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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Just a couple of Canadians (eh?), talking on the bus.

I ran into one of our clients the other day.

It happened as I got on the bus & looked around for an empty spot.

“There she is!” I heard someone say. It was Ted.

He was sitting alone. The rest of the bus was crowded, cramped. But Ted had an empty seat on his right and an empty seat on his left. Holding an enormous paper bag (a 6-pack of beer inside), he looked weathered, frail, wrinkled, and slightly intoxicated. He smiled up at me.

I sat next to him and we spent the next 10 minutes catching up.

It was like any conversation you might hear on any bus in Canada.

We spoke about Canada Day (how chaotic it was!), the weather (how warm it’s been lately, eh?), and music (I play 1 instrument; Ted plays several. “Like most Newfoundlanders,” I say. He smiles ).

Ted was chatty, friendly; polite and encouraging (“When I was on the streets, your outreach teams helped me out so much!” he says to me. “They are amazing.”)

I couldn’t help but wonder how odd the two of us looked to the other passengers who eyed us cautiously.

I hoped that their expectations were challenged. I hoped that they could see beneath Ted’s rough exterior and see what I saw: the talented musician; the sympathetic listener; the amiable fellow:  a typical Canadian.

A deeply troubled background? Yes. Complex mental and physical health issues? Yes. Making strides? Yes.

And above all, still just a guy, talking to a gal, riding on a bus, on our way home.

Jelica, Staff

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: For Those Who Matter

homelessnes in Ottawa | street outreachWhile on street outreach, I met “Bob” (for the sake of anonymity, everyone I meet on the street will be named Bob in this series of posts).

Back to “Bob”: this is a man who has seen every province in our great country. This is a man who has been through many traumas, who will bring a tear to the most stout heart. This is a man who, when you pass him on the street, is so still and quiet that he looks like a mannequin. Yet Bob has a strength of survival that matches the strongest of souls. The wonderful ladies with me on outreach, when we met Bob, felt an unspoken need to stop, sit, and engage with him.

This is exactly what sparked him to life and he had a story to share.

Bob blessed us with a piece of his life and his story which touched our hearts. We, in turn, provided him with something just as important to him, such as a sandwich and a bottle of water to a man who hasn’t eaten for an extended period of time. We listened and showed him that someone cares and is genuinely interested in what he wants to say and that he matters in life.

I am so blessed to have met Bob and pray that God will intervene and overwhelm Bob with his love and resources which are limitless.

Rick O, Volunteer

Loss, Hope and Joy

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,” Psalm 30: 11

Artwork by Freya Barber

A hopeful image from the book of Psalms, but I wonder how much comfort it would give a young couple mourning the loss of their only child…

It was my first year working at OIM when I met with Hali and Danny Barber. They looked exhausted, still in shock after the death of their 17 year old. My heart sank when they told me that she had taken her own life after struggling with mental health issues.

Joy was so far away from them. They appeared to be struggling to make it through each moment.

Joy seemed….impossible.

They told me about their daughter, Freya – a creative artist with a passion for helping others and a desire to connect with those who don’t fit into society. They wanted to honour her passions by donating in her memory to Innercity Arts. They felt it’s what Freya would have wanted. It was an action that touched my heart – and I felt hope for them. Hope but not joy. Joy was impossible.

Over the past few years, the Barbers have stayed connected with Innercity Arts. Attending art shows, donating supplies and taking the volunteer training. But this year, Hali felt she was finally in a place that she could volunteer at Innercity Arts. She is now attending every Thursday evening and is a support to youth who desperately need the kindness of an adult.

We are honoured that this year, proceeds from the annual Canadian Stone Carving Festival, which is hosted by Smith & Barber – Sculpture Atelier Inc., will go to Innercity Arts.  We are so blessed.

I’m not sure that Hali and Danny would say their mourning has turned to joy. They are still grieving and will always mourn for Freya. But what struck me is that joy was not impossible.

Joy has come to others through Hali and Danny.

When youth opened the donated art supplies….joy!

When Hali sits with a youth at Innercity Arts and creates art with them…..joy!

When we can support more youth through the funds raised at the carving festival…joy!

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30: 5

 

 

“At Risk”

 

 

The term “at risk youth” is thrown around a lot, often without much thought or care. It’s a label that can feel very cold and dehumanizing.

But what are “at risk youth” really “at risk” of?

I think if we stopped and answered that question, we wouldn’t use the term so casually.

Because the truth is, right now, these youth are at risk of dying.

Drug addiction and overdose are not new to Ottawa, but the surge of overdoses over the past year is unprecedented. The youth I work with are more at risk of dying from an overdose than ever. So much so, that lately when a youth does not show up for our weekly art group, I get a knot in my stomach worrying they are the latest overdose victim.

It’s a really dark time.

But in the midst of this, the youth at Innercity Arts provide hope. Even in this darkness, they remain resilient and build each other up – like no other community I’ve ever seen.

I’m inspired by their strength. I’m humbled by their generosity. I’m thankful for their compassion.

I’m always amazed by the beautiful things they create. This year, they have created some incredible pieces of art and music and will showing it to the community.

I hope you can attend the show, and be witness to a truly hopeful thing in this dark time.

Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/131027517429263/