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

 

 

Kindness

A few months ago, a new person walked through the doors of the drop-in.

He was friendly but seemed very cautious. He asked a lot of questions….as if he wasn’t sure if he could trust what we were up to. So I showed him around and tried to give him some answers. I offered him coffee and invited him to sit with some others who were playing cards.

About an hour later, he came to find me again. His demeanor had completely changed – he looked happy and excited.

“Did you see those women washing feet? I can’t believe that!” (He was referring to our foot care volunteers, who wash and care for the feet of our street friends.)

He said he wasn’t used to seeing this level of kindness –just a few days before he had been released after spending several years in jail. Jail was rough, and kindness was rare. He said he couldn’t believe the kindness of the volunteers at the drop-in.

The very next week, my new friend brought in 3 handmade dream catchers – one for me and one for each of the foot care volunteers. He said he wanted to extend kindness back to us.

Since then, my new friend has attended drop-in every week. He always arrives with a smile and offers to lend a helping hand.

dreamcatcher

Here is a photo of the dream catcher he made me. A reminder to me of how meaningful kindness can be.

 

Eric’s Journey, Episode 3: Drugs Owned My Life

“Eric’s Journey” is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button belowFollow along all month to hear this amazing story! 

 

Eric Continues His Story. . . 

eric5

Eric in 2011

“Drugs were the biggest part of my life. Everything revolved around drugs. Panhandling for money for drugs. Stealing for drugs. Doing whatever I could to get more drugs. They owned my life.

Drugs messed up my life. I had some part-time jobs and was able to have an apartment for a period of time but I lost my job when I didn’t show up for work. I had a couple of homeless guys living with me at the time who had no other place to go. We did drugs together by I ended up losing me place every time.

I didn’t’ really deal drugs very much, but I connected people with other people (drug dealers) and that helped me out a bit.

I spent some time in jail. I don’t have a big criminal record for anything really; sometimes I used my brother’s name instead of mine when I was pulled over by the police. But all of my criminal activity always revolved around drugs and more drugs.

Then while panhandling, I met some people on the street that really helped me lot. They invited me to come to an art program. I used to do art all the time when I was a kid. Some of my stuff was pretty good.

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Eric at the P4Y art program in 2009

Yeah so when these outreach guys invited me to come to the art program, I said yes. Well, it took awhile but finally I went.”

Coming Up on December 14th –

Episode 4: Something happens in

Eric’s life that changes EVERYTHING . . .

 

 

 

 

 

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click “Donate Now”. Thanks!

Sam’s Story

SAM

 

Sam is a street artist who I met several years ago. He created the beautiful work of art above.

I asked him  to do a wood burning workshop with the youth from the art group. Sam shared his story with the youth, and we were all blown away by what he had to say. Sam gave my permission to share his story here, but he asked that I use his real name. He wants people to know his story and what he has learned. 

 

Sam grew up in the Land of Nanabijou (Sleeping Giant), Fort William First Nation. His childhood was abruptly disrupted at a young age when he was taken from his mother and his Ojibway community and placed in St. Josephs School for Boys. He spent 5 ½ years in this residential school, where he was subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The trauma he experienced at this school was unthinkable, and as a result, he suffered from horrific nightmares during his adulthood. These nightmares could only be silenced by alcohol, which led to 45 years of addiction. He spent time in prison and then ended up on the streets of Ottawa. He said that during these years on the streets he harbored anger towards his abusers that was slowly destroying him.

He thought that by bringing his abusers to justice his anger would vanish. But even after testifying in court and seeing his abusers sentenced, the anger persisted and the nightmares continued.  There were many events that transpired that led to Sam’s sobriety…hitting rock bottom and nearly dying, losing friends to addiction, building a relationship with an Elder, re-embracing his spirituality and Ojibway culture…

But Sam stressed that the most important thing was letting go of the anger he was harboring and offering it up to the Creator.

When he made the decision to quit drinking, he prayed to the Creator for protection. He asked the Creator to keep negative people away from him while he was withdrawing and most vulnerable. He said that during these few days of heavy withdrawal, he was shaking uncontrollably. He held a pencil in his hand and with every shake he would draw a stroke on the paper. He said that focusing on the pencil marks helped him forget about the withdrawal.

The Creator answered his prayers: he has been sober now for 5 years.

 

 

Caution: P4Y Poetry

The Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program was fortunate enough to have Bruce Narbaitz come in and do a slam poetry workshop with the youth. Many of the youth had never tried poetry, and some were nervous to share their poetry with their peers. To be completely honest, I was nervous to give slam poetry a shot too! It’s an intimidating thing to get up in front of people and share poetry.

But Bruce made everyone feel very comfortable. He placed some objects on a table: a sleep mask, a toy Chewbacca, a piece of police caution tape, and a pirate flag.

He encouraged everyone to take 5 minutes and to write anything about one of the objects.

The results were absolutely amazing.

Check out one of the youth’s poem that was inspired by the police caution tape. This youth is commenting on how she feels about her interactions with the police while panhandling.

 

poetry

 

Choosing Compassion

compassion quoteIt’s not uncommon for the youth I work with to tell me about the negative experiences they’ve had with police officers. Most of the youth deal with police on a daily basis, as police monitor the downtown core, discourage loitering and dole out tickets. I’ve heard so many stories of mistreatment by the police that unfortunately I’ve actually become quite jaded towards the police and I often expect the worst from them.

Last week however, one of the youth was in a crisis situation so I made the decision to call 911. Two officers arrived and assessed the situation. The circumstances were complicated (mental illness, homelessness, addiction etc.) and there was no easy solution. Both officers expressed their frustrations to me, grieving about the “system” which often fails to help the youth, leaving the police to deal with the consequences. They told me that there was not much help they could offer to this youth, that their “hands were tied”.

Once I heard that phrase, I expected them to leave. But then one of the officers did something that surprised me: she spent the next 2 hours with the youth, trying in every way possible to help. She listened to her, empathized with her, offered support and advice and even advocated for her.

This officer could have left the situation once it was no longer a crisis. But instead, she made the decision to help as much as possible. And this made all the difference. This youth, for the first time in her life, has now had a positive interaction with the police. This is a big deal.

And I realized something: in the helping profession, whether it’s policing, social work, the medical field…we all get jaded and frustrated with the system. We all feel like our hands are tied and we have no control over the situation.

And sometimes that’s true.

But, we ALWAYS have control over the compassion we show. We always have a choice to act with love.

I said it was a complicated situation with no easy answer.

But maybe the answer is compassion, and that’s not that complicated at all.

No compassion or care for the mentally ill at the Ottawa Hospital

I have known Skye for 3 years. She was one of the first street-engaged youth I met while doing outreach. I remember our first meeting fondly: I was still new, and somewhat terrified, and she reached out and was incredibly welcoming and kind to me.

But when Skye came into my office on Friday, she was not the same kind and gentle youth who I had come to know. She was having persistent and overwhelming thoughts of hurting herself and others. The thoughts she was having were scary and disturbing and she was worried she would act on them. We talked about the different resources she could go to, but within moments, I could tell it was too late to make an appointment with a counselor.

Skye was having a mental health crisis and she needed immediate help.

She agreed to go to the Civic Hospital emergency room but she was reluctant to go alone. She did not think the doctors would take her seriously, as they have refused to help her in the past. I agreed to go with her for support.

hospital hallwayI assured her that she would get some help, and we would not leave until she felt safe.

I was hopeful when we were directed right away to the psychiatry department. The psychiatrist introduced himself and asked to interview Skye alone. I told her I would be just down the hall if she needed me.

Within 2 minutes, I could hear Skye screaming. I ran towards the interview room and saw her violently banging the furniture and walls. She was screaming because the psychiatrist had told her he was calling the police due to the violent thoughts she was having. Skye, like most street-engaged youth, is terrified of the police. She was screaming and punching herself in the face. I calmed her down, reminding her she had not broken the law so she would not be arrested. She calmed down and we waited for the police.

 

The police arrived, and did a brief assessment of her mental state. Skye told them about her violent and suicidal thoughts. The police then spoke privately with the psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist came back to us, and explained that he believed the best course of action would be for Skye to do an outpatient program at the Royal Ottawa Hospital: First, a program to deal with her addiction, and then a program to deal with her mental health issues. The programs sounded helpful, but Skye expressed that she could not wait until Monday for the program to start. She needed help right away.

“What if I kill someone tomorrow?” she asked the psychiatrist.

“Well, that might happen.” replied the psychiatrist.

I was absolutely shocked by his response.

“You are responsible for your actions and you need to take responsibility for them” he continued.

“That’s why I’m here, I need help! Why won’t you help me?” Skye yelled. At this point, Skye was furious and left the hospital to go cool down in the parking lot.

I then spoke with the psychiatrist. I explained that I believed the programs he recommended would be helpful for Skye, but that she needed more immediate help. The doctor proceeded to list off his several years of experience and education, and assured me this was the best course of action. I stressed that Skye was still expressing that she was going to hurt herself or someone else, and how could he not admit her for that?

He told me that if she hurts someone, that would be a police matter.

I argued with the doctor until I realized that he was not going to change his mind. Although I’m sure the doctor believed he was helping Skye, how could he let her leave after admitting that she was at risk of hurting herself and others?

When I got to Skye who was in the parking lot, she was still upset. She was pleading for the police to help her, even going so far as to ask them if she stabbed herself, would they help her then? The stunned police officers had no response.

I assured her that together, she and I would create a plan for the weekend in order to keep her safe until she could enroll in the Royal Ottawa program on Monday.

Before leaving, the police said “If you are in trouble tonight, if there is an emergency, call us.”

This is an emergency, I thought.

So we left the hospital, with Skye still feeling unsafe in her own body.

I left thinking: Would this have happened if Skye was not an addict? Would they have taken her seriously if she was not street-engaged? Would they have treated her differently if she didn’t have piercings and tattoos?

I have always believed that if a youth is having a mental health crisis and nothing is working, the hospital is there to take care of the youth and to ensure their safety. This belief has been completely shattered. Instead, it seems that we have a system that is more interested in intervening once damage has been done or a crime has been committed, rather than listening to the pleas of a young woman, desperate for help.

The Small Things

Someone gave me a gift of money and instructed to help someone. Nothing came to mind immediately so I tucked it away- and took it out again when Jesse called me from jail.  Not a friend in the whole world, although Jesse has been just about everywhere.  Chronically homeless, he finally got a place some months ago, and his place was secure as it was paid immediately through Welfare.

I bought him a pair of jeans, underwear and gathered some other stuff from our donation pile.  I had $15 left, and knowing that Jesse would never have anyone give him any money for tuck, deposited it in his account.  I didn’t have an appointment so we could not visit, so I dropped the stuff off and left.

Then I got the letter.

Here are excerpts:

Hi Ken. Thank you for everything you did.  I was surprize with the cloth and picture… You Didn’t have to leave me money. you. God Bless… Say Hi to everybody for me. Your pray save my life… thank you for Helping me out, when I ask you went out of your way to bring me the thing I needed.  I was so surprize, Happy (Tears) came Rolling down my  Face.  the Guard ask me Jesse you (OK) I say I am in (Heaven)… you are my Best Friend who care you go out of your way and I thank yo. You Best Friend (Jesse)

No big deal for most of us… but these small things, thoughtful gifts, acts of kindness make a lasting and significant impact on the lives of our friends (even Best Friends!).

Question: How has a ‘little kindness’ you’ve done, make a lasting impact?  Briefly, tell me about it…

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. 

Stories from the Street: Caged

Greg arrived at the Tuesday Drop-In looking tired and angry. He had a rough look to go with a tough demeanor. I hadn’t seen him before, and picked him out of the crowd right away.

I sat with him and introduced myself. He seemed happy to talk, and told me he recently got out of jail. Greg had been sentenced as a young adult and since has served 30 years with some of Canada’s most notorious criminals. He talked a lot about jail and what it was like inside.

I assumed he was excited to be out of jail, but he said he didn’t feel that way at all.

“That place killed all of the joy that was inside of me. I died in there.” Greg said, “I feel like I was crucified in jail—like I was nailed to the wall. Now I need to heal. I need to pull out those nails and let them heal.” It is a painful image, and a reflection of the struggles of a young man caged for most of his life.

I asked him if there is anything, even something small that brings him joy.

He said “Nothing. Well, except the zoo. I’d like to go to the zoo. I love animals. I’m done with people, but I love animals. I’d like to work with them and take care of them.”

It is nice to see a glimmer of hope in this man. I know that jail can be difficult on a person, and it really changes you, so it was inspiring to see even a little spark in the darkness.

 

~Moira

OIM Staff