman confided the food we provided her that night would preclude her from shoplifting and its inherent dangers!

We prayed with others and were both inspired by the rewards of our work for The Kingdom that night as never before. In fact, I believe my outreach partner, who is new to the city and looking for meaningful ways to help the under privileged, felt the Holy Spirit’s presence that night and was re-invigorated by the experience.

 

Peter T, Volunteer

 

 

 

A Humbling Experience

Recently, a few of us were talking about people we had met through the drop in and where they were. I talked about John, a man that I had met over 15 years ago when we ran our drop in out of another location downtown. John was a homeless man who had his challenges being homeless with mental illness issues. He was a flamboyant individual, colourful, always had an opinion and was willing to discuss any current topic and extremely political. (If he could have found a way to control his mental illness, I do believe he would have made an attempt to become a politician. But that is another story.)

John’s colourful dress reflected his mood and his outlook. I had once told him he reminded me of a peacock because he always had feathers in his hat and he was brightly dressed. I didn’t mean it as an insult and he didn’t take it that way. It sparked a friendship that has lasted many years…

During Christmas of 2005 my father died, predeceased by mother in 1994 and both in the month of December which makes the period of Christmas hard for me.

In May 2006 I am outside the drop in and in a real depressed mood. We had just put dad in the ground and I am dealing with a lot of emotions; guilt, everything associated with the loss of your last parent. With no close family nearby to talk to I am isolated, with my only siblings in British Columbia. John comes up to me pushing his grocery cart filled with his worldly possessions and sees that I am depressed and asks me what is wrong and I tell him. No one else has picked up on this, or if they have they haven’t asked.

He leans over and very quietly says to me, “I have been there brother. I know exactly what you are going through. I am here for you if you need to talk.” He reaches out, squeezes my shoulder, looks me in the eye and something passes between us that can’t be expressed in words. Tears flow and I mumble ‘thanks.’

Every week I give up my time for the homeless, the marginalized, to support them. And, here, it took a homeless man to recognize my pain and hurt and to provide me the one thing I needed: unconditional love. I was humbled, I was loved and I learned a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Love comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. We just need to learn to recognize it and accept it.

 

Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

It’s the small things in life that matter

We all look for opportunities to share our love with those around us, to reach out and make a difference, to make a conscious effort to touch someone’s life in a special way that will make a lasting impact. We look for the big things, the major events that will change, have a profound effect on someone’s life and many times we miss the little things, the simple events because they are mundane, unimportant, and not glamorous.

But it is the mundane, the everyday events, that can have the biggest impact.

My role at the drop-in is that of a greeter. Some say it is a waste of time; others look forward to talking to me every Tuesday when they come in. It is a role I enjoy and I have met many interesting people, built relationships that have developed into more than casual friendships.

One of those relationships has developed into a closer bond with a gentleman who has had a hard life. His past is filled with ghosts that haunt him, that threaten to overtake and destroy him. He stands alone pushing everyone away, yet a couple of weeks ago a simple act of kindness became a common thread, a common bond, caused him to breakdown and hug me. We talked, he shared some of his past for over half an hour and I gained a better insight into his struggles. I can’t explain what happened, other than by following the Lord’s prompting He opened the doors and for a brief moment “Paul” found someone who truly cared for him. We hugged, we wept as God blessed both of us. It went beyond anything either of us expected.

We are His messengers, we carry His Gospel to those who have been abused, used and trod upon. They have heard it all. If we want to reach them we need to live what we believe, not just preach it. They are not invisible, they are important and not only do we need to repeatedly tell them they are important we need to show them.

Do you have the courage to ask God to use you?

 

Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: A Mighty Man Hidden

I trust you are enjoying our little get-togethers. I find myself again wanting to share with you about a friend named Bob. (As I will always share, for the sake of anonymity, everyone in this series of posts will be named Bob. This will be my standard opening, so I trust you will be patient with me.)

Back to “Bob.”

Bob is a wonderful guy. He’s articulate, engaging in conversation. He presents that air of an intellectual, but not stuffy or arrogant; just genuinely interested in conversation that goes deeper than the weather. I have sat and talked with Bob several times, and enjoy our conversations very much.

In honesty, I am still waiting for the opportunity for our conversations to get personal. Not just theological about Faith and Christ, but where trust and opportunity will present themselves in time. The reason I am mentioning Bob here is that I truly wonder what set of circumstances has brought him to the place where access to a self-sustaining life is limited and the need for support is high.

We are so fortunate at OIM to be able to support and come alongside our friends like Bob.

As for Bob’s life, with many trauma survivors their ability to guard and protect themselves is highly developed, so he has only shared small bits of that part of his life with me so far. In appearance and conversation though, Bob would fit very comfortably within any social environment. He also applies action to words: whenever he sees that I need help with drop-in duties I don’t need to ask. He just steps in and lends a hand. Bob’s heart and desire to contribute and make a difference in life is evident, even though we run into the big “BUT” that drowns his potential. Bob is quite a paradox and I am genuinely blessed to have met him. I pray also that God brings a revelation of Christ into his life because Bob has so much potential to give and impact the life of others.

Rick O, Staff