Get Me Out of Here…

outreach-workerMy outreach team was downtown recently when we saw a large group of street friends ahead of us. There were about 10 men – they were drinking, yelling, listening to the loud music that was blasting from a stereo. We approached and started giving out outreach supplies. I noticed that in the center of the group was one woman who was closely surrounded by the men.

I couldn’t tell for sure if she needed help so I tried to make eye contact with.

She approached me and looked into my outreach bag, pretending to ask for outreach supplies. Instead she said “Can you get me out of here?”

I took her arm and started walking purposefully away. She was very intoxicated and had to lean on me for support. As we walked away she started crying, saying that some of the men were pressuring her to take them home with her.

She asked us to walk her to her friend’s place where she knew she’d be safe. We walked with her and listened to her as she cried. When we got to her friend she hugged us goodbye and thanked us for keeping her safe.

I’m so thankful that when she saw us in our red outreach vests she recognized us as safe people who could help her.

 

– Moira, Youth Outreach Worker 

A Presence on the Streets

Not long ago, one of our outreach teams was doing late night outreach. It was about 10:30pm when they entered the market area. Across the street they saw a man sitting in his sleeping bag, with a few men standing around him. It looked like a group of friends hanging out, and so the outreach team hesitated to interrupt. But, they decided to see if the men needed anything. The men grabbed some supplies from the team and then quickly walked away – leaving the one man who had been sitting in his sleeping bag. The man said “You got here just in time – they were going to beat me up again.” The man was old and frail, and said he is often beat up and robbed.

Another time on outreach, our team was walking towards a woman who was sitting in an alley way. Two men walked by her, and poured something on her hear. We ran up to her, and could tell it was urine they had poured on her.

It is understandable that often our outreach teams return from their walk of the streets and feel disheartened and helpless. But we remind them that despite the awful things they witnessed, they were there. They were the reason the man was not assaulted…they were there to clean the urine off the woman. The streets can be a scary and awful place to be. But our outreach teams, if nothing else, provide a safe and trusting presence on the streets.

And that’s pretty amazing.

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To be a presence on the streets, join our volunteer team by taking our volunteer training. CLICK HERE

 

– Moira, Youth Outreach Worker 

A Chance Meeting

When I meet a youth on outreach for the first time, I am always aware that it may be the only time I ever see them.

The lives of street-engaged youth can be so insecure and unpredictable that our paths may never cross again. Knowing this, I try my best to make some sort of connection and pray that I have helped the youth in some way.

I met Jasmine in the summer of 2014. She was standing on bank street and told me she was staying in a shelter after becoming homeless after fleeing an abusive relationship. We talked for a little, and then I went on with my route. Months passed and I didn’t see her again. I wondered about her…was she still at the shelter? Had she returned to her abusive partner?

Then, about 7 months later I received this text:

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Since sending me this text, Jasmine has become a member of the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program. She is there every week and always has a bright smile on her face.

I took a picture of this text and saved it so that if I every wonder if these brief outreach meetings are meaningful, I know the answer.

Navigating the Systems

Blog - Navigating the SystemsSometimes our youth go into crisis. We need to be there for them and help to navigate the systems in place. Sometimes these systems are daunting. When dealing with mental health issues there is a lot of fear that you won’t be heard; that you won’t be taken seriously; that you won’t be respected. We have had both good and bad experiences with these systems. We are always looking for more effective and reliable ways to get our youths’ needs met. There are some great supports in place, but depending on the youth, they may or may not qualify. Our biggest obstacle in finding help for the young people with which we work, is their age range. Because of the age range from 16 up to 32 there are many supports they do not qualify for, especially for those after the age of 21.  While identified as ‘adult’ many have had enough trauma in their lives to stunt their normal emotional and social development. So we continue to look for new avenues of help.  Another obstacle for us, is the factor of addictions. Because there are almost no therapies available for concurrent disorders (i.e., someone with both an addiction and mental health disorder), our young people are told to take care of their addiction issues before they will be seen for their mental/emotional issues. This is very frustrating as you can rarely separate the two. It is our experience that most youth with addictions are actually self-medicating for emotional/mental issues; both of which need to be addressed at the same time.   At the ‘Passion 4 Youth’ art program, we create a safe space for our youth to express themselves while being respected and acknowledged. We continue to do our best to navigate these systems and hope, in the meantime, that our systems will continue to evolve in their responsiveness to the very complex needs of our street-engaged youth.

Dana

Youth Outreach Worker

Shane’s Story, Episode 6: The System – Welfare

Shane’s Story is an eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!”

Listen to the first part of her story by clicking on the ‘play’ button below, then read the rest in this post:

I filled out forms for CPP as a surviving child – if one or both of your parents die before you’re 25, they will help you.  I am also on Welfare, so they consider the money from CPP as earnings – although I didn’t ‘earn it’ – I have an overpayment of $600 although I didn’t receive that much, so after this (meeting) I have to go over and talk to them.

My welfare worker always tries to play funny games.  Others too – just to get you going. I’ve only had one good worker, the rest are always on you, on you, on you…

I’d even have Doctor’s notes to say, “I’m not all here,” (mental health wise). So don’t try to poke me. Don’t do it, ‘cause I’m gonna get in trouble, and both of us are gonna end up getting hurt. Just me or you, or both of us.

But they still like to poke.

During the OC transpo strike, I had to go to school in order to get my welfare, ‘cause I was under age and it was a condition. They knew we’re dealing with mental health issues, and my dad just died and I’m just going crazy. I’m breaking everything. I’m breaking my face with pans, every chance that I get, just take it and swing it at myself – just to feel like different.

It was an hour walk from where I was living to school in minus 30 in the winter, and another hour back to where I was staying. That’s what she (my worker) wanted me to do. You’re not supposed to have to walk if it’s that long, and you’re not supposed to do it, but she didn’t care. She just cut off my money. Too bad. Go to school – that’s easy for you to say, you have a car.

Right now, because I get CPP… it’s been difficult with CPP

When I found out about CPP and applied, welfare was nattering at me and needing more and more information, and they kept on cutting my cheque, putting stop payments, trying to get it back. I hadn’t received any money from my dad’s CPP yet, I don’t know, they just try to get away with stuff. Stuff they can’t get caught on.

When my dad died, OW (Ontario Works) asked for his S.I.N. number for his information , and somehow she mixed up my dad’s and my S.I.N. number, which she had on her file, which she could have looked at any time she opened my file: she opened my file with my dad’s number and it came up wrong, deceased or expired, so I had to keep going over to City hall and tell them there’s something wrong with my card; they’d check on my S.I.N. number and said it was perfectly fine. Then back to my worker and she said, ‘No, it’s broken, you must be lying. Go back to City hall, which I did. They again said, ‘No, its fine,’ and they’d give me a stamp of approval, and I’d go back and she’d type it in again, and she’d say, ‘Oh, my mistake.’ I don’t think it was an accident. You would have to go into my file and change my information. This is not an accident. She was just stringing me along.

I didn’t know if I’d have rent or food. What was I going to do? I couldn’t buy tampons if I didn’t have any money – so… black pants for this month. Then I got another worker. She was better.

For a while that is, then there would be a letter: You have been cut off.

For my cheque, I only get $120 each month for basic needs. The rent is paid directly and then there is just $120 left. They expect you to keep a cell phone paid for, just so that they can stay in touch with you.

I know people who scam off welfare, and they never get caught. I’m just trying to get by and it’s so hard.  Maybe these people just get lucky, I don’t know. They never get cut, they never get notes, or bad phone calls, they just get money.

I jump through hoops and try to do everything right, but they still take away my money.

Shane’s Story, Episode 5: My Own Place

Shane’s Story is a eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!”

Listen to a part of her story by clicking the ‘play’ button below, then read the rest of her story in this post:

I got my place last spring.

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The door of Shane’s room the day she moved in. Notice the hole where the door handle should be.

I met this kid panhandling and he lived in the building. I told him I really needed a place. I told him I had a dog and really need somewhere safe and warm to keep him. He told me there was a room available in his rooming house. It was beside his room, and the place was really disgusting.  It was really gross. It’s a building full of bachelors, of addicts and dealers but that’s what you get. There were spiders, cockroaches, bedbugs – but there’s no house centipedes though, and I’m pretty happy about that. None! The room though was an absolute pigsty. There was grime to the point that I had to scrape it off with a knife. There was something that kept coming up off the tile that was really gooey and sticky. Really sticky. You had to scrub it off with hot water.  I don’t know what I was cleaning up there, but it was pretty bad. Once I got it tolerable, I put my stuff in there. It took like two weeks to get it at least decent. That’s like without cleaning the walls or without cleaning the window, or checking under the bed box to see what garbage is under there. I still don’t know. It’s a secret (laughter). The underneath of my bed – I don’t want to know. (laughter)

It’s weird sharing a shower and a toilet with like 20 other people. They pee all over the floor. I have to wear my shoes into the toilet, you have to take toilet paper with you and bring it back with you.

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The floor of Shane’s room.

I’m paying $470 for a tiny little infested room that’s not even up to code. Like one of my windows is not really a window – it’s a board with a nail holding it in place. I had to make my own ‘fixes’ – they wouldn’t put caulking under the box for my bed and the bugs were crawling in and out of there. ‘No, don’t do that to me. I don’t want bugs near my bed’, so I finally got some white duct tape and taped it. They (landlords) don’t really do much.

Bedbugs? Oh yea. Landlord only sprays one room at a time, so each time the landlord sprays one room, the bedbugs that survive just over to the next person’s room. He sprays that room and they crawl upstairs to where it’s safe. They just keep going. We just push them around really. I’m waiting for the time they push them back into my room, ‘cause I’m highly allergic. My face will swell and it’s bad. I had to go to the doctor a couple of times, and get hard core allergy medication.

They’re not in my room now. I had to go out and buy powder that’s safe for animals. I put that on the floor around my bed, and if they come in, they’re dead.

You brush it into the baseboards, and if they try to get in there and hide, they die. It’s pretty bug proof.  Cockroaches though, I don’t know how to get rid of them. They just keep comin’. From my dresser too- I don’t know why ‘cause in there there’s only clean clothes. They’re not in my pantry though. Not even a nuclear bomb will kill them.

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A swollen bed bug bite on Shane’s arm.

Shane’s Story, Episode 2: School

Shane’s Story is an eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you: Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!

Click on the play button to hear a part of her story, then read the rest below:

Difficulties at home were reflected in school. They would put Children’s Aid on our case all the time because I was depressed.  I was always acting out and they (school) blamed my dad and thought he was abusing me. They come constantly because I was depressed and my step family would yell at me, ‘cause Children’s Aid would come over and they’d say it was all my fault. Whatever… I hit a couple of them (the kids). I smashed them. Eventually you don’t care. What are you going to do? Hit me? Hit harder? Whatever… I’ll just hit you harder.

I got beat up a couple of time by my siblings. They took karate lessons and they didn’t have to hit you, they would put some move on you and you’re in excruciating full body pain and you can’t even move. If I had a chance to slug them before they grabbed me, I’d try. Try to get them in the teeth. That’d get them away from me for a little bit at least. Or it will get someone’s attention.

I got used to it. I’m just small, but feisty. Then even though I’d try, but eventually I just couldn’t get them back any more.

I started getting really desperate.

It got to the point where people were getting broken bones because of the fights we were getting in.

I started drawing pictures at school, really morbid pictures. To the point that my teachers started getting worried about my mental health. They started calling in… I remember people came into my school and they’d ask me weird questions about the pictures: Why is it all shackled? Why is it all beaten? Why is it dead? “I don’t know it just is…” I got a lot of attention, and it got me out of class. They’d always come during school  I had to go to another room, where they would have chocolate milk. Sometimes I would get a chocolate milk. That was a good day.

My brother got kicked out first – he had a guns, and switchblades and drugs in the house, and he ended up getting kicked out for having a little marijuana plant in his room. Then my sister, she got pushed out.  They made life so bad for her that she just left. Picking on her all the time. Excluding her. Her anger was pretty bad, and they were afraid of her I think. She was about 17 or so.  Then it was my time.  She (my step mom) was working down from the oldest, then it was my turn.

If you were hungry and went to the kitchen to get food, you were scolded. All of that food was hers and not for us. Even if I just wanted a sandwich – no, not allowed. I would sneak it, and if I got caught, I was in trouble. I was about 12 or 13 and I was starting to stand up to her.

She couldn’t hit me then, but she would take my things and put them in the garage. I would go looking for my shirts and they would be in a pile on the floor in the garage. She yelled, ‘Go clean those up!”  She knew I hated the garage too, ‘cause it was full of spiders.  The spiders would be mixed in with my shirts. I was scared, there might be 10 spiders mixed in the shirts.

I knew I wasn’t nice. I didn’t get treated nice, and I wasn’t nice. Don’t come talk to me or I will hit you.

School was horrible.. I got into all kinds of fights, I would even go after the teachers. They would have to expel me. I would come in and swear at them, I would draw swastikas on my note book and that would get me in trouble. They would come after me and I would put on a little riot, whatever I had to do. They would make me feel bad, and then I would go out and make them feel bad.

I think I was 15 when I was taken out of my home and put into Children’s Aid care, a foster home. I’d go hostile on my step mom to the point that I tried to set her car on fire. I started a website to get people to like kill my older step brother – anything I could do.

Finally they took me. ‘You’re out of control. Come with us.’ And they stuck me in a house full of people that I really didn’t have any business needing to know who they were.

It was an all girl house.

I had one friend at school. A chick who was aggravated with life and really hostile.  Other girls would run from us.

I was mad. Everything made me mad.

Then when I turned 16, I signed the waiver and I went out on my own.

 

Shane’s Story, Episode 1: Early Life

Shane’s Story is an eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you: Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!

Click the ‘play’ button to hear a part of her story, then read the rest below: 

I remember when I was really little, my mom and dad smoked. They were sitting on the steps having a cigarette and I was running around, ‘cause I was only little. I ran up and mom’s cigarette hit my face and now I’ve got this dot somewhere. I can’t point it out without a mirror, but I’ve got this little dot somewhere.  It was my first cigarette (laughs). I was 2 or 3.

Life was pretty good until I was five. Not much horrible until that time. When I was five my mother died and then things got really hostile. My brother would beat kids up, he’d find guns, he’d find drugs, and like we found a pistol he had bought, we found it in his room. We had to hide it and then my dad got rid of it.

There was me and my little sister then and I also had an older half-brother and half-sister.  My older sister used to get really violent, like really violent. She had anger management issues: I’d get slapped up, my younger sister would get slapped up. She was five years older than me.  They were my half-sisters, from my mom and another man.

The house kind of became a war zone after my mom died. You know, things happen.

Then we got our step mom. She was nice at first, but when she came to live with us it was all different.

She brought 3 kids into the house, all older.

When she moved in, it was like ‘we just lost our house’ and our rights, and our toys, and our TV. She’d take the Christmas money that was set aside, and she’d buy her kids snowboards, cameras, cell phones… and we’d get cheap pajamas. Oh well – it makes character. Builds character. Don’t need all these fancy gadgets (nervous laughter). Well, life’s not fair, so that’s ok (laughter again).  It’s easier to laugh at it, than to get upset. It really wasn’t very funny then.

I got into stealing when I was little.  They had all this expensive stuff and they wouldn’t give it to me and no one would buy it for me, so I would just take it. Shaving razors were given to them, but not to me.

I would go to the forest and catch bugs and stuff and they would be… mine.  Just for me. Pets. They all died though. I didn’t know how to take care of them.

Remembering Homeless Veterans

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People hurry by the large monument every day, most never pausing to look or even acknowledge it. One lonely man, white haired, in torn and dirty clothes stands alone at the base of the steps leading up to a large stone coffin. Tears running down his cheeks, his jacket showing signs that they are real, a well-worn beret clamped in his hands. People avoiding him, his actions make them uncomfortable. Slowly he places the beret on his head, adjusting it so it sits perfectly. His posture changes, he stands erect. He marches 2 steps forward, slams his right foot onto the cement and slowly raises his right hand in a perfect motion. His fingers touch the edge of his glasses and he offers a silent prayer mouthing thank you as he slowly lowers his arm to his side. Executing an about turn he marches away from the coffin. Still weeping but managing to control the tears and is quickly engulfed in the flow of strangers.

Who is this man?

He is a symbol of what we cherish the most; our freedom. But he is also homeless, a veteran of our military now reduced to living on the streets because the help he desperately needed was either denied or wasn’t made available to him. My friend John lived in a nightmare with things he was asked to do while serving our nation. Things that he refused to talk about until one cold day just after OIM’s Easter Dinner. He told me about driving a truck in some far off country, the pain still vividly haunting him as he relived the horrors and the stern warnings about not stopping for anything if the convoy was assaulted. He spoke of the methods the Taliban used to try and force them to stop, of how they would sacrifice woman and children for to achieve their goals. He spoke of the memories that came screaming back every time he looked at his little girl and how he eventually lost his wife and her to the lack of treatment. His pain was real, not something created for attention.

The man at the coffin is also George, a veteran who was forced to retire before his prime because of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) whose battles continue daily as he struggles to survive. He faces ridicule because, unlike the war vets, he fights not only his demons but the stigma of being forgotten because he has never gone to war.

This man is Jim, a warrior now forced to survive in a wheel chair whose battle is now staying alive as he faces countless medical challenges. Whose heart is bigger than anyone I have met. Whose love fills the air around him like a beacon, but who is, sadly, ignored because of the image people see.

Who are these people? They are men that I am proud to call friends, brothers, someone that I share something in common with; we are all veterans. They have been forgotten because the reminder of what we stood for is too painful to recognize. They are the walking wounded. They are the marginalized, the ridiculed, the scorned, the forgotten. Take the time to get to know them, have a meal with them, thank them for their service. Remind them that the sacrifice they were willing to make will not be forgotten, they will be remembered, and not just on Remembrance Day but every day of their lives.

The next time you find a man, or woman, weeping at the monument as they pay their respects. Put an arm around them; support, them, remember to say thank you.  When you are asked what a veteran is remind people that a veteran is a man or woman, who signed a blank cheque, payable to their country, Canada, for everything up to and including their lives. They were a special group of people willing to die , to ensure that Canadians can live free. Only two people have been willing to die for you: Jesus on the cross for your salvation and a veteran for your freedom.

– written by Ken Byars, a Canadian veteran and a dedicated  OIM volunteer

What a difference a year makes….

outreach workerSeptember 27, 2013 was a very special day for Eva: it was the day she moved off of the streets into her own place. It was a small room, but it was hers. And it was the first time in years that she had a place to call her own.

Eva left home in her early teens. Eventually, she became homeless and addicted to drugs. As a young woman on the streets, she was quite vulnerable. But she learned how to take care of herself and when I met her on outreach several years ago, I quickly discovered that she was one of the strongest young women I had ever met. Despite having to be in “survival mode” on the streets, she still had a loving and generous spirit.  She would often point out others who needed help, or tell me places to go where she knew I would find more people needing outreach. She often joked that she should do outreach, because she knew how to find people.

I soon learned that Eva was artist, and in fact, she was one of the first youth to join the art group. One time at art group I remember talking with her about her future, about getting sober and going back to school. She told me that she would never stop using drugs. When I asked why, she told me that last time she tried to get sober she became suicidal. Using drugs was her way of coping, and she was scared to take away that coping mechanism.

But a year ago something changed. She started making small changes in her life, which led to big changes like stopping her drug use, reconnecting with friends and family, and starting to think more about her future and what it could be.

This September marked some big landmarks for her: not only did she celebrate one year of living in her apartment, but she also re-enrolled in high school for the first time in years.

September 25th marked another incredible moment: it was her first night doing outreach as an OIM volunteer. Together, Eva and I walked the streets of Ottawa handing out sandwiches, socks and drinks. Most of the people we met on the street had to look twice at Eva, often saying “Hey it’s you!” or “I knew you looked familiar!” before congratulating her on becoming an outreach volunteer.

They were so proud of her.

And we are too.

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Eva.

Her new outlook on her future? She plans on becoming an addictions worker.