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

Street Youth Art Show

Our street youth art program, ‘Passion for Youth’ is making an impact on young people’s lives.  Last year we had nine street-engaged youth in our pilot program and some great things happened over the ten months we were together: four kids moved from the streets into housing, three obtained employment, one finished high school and two came to faith in Christ.

Currently we have thirteen kids involved in our art program (had fourteen, but one moved to Vancouver) and things are progressing well. Volunteer mentors meet with the kids monthly to set and work towards personal life goals, and already four of the kids have achieved their goals: they have entered specific programs to reduce their drug use, and two of these have found jobs!

This coming Monday, June 14th, the kids will be showing their artwork in a special art exhibit, and YOU ARE INVITED!  Here are the details:

Dominion Chalmers United Church

255 Metcalf Street, Ottawa (Lisgar Street Entrance)

6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

$5 admission charge (to go towards the art program. You may make an additional donation if you like).

Desserts will be served and you can come and talk to the kids about their art work, the program and more.  Max, one of our youth, will be sharing some songs and music on the piano/guitar and the kids have created a ‘hands-on’ art exhibit where you can be creative and do your own art piece.  The youth will supervise this and help you along if you need some assistance.

So come out and support this worthy endeavour.  Come and bring some encouragement and hope to these youth who are trying to achieve a higher quality of life.

Who knows?  You just might find some of your own hidden talents!

Downtown Ottawa

“Urban Intervention Training” is the name of our volunteer training program which we host three times a year.  It’s a full Saturday, followed by a weeknight session for each of four weeks.  The last evening consists of a walk in downtown Ottawa, where experienced staff/outreach workers take our new volunteers and show them the sights of the city.  It’s not an interactive evening with our street friends, but rather an education for volunteers to help them understand a little of the culture of our city.

Parts of our walk are not too pretty.  Groups of people milling about outside shelters, the drug deals going down, the pushers and the takers, many ‘faceless’ homeless that someday might be new friends to our volunteers.  It’s about light penetrating darkness, caring for humanity, justice and advocacy and a host of other issues swirling all around and calling out for attention.

Last night I lead a group of new volunteers in a walk downtown.

Here’s a look at the streets of the Nation’s Capital from the perspective of some people who have already spent considerable time in a fast track to learn about poverty and homelessness.  Here’s how they responded:

Q: What were your observations?

  • It was really enlightening.  As a person with a disability, I wouldn’t have a chance on the streets.
  • It was a nice night – I can’t imagine what it would be like if it were raining or snowing.
  • A lot of bridges have fences around them.  They are inaccessible.

Q:  How would you survive?

  • If I had to do it on an on-going basis it would be physically and mentally draining.
  • I saw the fences, the restrictions, and the attitudes reflected by that message.  I was torn between thinking, ‘It’s too bad to have fences,’ and ‘Why are they there in the first place?’
  • I felt very unwelcome and scared.  I spent the whole time trying to figure out where am I going to sleep?  Where will I be safe?  Where could I find peace and quiet? I was caught between those thoughts – especially because I am a woman.
  • I don’t know.  It was very unwelcoming: Don’t stop here. Don’t come here.  Bars and fences everywhere saying, not you, not here.

It is a dark and unwelcoming world, but one that needs to first be seen and then be addressed.   The final question, “How can we help?” was succinctly answered by one of our new volunteers:  “It’s not about fixing anything. It’s about caring.  It’s about coming alongside, it’s just to ‘be’.”

In many respects we are very limited in what we can do.  On the other hand, we can make a significant difference in people’s lives through our caring, our touch and our ‘walking alongside’.  It’s all about people and all about relationships, dignity and respect, and caring enough to go beyond our own comfort zone.

Ready?  Let’s go?

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.

Injustice upon injustice II

A miserable week – especially if you are incarcerated.  Here’s an update about my buddy ‘Tom’. ‘Tom’ is not his real name, but there may come a point in this story that we reveal his name.  He has given me permission to share his story with you.

Tom is a recovering alcoholic.  He admits he cannot handle the effects of alcohol.  He becomes violent.  This has been manifested from time to time in his life, and has spent just over six years doing federal time to pay for his mistakes.  He dosen’t drink.  Won’t drink in fact, because he knows how dangerous it would be for him to do so.  In two weeks he will have seven years of sobriety under his belt.  Good one buddy!

His parole is completed on May 4, 2010 and he will be a free man: no conditions, no parole office, no restrictions – he has been looking forward to his freedom for a while now.  But right now, now now, he is in 23 hour lockdown in jail with no rights and no freedom.  I went to visit him. He has not been sleeping or eating well.  He is depressed and discouraged.  He hasn’t been taking the meds offered to him because he is afraid.  Unshaven and unkempt, his orange overalls provide a constant reminder that he is a ‘prisoner’, an ‘offender’, a ‘public threat.’  It’s a stigma that hangs on, not just because of where he is or what he’s wearing, but what he is being told.  The constand reinforcing of the negative things, the failures and mistakes in his life are an albatros around his neck.

I contacted Corrections Services Canada: I waited seven business days for Tom’s parole officer to return the several  messages left both on her cell phone and her work number.  It was only after I contaced the Director of CSC that the P.O. called me – and I waited five business days for the Director’s return call.  I’m not the best at returning calls sometimes, but well, I don’t know, I would say that someone rotting in jail is a priority.

I have written and witnessed permission from Tom for disclosure of his file.  To date, the CSC is ‘not sure’ they will be able to release this to me.  We’ll see about that.  I have asked for an appointment to discuss Tom’s case, when I return to the office on the 12th.  I have requested an appointment for that morning.

For now Tom is ‘inside’.  There is undoubtedly more to the story, there always is.  My lawyer and the investigator agent who was kind enough to look into this case, have both told me how the process works: the P.O. has 30 days in which to investigate the accusations against Tom and deliver a review; then the Parole Board has an additional 90 days to investigate and arrive at a decision.  One hundred and twenty days.  Four months.  All the while my friend is in 23 hour lock down.  By the time the decision is delivered, his parole will be finished and on May 4, he walks. 

Then I find out that people who can make a decision, do an investigation, bring some kind of resolution are ‘on holidays’ (that’s what I heard first from CSC) and ‘on course’ (second ‘reason’ given – it is year end and budget money – well use it or lose it ??) – all the while Tom is wondering what’s going on.

Welcome to the ‘system’.

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.