Word from the Drop In

Speaking with Brent at the drop in last week, I discoverd he had an aptitude and interest in writing.  I asked him to write about our Wednesday drop in and describe from the front lines, what it was like.  Without editing, here is his report:

One of the best kept secrets amounge people of limited income, who live in Ottawa, is the Ottawa Innercity Mission’s (OIM’s) Wednesday Drop-in. I have been a semi-regular at these drop-in’s since before they took up residence at their present location. I will try to explain here most of the reasons for my attendance at this particular function..

 The drop-in is held every Wednesday year round at their new location on Gladstone Ave. between Bank and Kent streets.in the Salvation Army Church building and easily accessible by several OC Transpo bus routes. It is free and open to everyone who cares to attend. I like to attend because of the relaxed atmosphere which is well organized, clean, well maintained and usually quite quiet and very well run. Although OIM is a Christian based organization, there is no lectures, chapel services or religious readings at these drop-ins. The people who attend maintain an atmosphere which is quite controlled, friendly and easy going. Staff members and volunteers mix freely with the patrons. There are several aspects to the program throughout the day which I will explain here.

 The door is open at at 10:00 am and the entire building is utilized. The first 25 people through the door are offered food bank tickets, which I will come to in a moment. On the lower level coffee, tea, milk and juice are available all day. At opening time there is a selection of breads, muffins, cookies and the like (breakfast) available. People gather in groups to talk, play cards or other games, read or just generally socialize. It is a great place to meet old friends or make new ones. At noon a hot meal is served at the tables and there is always enough food that seconds are regularly offered The volunteers serve up the food and everyone is encouraged to eat their fill. After lunch is served the volunteers and staff usually circulate throughout the room offering a selection of sandwiches and some type of desert. Promptly at 1:00pm one of the staff members begins to call numbers for the food bank offerings and groceries are distributed in an orderly fashion. Many people stay on to chat, socialize and play cards until 3:00 in the afternoon.

 On the second level there is a barber who, on a first come first served basis, will cut your hair for free. Rudy usually does between 12 and 15 haircuts throughout the day but he does take the summer months off. There is also a foot care clinic there where you can get your feet cleaned and once dried you will receive a new pair of socks. A chiropractic doctor is available afternoon for those who need his services.

 The third level of the building has a room which offers a selection of used clothing and footwear. This is quite popular first thing in the morning as that is when selection is best. If you can’t find what you want, come back again next week as there are always new offerings available.

 All in all OIM runs a great, fun, safe and much appreciated program. I would encourage everyone of limited means to come out and participate in a great weekly event. It is well worth the price of admission. 

 Hope this meets your needs.  I will get the other article bout the good samaritan written this afternoon or evening.  I am making preperations to get away for the weekend so am very busy.  Cheers.

Brent

 If you would like to read Brent’s article about the good samaritan, let me know by responding to this blog.  Cheers!

100% Success Rate at OIM!!

 ‘So what kind of success rate do you have with people?’  I looked at this person while a whirlwind of thoughts raced around in my head, almost like the dog chasing his tail.

My friend was thinking there might be a 3%, or maybe 5% success rate – where a person who lives in abject poverty, on the streets, ‘recovers’ and breaks the cycle of poverty, gets a job, an apartment, a family and all the other trappings that accompany the ‘Canadian dream’.

My mind flashed to people that I knew on the streets: people that had been sexually abused for many years as children and who had articulated these abuses only after living with them in silence for over 20 years;  I thought of others who were trapped in the dark cycle of drug and alcohol addiction which started as self-medication to deal with the beatings received from father, mother, step-parent or whoever; then of the teenage girl who brought her new born baby to the drop in for help, looking for someone – anyone who might show her real love, because in her experience people had only used her as if she were a piece of meat, a commodity that could be sold, rented or used.

All this raced through my mind in just a few seconds, with my friend waiting for an answer to his probing question.

‘One hundred percent,’ I replied, ‘We have a 100% success rate.’

His mouth dropped open in disbelief.  ‘What??  How??’

‘Each time we hand out a sandwich, or sleeping bag, or pair of socks, we build relationship with people who have never had relationship before.  It brings someone a step closer to a time when a light will come on and they will make better decisions and life choices.’

Some agencies count their ‘success’ by the number of plates served at a shelter or drop in (not withstanding that many folks will have five helpings!), or the number of people who attend a chapel service in order to receive a meal ticket, or the number of youth who will participate in a ‘project’ so as to make them eligible to receive services.

We count the number of positive interactions we have with our street friends at our drop in services or on the street through outreach.  It’s all about relationship (and 100% success).

NEW!! Chiropractic Care at the Drop In

Just a few weeks ago we initiated chiropractic care at our drop in.  What an amazing outreach!

Dr. Greg Payne from Ottawa came to us last fall and offered his services to our guests at the drop in.  He took our Urban Intervention Training, and just a few weeks ago, he came with his portable adjustment table and a heart to serve the poor.  Calm and unassuming, Dr. Payne spends time with each of our street friends who are suffering in their bodies, and makes appropriate chiropractic adjustments.

What a hit!  Our street friends have warmly accepted the treatments and the kindness of the good doctor.  More than ‘treating patients’, Dr. Payne genuinely cares for each of his new patients.

No hassles.  No appointments.  No penetrating ‘interview’ about the history of each injury.  No fees.

I sat and watched for three or four of the treatments. Dignity, respect, compassion and help are the mainstays of this new development at Ottawa Innercity Ministries.  When things slowed down somewhat, I took time to visit with the doctor and noticed the sign up sheet had two columns: ‘New patients’ and ‘Returning Patients’.  Interesting that the ‘Returning Patients’ had more names – probably about twenty-eight in all.

Words of appreciation warmly spoken.  One man just could not believe that he could feel so much better immediately after his first treatment!

Some of the participants moved right from the chiropractic table over to the Touch Care area and enjoyed a relaxing light back massage.

I marveled at the beauty of it all: people sharing their gifts and talents and abilities with those in need.  At the other side of the room, two volunteers were doing foot care and Rudy was faithfully cutting hair at the entrance to the room. 

We have been given so much.  When I see how others ‘Pay it Forward’, it strikes a chord deep in my own heart.  It just seems so just, so right, so good to pool our resources and do what we can to change our own, and others’ worlds.

How do you think you could do your part, with your own gifts and talents?  Call me.  We can talk.

One of our Kids – at the art show

The first time I met Kaylin she was on street outreach two years ago. I noticed her sitting on the sidewalk on Bank Street with a torn up hat placed in front of her and holding a sign that said “Anything would help, even a smile”.

I noticed that Kaylin was crying. When I asked her what was wrong she said that I group of tourists came up and took out their camera to take a picture of her. She asked them not to take the picture, but they ignored her and snapped the shot anyway. Then, without a word, the tourists just turned and walked away.

Kaylin felt humiliated, as if she was not a real person, “…just part of the scenery”as she says.

 Since that day our relationship with Kaylin has grown much closer and last year she joined our youth art program. She really didn’t want to paint because in her words, “I stink at painting”. She decided to make jewelery instead. At our first youth art show people were astounded at her beautiful creations. Encouraged by these compliments Kaylin showed up for art group the next week and said “I think I want to try painting now.”

It’s been  5 months now, and Kaylin shows up faithfully every week and pours out her heart on the canvas.  In fact, she has painted more pictures than anyone else in the group.

She arrived early to help set up the tables and the paintings for our second youth art show just last week. As we were setting up one of our staff asked Kaylin if she was excited about the putting her art work in the show. She said that she was happy but also very nervous because she did not think that anyone would be interested in coming to see her work.

“It will probably only be my mom who comes and that’s it”.

When we opened the doors at six o clock there was already a group of about 15 people waiting to come in. Within the first 30 minutes the room was filled with people who were amazed at the creativity displayed by the youth in the program. 

I looked at Kaylin and she had a big smile on her face, “I guess it’s more than just my mom” she laughed. 

By the end of the night we had over one hundred people who attended. The highlight of the night for me was walking out to the garden area we had displayed some of the art work.

Kaylin was standing next to one of her paintings and she was surrounded by visitors. When I moved closer to hear what Kaylin was saying I realized that she was telling them her life story. She was telling them about how she had struggled with drugs, but that she was doing better now. She was sharing her thoughts about what was needed in order to help homeless youth.

 

As she explained the meaning behind her favourite painting, I looked at the faces of everyone standing around her. They were hanging on her every word, totally locked in and listening to everything she had to say. 

In that moment, I thought back to the first time that I met her. Just a piece of the scenery?

Not anymore.  Kaylin was the star of the show.

Jason Pino, Youth Outreach Worker

Youth Art Show

It was an amazing evening! Thirteen street-engaged youth presented their art work at Dominion Chalmers United Church, and over 110 guests came to see some fantastic works of art.  The hall was laid out to show the art, and overflowed into the adjacent garden.  Guests were amazed at the high quality of art, and the only disappointment was that the art was for viewing only (not for sale).

The youth had the idea of setting up a large table area for guests to be creative with pastels and paint.  It was a hit!  The youth supervised the table and gave helps and hints to guests that were only beginning to discover their own talents. Seven or eight guests at a time, and it worked well.

One of the youth came into the hall from the garden.  She found some flower petals that had fallen from the plant, some strands of grass and wisps of dried grass, and she made a ‘natural’ creation on canvas with the pieces.  “Look, it’s from the garden!” she said as she bounced across the hall to show her friends.

That’s one difference with street artists: they can find use in what is usually discarded.  Most of us would see these items in our own gardens and think, “Time to rake and compost.” This young girl saw something different: she saw something that was redeemable, useful and beautiful.

It’s a microcosm of what is happening with our kids in the art program.  What some consider ‘discards’ or ‘societal throw-aways’ are really diamonds in the rough -kids who have neither had a chance in life nor any positive reinforcement.

Sometimes we can speak words of hope and sometimes we can see hope being birthed.

This is what is happening with these kids.  It’s truly beautiful.

I sat beside the ‘garden artist’, and encouraged her creativity and talent.  She was quiet when I spoke these words of hope into her life, but seemed to be listening intently.

Later on in the evening she approached me and proudly displayed her ‘real flower on canvases.  It was finished and she thought I would be interested.  I mentioned that the way she had finished the centre of the flowers was very appropriate (it really was genius), and her smile beamed brightly.

It the kind of thing that just might change a life!

Tom is back!

Tom is back, and is doing well.

He came to see me last Friday and has been ‘in and out’ of the office all week.  He has hit the ground running and has made some great steps since getting out of jail: he has located a nice apartment in a good area, currently furnishing it, bus pass, happy to be alive and, since Tuesday, free from parole, the system and his past mistakes.

He is thinking about going back to school.  He is considering what kind of job he might get – although he is quick to tell us that he will be back volunteering with us next week.

At the drop in yesterday, Erin (our work skills coordinator) invited him to come to the office when he had a chance to talk.  Well, at 8:03 this morning, he was here.  He sat in the chair and said something like, “I know there’s a lot of work to do here. I’ll come by next week and straighten out all the mess of shelves that happened since I left and I’ll clean it all up.  Don’t worry about it.”

Erin quickly told him that wasn’t the reason for her request.

“Oh?  What?”

“Well, I want to be sure that you come by here next Tuesday, because that’s your birthday.  We are going to get a cake to celebrate with you, but we want to make sure that you are here.  That’s what I wanted to talk about.”

There were moments of silence as Tom stared from under a furled brow as he thought about this.  “Thank you,” he said.

“We’re so happy you are out of jail, and connected with us again.  We love you, and want the best for you.  Plus, we don’t want to eat your cake without you,” Erin replied softly.

So, there you go.   Oh,  just one more thing.  When Tom first came back, and talked with me in my office, he said something that stuck with me.

We talked about how it sucked to be in jail for no good reason, guilty until proven innocent (or rather released because they simply could not detain him any longer), and he said: “Well you know, maybe the Lord had me in jail to keep me from getting into trouble somehow on the streets.  You never know….”

That’s pretty good.

Wish I had thought of that.

Two Different Worlds

Two Different Worlds

In Vancouver for the Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness meetings this past week, I took opportunity to cross the water and go downtown.  Outside eating a bagel breakfast in Yaletown, the city was waking.  I saw some BMW’s, Jags and even a Rolls Royse Silver Shadow coming and going in preparation for the day.  One billboard for condos particularly struck me, with the scale of prices listed, starting at only $499,000 to $6 million.  I wonder what the condo fees are for a six million dollar condo.

Things changed as I headed for the East Side.  The route I took didn’t gradually change from rich to poor, it was paff! – Poverty all at once.  Extreme and systemic this poverty was unlike any I had ever seen in Canada.  Similar elements everywhere, but all dwarfed by the overwhelming intensity of concentration. 

People experiencing homelessness and abject poverty, everywhere, in overwhelming numbers.  Laying on the streets, sometimes beside grocery carts that looked like they were just filled from the town dump, people with nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to look forward to were ‘just there’.  Folks with mental health issues mumbling to themselves, ranting incessantly, many just staring into nothingness.  Milling in small groups or lined up along the walls of buildings at the back edge of the sidewalks, people seemed to be waiting for something or nothing.

I found myself at Carnegie Centre, corner of East Hastings and Main at the Carnegie Community Centre.  It was a library, a drop in, and a multi-service facility.  Some fellows were playing pool downstairs, small groups of men drinking coffee and reading free newspapers.  Outside was a patio with a five foot rod iron fence around it. I bought a coffee and sat with the guys on the patio.  So far, at the Centre it was ‘regular’ and expected, but what happened next was not.

Outside the patio, on the street, the wheelers and dealers were doing business.  I have never seen intensity of drugs and dealing drugs with such blatant disregard for anything or anyone.  I watched for over an hour as people came and went, rolls of money changed hands, pills or packages exchanged and notes taken – who was fronted what.  Dealers would swagger over with John Wayne walk and ‘in your face’ make deals and bargains: its business, working the streets, its Wall Street, East Hastings and Main Street style.

I stayed too long.  The layers of depravity and disregard for human dignity were overwhelming.  Working girls paid their pimps, got some drugs and stagger away to the next trick.  Addicts trying to get more drugs on front, with pleas and promises of pay back. No concern or care – just business.

I walked outside and stood on the corner.  In just minutes I was ignored and in the midst of the whole scene.  Fifteen feet removed from the patio view, an entirely different set of players – the same game.  Across the street the same thing.  I walked to west to the next corner – more.  Further west to the recycling depot where people lined up with shopping carts of looted bottles and cans – more.  I crouched and leaned against the wall and watched – same performance, different players.  It was time to go.

Two blocks further and business, tourism and commerce ruled once again.  Back to the Beamers, Jags and Porches.  Prosperity and blessing.  Construction and gentrification. 

The impact of the 2010 Winter Olympics still imprinted on downtown Vancouver, but something very different imprinted on my heart and mind.  I am still reeling in the aftershock.

Street Youth Outreach

She cuts herself to deal with the pain of her childhood.  She’s lived a lifetime in eighteen years, and drinks regularly to cope.  We met her on the streets, and over time have become friends.

She lived at home in intervals: until the fights with her mom got so bad she had to run to the streets.  Mom’s moved away now, so the choices are fewer nowadays.  Hard times, especially in winter. 

Elgin Street, Monday night outreach learns she had been arrested for drinking in public at 8 am that morning, and she would be released at 10 pm.  It was 9:45. 

At the police station we introduced ourselves and asked if Amy could be released to us. Sure, no problem.

When the door finally opened, a bedraggled little girl emerged: bare foot, ripped jeans, dirty t-shirt, scared, sullen, disoriented.  She didn’t know what was happening.  Then she saw us.

Her countenance flashed from darkness to light like lightning sears the black sky.  That someone had come for her – unbelieveable.  Even more disbelief – that someone actually cared for her.   “Thank you.”  “Thank you.” “Thank you.”

A  sudden slap back to reality as questions flooded her mind.  How am I…? What am I…? Where can I…?  Who can…?  The uncertainty of street life rose defiantly and mercilessly – driving her back to those age old problems .  No shoes, no clothes, no coat, no place to go, no way to get there…

An interruption from outreach: “Hey.  It’s going to be O.K.  We can help.”

Words of comfort seldom heard bring a sense of calm.  Disbelief that these people wanted to be her friend, and have come for her.  For her.

Sometimes we are able to offer hope in a world of darkness.

Sometimes we see hope birthed in people minds.

It’s a critical cornerstone in building relationship.  A small thing for us, but huge for Amy.

Just a little thing: but it might be enough to change a life.