What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week – just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, “I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn’t feel like it tonight at least.”

Stop. Pause.

What if it was you?

You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of ‘no good’, you’ll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort…

Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits…

How would that make you feel?

For the one’s and two’s and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, ‘everything’ (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home.

A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was ‘you?’ I know it would mean a lot to me.

Ken MacLaren

Danielle’s Story: Episode 2 – The Beginnings of Abuse

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

 

This is Danielle’s story in her own words:

We moved to Ottawa when I was six, that’s when the abuse picked up. I remember coming home from school, afraid even before I got there. School started, and every day when I got home from school I would hide in my room, covering my ears when the stomping of feet began. I knew a beating was coming. My mother or stepfather came quickly down the stairs to hurt one of us if there was a noise, or if the baby had woken up.

As  the years went by, the abuse became more serious and frightening. I knew something was wrong- but I didn’t know what to do. Even when social workers would come to investigate, my mother would threaten us not to say anything. I didn’t dare speak up, for fear the beatings would become even more severe.

I had to take Reactin to help with my skin condition, and my step mom would take that away from me and I’d get hives. I could write my name on my arm, the hives were so bad.

Finally, when I was 15, my grandmother intervened and insisted that my mother could not take care of me. She took me out of province to live with her. For a while, things were going well- I was happier, I felt more confident. But one day, before a field trip, when I meekly asked my grandmother if I was driving to school with her, she suddenly grabbed by the arms. I still have scars from her nails and I went to school covered in blood.

Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone.

Why not let them know that they are NOT alone?

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Kindness

A few months ago, a new person walked through the doors of the drop-in.

He was friendly but seemed very cautious. He asked a lot of questions….as if he wasn’t sure if he could trust what we were up to. So I showed him around and tried to give him some answers. I offered him coffee and invited him to sit with some others who were playing cards.

About an hour later, he came to find me again. His demeanor had completely changed – he looked happy and excited.

“Did you see those women washing feet? I can’t believe that!” (He was referring to our foot care volunteers, who wash and care for the feet of our street friends.)

He said he wasn’t used to seeing this level of kindness –just a few days before he had been released after spending several years in jail. Jail was rough, and kindness was rare. He said he couldn’t believe the kindness of the volunteers at the drop-in.

The very next week, my new friend brought in 3 handmade dream catchers – one for me and one for each of the foot care volunteers. He said he wanted to extend kindness back to us.

Since then, my new friend has attended drop-in every week. He always arrives with a smile and offers to lend a helping hand.

dreamcatcher

Here is a photo of the dream catcher he made me. A reminder to me of how meaningful kindness can be.

 

Changing the Legacy of Youth Homelessness

How can we change the legacy of youth homelessness in Ottawa?

This is a complicated question with an array of possible answers.

Back in June, we partnered with A Way Home Ottawa and set up a table at Glowfair. We asked people to answer this question in just one sentence, and write it on a piece of cardboard.

Tons of people made signs and pretty soon our table was surrounded by cardboard. People had all sorts of great suggestions: more affordable housing, advocacy, community outreach… But of all the signs, the one that stood out the most was a sign made by a little girl, who was probably around 7 years old.

When asked how to help homeless youth she wrote: Love everyone. Every day. Every night.

love everybody sign

Yeah….I think that if we all took her suggestion the legacy of youth homelessness in this city would drastically change.

 

 

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Giving Their Time

A few weeks ago a handful of our youth participated in a fundraiser for Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat is a small northern Ontario community which has declared a state of emergency due to the large volume of suicide attempts from their population. Our youth felt the pull to show support for the youth in this small community. This was a wonderful event with beautiful traditional ceremonies and dances. The youth participated by creating live paintings for auction. With their work they were able to raise just under $600. I was so proud of them. They worked hard and produced some of the best work I have seen from them in just under 2 hours. Check out the incredible work they did below.

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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.

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

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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

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.

housing1

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.

bed bugs

A swollen bed bug bite on Shane’s arm.