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.

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.

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: The Saga Continues…

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – The Saga Continues…, click the play button below:

Week 12, and the only word about Kurk’s Baptismal Certificate is, “It’s ‘in the mail’.”

Kurk has not been back to the drop in – totally understandable. He did stop by the office and paid us back the $30 for his Verification of Status inquiry.

This battle of bureaucracy is not yet complete: we need the Certificate of Baptism (Birth Certificate) and then start the process of application for ‘Verification of Status’ and proof of Canadian citizenship. Then we need confirmation of Citizenship, and then after these pieces of identification, we can begin the process of application for Old Age Pension and Superannuation.

  • Week 20 – after calling <Europe> several times, we discover the Certificate of Baptism was received by the Embassy in Ottawa. As soon as we found out, I drove Kurk downtown and we were able to pick up his official Baptism Certificate.
  • Week 29 we received Kurk’s ‘Verification of Status’ which is a critical piece of identification. Waiting now for Confirmation of Citizenship.
  • A request for confirmation of CPP and OAS on received on Week 31
  • We are now in Week 40 (Christmas week) and are still waiting for Kurk’s Citizenship document.
  • AFTER we get this final document, THEN we can apply for both Kurk’s backlog of eleven months each of Old Age Pension and superannuation. Then we’ll change his address to his new apartment, and pray that he does not have to go through this ‘Identity Maze’ again.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Interact:  How do you think you would cope after 40 weeks (and then some) of waiting for your citizenship documentation? How would you cope, homeless, alone and with no family supports?

Hear Kurk in His Own Words Here:  A Homeless Vet’s Journey – In His Own Words – episode 8

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 8

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 8, click on the play button below:

The letter with updated information for Kurk’s account for CPP was faxed by Catherine McKenna’s (MP Ottawa Centre) office on Week 6 and two weeks later, with no mail, and no news on his CPP, I called McKenna’s office to follow up.

I was becoming quite frustrated with this process by now, the bureaucracy and all the red tape, and I wondered how I would hold up in this process if it was MY CPP cheque that was not forthcoming.

Kurk told me in fact, that he had given up. He was done waiting. He was in a depressed state, and in serious trouble. On several occasions by now, Kurk had spoken to me about taking his life, considering himself not worth the effort. This was very disturbing to me, because I sensed he meant it.

Here is the response from McKenna’s office on Week 8:  “I just called CPP about the case, they had a mix up on their end and had changed the address but did not send out the cheque. They have now corrected that and are sending it out now. He will receive the retroactive amount plus the most recent payment. This month’s payment will come at the end of this month. I am sorry about this, it is very strange as I have called several times on this file to make sure things were moving.”

Kurk made seven trips (over several months) to Service Canada before we took up his case with Catherine McKenna’s office.

The Time Line: the date of the initial fax from McKenna’s office to Service Canada took place on Week 5; the second inquiry on Week 8.

I received a letter from the Government of Canada and delivered it to Kurk on Week 9.

We sat in my car and Kurk cried when he opened the letter. Through tears of joy he said, “I would never, never have this unless you helped me. Thank you. Thank you.”

The contents? A cheque for several months of back pay from Canada Pension Plan.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Interact:  Finally, a breakthrough for our friend Kurk! Imagine if you were Kurk, homeless and finally seeing that small silver lining – after 2 long months of waiting! What feelings would you be experiencing in that moment? How would this impact you?  

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 7)

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 6

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 6, click the play button below:

When we spoke with Monica at Catherine McKenna’s office, she realized that there were some pieces of the puzzle where even she needed help. (!)  She asked us to accompany her next door to Yasir Naqvi’s office, Member of Provincial Parliament for Ottawa Centre.

Kurk and I did so, and met Jessica who was most helpful. Fortunately Kurk had memorized his OHIP number and relayed this information to Jessica. She agreed to look into Kurk’s case and see what she could discover.

Our visit was on Week 4, and on Week 6, she sent an email with an attachment of a temporary, but valid, OHIP document. This is THE FIRST PIECE OF I.D., and it’s good news! (There is no photo, so it is limited, but it works for health care!)

A note was attached to this document, “Mr. Kurk cannot convert to a photo health card until he has an original citizenship document.”  This means we can use this with the immigration application in place of one of the pieces of ID (in theory at least).

Also, on Week 6  I received an email from Cathering McKenna’s office that reads as follows: “Service Canada has received the change of address letter and the cheque for a retroactive amount of CPP is due to be reissued and sent out shortly”.

Finally, some good news!

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Please leave a Comment: It seem to be one thing after another for our friends on the streets. Imagine how difficult this would be – entitled to money that is rightfully yours, and then wandering homeless, wondering when, if ever, there will be some action taken on your behalf. Have you ever experienced this kind of long-term bureaucracy? Would you consider making a special Christmas gift to help us continue our outreach in the downtown core? Thanks for your support!

 

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 6)

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 5

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey, click the play button below:

We drove downtown and found the location of the Embassy. We were given a piece of paper with instructions on how to obtain a baptismal certificate.

With all the fandangling and hoops that we have had to negotiate, it was a sure relief to at last find something straight forward and simple!

Here are the instructions from the Embassy: “For a copy of your <Europian> birth certificate please contact the church where your birth was registered. If you do not have that information, please contact the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs in <Europe>. Make sure to include all the information you have about your birth.”

Finally! Some concrete help!

Kurk could not remember the town or parish where he was baptised, so we called the telephone number listed on the helpful sheet of paper from the Embassy in Ottawa.

The first number, the one listed, did not help. They redirected to another number.

(Note 1: It is a six hour time delay between Canada and <Europe>

Note 2: It appears that the parish offices are operational only for a few hours a few days of the week.

Note 3: Surprise! <Europe> parishes and offices speak <Europian>! ALL answering machines in <Europian> only).

This number, when I finally got through, directed me to another number. When I found someone who actually spoke enough English to give me some help, he just said, “No.”

I thought that he did not understand my request, so I politely reworded. Again, he said, “No.”

Hard to believe. I tried a third time to explain the dilemma that Kurk could not acquire any monies until he had two sources of identification, one of which was the birth certificate in question, and once again said, “No,” and promptly hung up the telephone.

Another number and, of course, I was redirected to yet another number, where finally we found the parish where Kurk was baptised, and after listening to our request, they informed me that they would send an email with the copy of the Birth Certificate, to the Embassy in downtown Ottawa.

Eight weeks later, we are still waiting…

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Comment: The ‘waiting’ part – let’s consider that for a moment. Waiting for Kurk is very UNlike any waiting that most of us have done. Kurk is now living ‘in the rough’, on the streets, sleeping in doorways out of the wind (when possible) – and he is 70! He moves during the day from program to program – all the while he is eligible for money that is his due. Not welfare or Ontario Disability, but Canada Pension, Old Age Pension, and superannuation – all of which he has earned and every right to! The clock ticks on…

Would you consider making a special Christmas gift to help us with our Street Outreach program? We are there seven days a week, connecting with those in need. Thanks for your support!

 

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 5)

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 4

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 4, click the play button below:

Monica, from Catherine McKenna’s office, invited Kurk and I to her office to talk about how they might help.  Upon hearing Kurk’s story, Monica immediately confirmed that Kurk should be receiving his money from CPP. She promised to make a call.

Given that his bank account had been frozen, Kurk and I had agreed that he needed to provide a new address that would guarantee the safe delivery of his money from CPP. We did this and Monica said the money should come without any problem, probably within a week. Kurk and I completed the change of address forms and Monica faxed it to Service Canada.

We quickly discovered that Kurk’s complete lack of id was still a major problem.

In order to receive his Old Age Pension and his superannuation, Kurk would have to provide proof of citizenship. Two applications would have to be completed: first a ‘Verification of Status’ and second, a confirmation of Canadian Citizenship. Kurk had no identification, not even a library card. Nothing.

He was and is a Canadian citizen, and has served his country in the military, but there was no proof. Proof of identity is needed in order to access his two other sources of income (Old Age Pension and Superannuation).

When he gets his proof of identity, Kurk is eligible for eleven months of back pay from both Old Age Pension and Superannuation!  He will be able to sustain his own apartment when he achieves this goal!

We talked about the possibilities, and since Kurk had immigrated to Canada when he was ten, we thought we could contact the <Europian>  Embassy here in Ottawa, and find out how to obtain a copy of his birth certificate.

Kurk gave me written permission to act in his behalf.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Comment: Kurks’ journey is complicated by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (from his time in the military), and this is a challenge for him, along with the challenges of trying to navigate the ‘system’. He is 70 years old, a Veteran, and in need – and this is just the beginning of the journey! Would you consider giving a gift to help us continue to reach out to those in need this Christmas? Thanks for your support!

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 4)

 

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 2

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 2, click play below:

Taking Kurk aside, I asked him about the money that the government owed him. He told me that he was owed money from Canada Pension, Old Age Pension and Superannuation.  He said that they had frozen his bank account and he was not receiving any money, and in fact, had not received any money for over two months.

I was not sure how to proceed with this, so I picked up my phone and called my friend, Ron Petersen from McMillan LLP, and passed the phone to Kurk. After 40 minutes Kurk returned the phone to me, and Ron told me that Kurk did not need a lawyer, but suggested he might get some help from Catherine McKenna, Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre. I phoned McKenna’s office immediately.

Monica, from Catherine McKenna’s office was more than helpful as she listened to Kurk’s story and offered to help. We set up an appointment and started the process of Kurk’s claim.

Kurk had lost all of his identification in a fire in 2013. All of it!  He never had the where-with-all to have it replaced, for any number of reasons: capacity, money (it costs to replace identity), and support.

He was staying at the Salvation Army shelter. His bank account, where once he had been receiving direct deposits from Canada Pension Plan had been frozen. I eventually found out why: Kurk had tried to access his account on a number of occasions from different ATMs to see if his money had been deposited. Each inquiry cost $3.  So, because he had a negative balance of $21 ( seven inquiries at $3 each), his account was suspended/frozen, and the deposits stopped.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Imagine if this had happened to you, what do you think you would do?

What would you do if your were in Kurk’s position? A homeless veteran with absolutely no support, and no resources.

Please leave us a comment below. 

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 3)

 

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 1

For the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey click play below:

Kurk had served several tours of duty in the armed forces, serving his country, and some time ago we learned that  he had also been a mercenary. He suffers from what happened in war, and suffers now from Post Tramautic Stress Disorder. When he needed help there was none – no counselling or support to help him recover. He carries this pain and his suffering.

You can easily tell when Kurk is at the drop in. His big booming voice announces that he has arrived – no doubt about that!

He had become more irritable in the past several weeks: he spoke loudly about the injustices of the ‘system’ and how people just were not treated right, and how he really should not ‘be here’ as the government owed him a significant amount of money.

One  drop in day, Kurk was so upset that he was yelling at someone who cut in front of him in line, and yelled that you can’t expect anything more from ‘these people’. It may have been the contents of the food hamper that day, or someone had actually cut in front of him in line, or maybe just that he really didn’t belong here with all these other people. Usually it doesn’t take too long for complaints about the government to arise: the government was withholding money from him that was rightfully his!  They had even ‘frozen’ his bank account!

His voice had risen beyond the level of disruption, and I watched as Jelica walked over to Kurk to calm him down. There was a brief interaction, and Kurk finally settled down. In the midst of their conversation, he said something like, “… AND I HAVE BRAIN CANCER AGAIN…”

I later spoke to him in the hallway, alone. He told me that he had been through two previous episodes of cancer, and this third recurrence caused him serious concern. His eyes welled up with tears and he cried when he told me that his cancer had returned. He continued to cry as I offered a prayer to God for help.

Note: Today there is help for those who return from war and suffer from PTSD. This has not always been available to our veterans and they suffer terribly. ADD to that the challenges of not having a place of your own, and it’s not too difficult to imagine that life will look pretty gloomy, to say the least.

Interact: How might you cope under similiar circumstances? Where would you go? Who would you talk to? How could you manage?

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 2)

 

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.