Adulting101

Although I consider myself a fairly competent adult, sometimes the youth in the art group ask me questions that leave me stumped – and I feel like I need to go find a “real” grown-up to help.

This happened a few weeks ago when Mark asked me about credit checks. While I knew a little about them, I brought in one of the volunteers (Doug: aka a “real” grown-up) into the conversation…just in case. Doug was able to answer with ease, which led Mark to ask more questions about banking, taxes etc.  You see, Mark had been homeless for years but he recently gained employment and moved into his first apartment – so now he’s trying to navigate adulthood.

At the end of the conversation Mark admitted that he felt stupid for having to ask these questions.

He said “I’ve been homeless since I was 13…..I should know this stuff.”

My heart sank.

Because of course it makes sense that he doesn’t know this stuff. While most youth have parents to transition them to adulthood, Mark’s been on his own for years.

I reflected on this and thought that even at age 30 I have so many amazing people who I can call up when something about adulthood is confusing me. It would be awesome, I thought, if I could lend my people to Mark to help him navigate adulthood.

And that’s basically what we decided to do.

Together, Dana and I created a seminar called “Adulting101”. Any youth could attend to ask questions about living independently (taxes, banking etc…), and we would try our best to answer. We also brought in some experts to help: a career coach, a financial adviser, an entrepreneur and a few other highly successful adults. The results of this night were amazing. There were tons of questions like: “If I get a job, how does a boss pay me?”, “What if I’ve never filed taxes before?” and “How do I start my own business?”.

It was an incredibly simple night – no structure, no complicated programming. Just young people eager to ask questions and adults willing to listen and offer guidance. Simple but so effective.

Eric’s Journey, Episode 1: Early Life

“Eric’s Journey” is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button belowFollow along all month to hear this amazing story! 

 

 

Eric Tells His Story….

One of my first memoriesIMG_6583 was having cancer when I was three years old. It was leukemia. For a couple of years I went to Camp Trillium, which was a place for kids who had cancer. I remember I was so sick that I threw up everything in my stomach and was throwing up bile. I was limp in my fathers arms and said “Get a fork so I can save the chunks!” I remember being in the hospital a lot and I also remember Camp Trillium. I could even draw you a picture of the shape of the island.

I went through a series of treatments until finally I remember them saying you’re not going to get this kind of cancer again.

It’s hard for me to remember, it is hard for me to focus my speech.

My parents separated when I was six and they later divorced. They never got back together. I don’t ever remember them living together. I didn’t know how to act of react at home in the past – it was pretty confusing. I had two different parents living in different places. They knew each other but I was back and forth between two homes and I was pretty confused. I didn’t act out at the time, but I guess deep down I was really sad and mad -at the same time – at both of my parents. I didn’t know what to do, through that relationships thing. I don’t like to be negative about my parents but through it all I became a bad person. I didn’t say anything to anyone at the time but those thoughts were in my mind.

 

Coming up December 7th – Episode 2: School – until drugs and alcohol drove him to the streets.

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 

An Offering

 

RoseI met Rose about 3 years ago when I was doing outreach. What I noticed about her right away (and what I think everyone notices about her) was her energetic and bubbly personality. Her big smile and loud laugh are contagious!

But her life hasn’t been all smiles….she had a rough life that led her to homelessness and addiction. But despite this, she has never lost her optimism for life.

She started coming to our drop-in out of a need for community and support. Over the years, she has made positive changes in her life, including securing a safe apartment and becoming sober. But the more you get to know Rose, the more you see that helping people is central to her life. Even though she is on social assistance and does not have much money, she will always give to those in need. She has a heart for helping youth and often befriends them on the street and refers them to resources that can help them.

When she heard about out Passion 4 Youth Fine Art Program, she wanted to help. We mentioned that we could use help preparing food, so she offered her baking skills. Twice each week, Rose bakes homemade desserts and brings them to our art program. She loves to make sweets that she knows will be a treat for the youth.

We feel blessed to know Rose and we are so thankful for her offering.

 

 

If you want to help cook for the art program, please contact Moira at moira_oim@rogers.com or Dana at dana_oim@rogers.com 

 

 

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 

Crossing boundaries as an outreach worker.  Be prepared for the whole story

The-Giving-Spirit-LA-homeless-bags-graphic-Givingspirit-org

Well it had to be written about; crossing boundaries. How does an outreach worker stay neutral in the face of adversity? How do you face hardships and sorrows day in and day out without needing to do something more? How many times can you hand a kid a sandwich and walk away knowing they will be sleeping in a stairwell that night. What about a pregnant girl… what about a pregnant dog???

I have to admit it; I can be an overly emotional and empathetic person. It’s hard for me to not just bring everyone home. Most outreach organizations have strict boundary regulations in place… and for a good reason.

You see, while you are seeing the in the moment hardship of that individual, you are not seeing the whole picture of that individual. You are only glimpsing a portion of their lives. This is why we don’t judge our homeless friends, because they ARE more than their sufferings. And that’s why you don’t invite a person home… because they are more than the problem you are immediately trying to solve. Yes, you get them off the streets for a night but then the rest of the story unfolds; and you don’t know what that story is. Are you prepared to be a grief counselor, an addictions counselor, a life coach, a psychiatrist, health care nurse? What about anger management? If you take another human being into your home, you’d better be ready for the whole story.

The same for animals, what if they are sick, or have fleas, or have an aversion to children? The image of a sad puppy on the street is not the whole story.

These are the reasons that clear boundaries between workers and clients are so important. If you want to do more, then remember there are highly specialized services out there that can provide the appropriate help. There are many ways to give without needing to solve all the problems of one human being. If you feel you are burning out from helping too much, then take a break from all the hardship and spend some quality time with your family and friends. Help a neighbour or a family member with some chores instead. There are a million ways to you can help with the resources you have. Never underestimate what you can bring to the table, however small.  And remember, you are not in this alone! Together, we can make a difference.

– Dana Cote, Youth Outreach Worker

Hailey

Last year, this video was put out by a shelter in New York City. You’ve probably seen it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6jSKLtmYdM

In it, people disguise themselves as homeless to see if their family members will recognize them. The family members walk by, none of them recognizing their loved ones.

It’s a powerful video because it makes the viewer consider how they treat the homeless. It asks the viewer “Would you recognize a loved one if they were homeless?” It made me question if I would. And it made me think about Hailey.

When I first met Hailey, she was sitting outside of a Tim Horton’s panhandling. She was young, early twenties maybe. When I first met her she looked nervous and she would barely speak to me. Very slowly (I’m talking 2 years) she began to trust me – she opened up. She told me about her life on the streets and in the shelters and her struggles with mental illness and addiction.

Last week, I saw Hailey on the street and I sat with her for awhile. She mentioned that she had a sister who was living in a small town outside of the city – the same town I’d grown up in. She said she’d grown up there too. We looked at each other and suddenly realized we’d grown up together. I couldn’t believe it. She’d been several years younger than me but we’d played together and we’d always gone to the same school.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t recognized her – she looked exactly the same!

But I didn’t recognize her because I never expect to see someone I know on the streets. It’s like when you are out of the country – you never expect to run into someone you know. But just like the people in the video, when I recognized Hailey, I was shaken to my core. She shouldn’t be there. This girl I grew up with shouldn’t be there. I can only hope that our paths have crossed again for a reason.

 

– by Moira, Youth Outreach Worker

Inspired

2 coinsShe has little to live on and visits our drop-in each week to get by.  She comes also to our office for our two weekly ‘stop-ins’ to chat and have a cup of coffee.  She is a lovely lady with a sweet disposition and a quiet, yet ever-present sense of humour.  She is careful not to share her life story with too many. So when she speaks to you, you feel part of the privileged few.

Today, she tells me she is waiting to get a call from her Band to book a flight home. Two of her sisters are in the hospital. One is recovering; the second is dying. Her brother also has serious health issues that are beginning to take their toll. She herself is battling a type of cancer (she does not say which one) and is preparing for surgery very soon. She cries when I ask “how are you holding up?” She keeps her feelings bottled up and often comes in when she needs to talk or just to have a laugh. But she does so carefully, cautiously, not wanting to be thought of as ‘needy’ – her words. Given her family’s health issues, she chooses not to tell them that she has her own challenges. She does not want to burden them. Nor does she want to burden her son with this, at least not until ‘it becomes necessary.’

After we pray, I give her a devotional book to read called ‘Today’; she leaves smiling, wiping her tears.

A few minutes later, she asks to speak with me again. She comes to my cubicle saying ‘I knew I forgot something!’ She pulls out one of OIM’s brochures along with an ‘Automatic Funds Transfer’ form that she says she plans to fill out at her bank so that OIM can receive a monthly donation from her. ‘You all do so much for me and all of us, so I want to help.’  Moved, I thank her for her kindness.

Alone in my cubicle, I am left to contemplate this interaction. I stop everything to consider this woman, her current circumstances, her family’s health, her desire to protect her son…and, in the midst of all this, her incredible generosity.

I am brought to tears.

I am reminded of Jesus’ story of the poor widow’s meager offering in Mark 12:41-44. Objectively, the offering is little. Two small copper coins. But it is more than she can afford; and means far more because of the spirit of goodwill behind her deed.

Like the widow, this quiet, unassuming lady is an exceptional woman who does not let her difficulties quash her sense of compassion or her generosity of spirit.  I may think I am here to help others, but Jesus often shows me otherwise. I am inspired.

Jelica

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:

final text

 

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.

“What Am I Supposed To Do?”

Last week, I was doing outreach downtown when I came across Ben.

Ben is one of the “oldtimers” – one of several men who have been on the streets for decades. He was friends with all the oldtimers……Ed, Carl, Joseph…..all of whom have passed away over the past year. Ben says he’s one of the few left.

2015 has been a big year for him so far – he finally got housing.

His eyes lit up when he started talking about his new place. “It’s a huge one bedroom! I’ve even got a flat screened TV!”

But as he continued to talk about his apartment, his tone changed… “I don’t know what I’m doing down here….”

“I know I shouldn’t be downtown. I know I shouldn’t be doing this….” He showed me the bottle of rubbing alcohol in his pocket, “But I don’t know what to do. What am I supposed to do?”

Ben’s days used to be comprised of panning change to make money for a drink, and then sharing drinks with friends in the park. Then going to sleep, waking up, and doing it all over again. It may have been unhealthy, but this lifestyle provided 3 important things: routine, purpose and community.

Now he has housing – but what community? What routine? What purpose?