Thoughts from Jeff…a member of our Wednesday outreach team

If you look at me, and squint really hard, I look like God.

 

Whoa! Don’t be hasty! Unless you ask my little sister, I’m not that cocky. What I mean is, I’m made in God’s image. If you’d like to use a different metaphor, I have my Father’s eyes.

 

I bring this up because sometimes people ask me what I do when I volunteer with OIM. This is an easy one to answer! I do exactly what God has always intended I do in every single interaction I have with any human being (street engaged or not): I try my best to look like God. Polish up that blurry image so that it’s as clear a likeness as possible.

 

So whether I’m sharing a laugh in an after hours Laundromat, debating the best legal strategy for a court appearance, huddling in a doorway to discuss the impact of Winterlude on the street engaged population, or peering into the corners of a market parking garage, what I’m hoping for is that someone will see me, do a double-take, and then see God.

 

It’s only fair. Because it’s a pretty regular occurrence for me to turn a corner, see one of my street friends, and catch a strong glimpse of God.

 

And I usually don’t even have to squint.

What did your morning look like?

Going to work this morning, I came down the same hill at the same time and saw the same bus going up the other side.  I got on my usual bus with the same driver and saw the same people going about their routines too.  Before that, I got up, checked my email…watched the morning news as I had my coffee and said goodbye to my family as I do every morning.

 

Routine…predictability…we might be tempted to see it as boring…but it’s actually healthy!  Of course we like to shake it up every now and then to keep it interesting, but mental health experts say that routine and knowing what tomorrow will bring is a key factor in your overall health.  The stress of not knowing what tomorrow will look like can be seen first in a lowered  immune system leading to frequent illness, and chronic stress leads to changes in the very biochemistry of one’s body leading to conditions such as depression.

 

What did your morning look like?  Many of the people we see at OIM woke up not knowing where they will eat today, or where they will sleep tonight.  Many don’t know where they will be tomorrow, let alone in a week.

 

Routine…predictability…doesn’t sound so bad does it?

Street youth work: What’s that? Really?

Very different indeed.  A bit hard to process for some, so let’s paint a picture of the reality of kids on the street.  Many issues certainly, here are a few:

Physical Abuse: most kids are fleeing domestic violence.  Hard as street life is, it’s viewed as better than ‘home’.

Substance Abuse: if it hasn’t already started, it comes into the picture big time when the kids hit the streets.  It begins as self-medication to try to deal with pain of whatever they are facing. Then it turns into a physiological thing and then the kids need to maintain so as not to go into withdrawal.

All alone:  Even though they hang out in larger groups for safety, each of these ‘tough kids’ is just a kid, like the kid across the street from you, who has HAD to put on an image in order to survive. It is a mask, necessary for survival. No support, no one to help, none.  None.

Violence: is a part of it all, along with ‘survival tactics’ that are less than pretty: prostitution, drug use with needles and prescriptions and whatever else comes to hand, even running drugs for the ‘boss’ man.

We deal with these issues, portrayed through kids who mostly never had a fair chance because of their background.  So we love on them, encourage them in the smallest things you can imagine, build self-esteem whenever we can, and really, just try to hang on to them.

Statistics report that there are a few levels of socio-economic backgrounds of kids on the streets, but guess what?  The pimps, dealers and other exploiters, really do NOT care.  They see a source of income, a piece of meat to ‘sell’, a means to their own selfish ends.

They come to us.  They come every week.  They have no other place to go that is positive, encouraging and supportive.

Yea, it’s hard work, and it really hurts sometimes, but we believe in these kids with all of our hearts.

 

 

Rachel’s Gift, Episode Seven: Looking towards the future

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder, click:  Rachel’s Gift episode 7  If you missed episodes go to ‘Recent Posts’ (right hand column), beginning November 28.

“I don’t like to look too far into the future, it’s overwhelming and you don’t really know what the future holds.  If I think about the future, I start to think, ‘I can’t do it’ and stuff like that.

Right now I just have small goals.  Like I am looking forward to the training to do street outreach, and start with that.  I want to help people, people that are like, in my position, and do what I can to really help in the outreach program. (Rachel  has joined our Urban Intervention Training and is preparing to do street outreach to people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Ottawa).

I’m praying a lot about what I am being called to.  I do my devotions every day, and read my bible every day.  I try to think about what God or Jesus would do and learn as much as I can.  I’m a new Christian I guess, and I want to help people.

A lot of my friends ask me ‘How did you do it? How did you do it?’ and I tell them, ‘It’s Jesus and the methadone program. I say both  ‘cause if you just say Jesus, they’ll say, like ‘Yah.  OK. Whatever,’ and not listen.  But it’s more than the methadone program.  I try to help them understand the change in my life.  We talk about the methadone, and then somehow they always end up asking about Jesus.  It’s true.  If I didn’t have Jesus, and if I didn’t have a relationship with him, I don’t think I would be clean.  He just led me to the right places.

The fact that He came to the earth, died on the cross, that He died for me, that’s what it’s all about.  That’s what Christmas is all about.  Because of what He has done for me, the least thing I could do is to live for Him. I just keep seeing things in my life that He keeps doing for me, and prayers that have been answered.  I used to be, ‘Yeah, God and all that,’ but now there’s just too much that He’s done for me, I just can’t deny it now.  There’s just too much God in my life to deny it now.”

In our Final EpisodeListen as Rachel herself recounts her story about the Gift this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 and 5. 

THEN, starting Wednesday, return to our website to see Rachel make a video appearance and share a brief testimony of her life.  It’s a Miracle!  It’s a Gift to us all!  Merry Christmas!

Rachel’s Gift, Episode Five: The Birth of Hope

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder, click: Rachel’s Gift episode 5   If you missed episodes go to ‘Recent Posts’ (right hand column).. 

I was on the streets and my boyfriend took me to some of the drop ins in the city. He took me to the OIM drop in – I didn’t even know there was a drop in there.  It was pretty cool.

I came to the OIM office probably about two  years ago.  It must have been Christmas or something, because the spread you guys had out on the table was awesome.  We had lots and lots of food.   It was really, really cool. 

I started to come to the drop in all the time, and one day Jason [youth outreach worker] came up to me and said, “Hey would you be interested in coming to our youth art program?”  When he talked to me, he actually got through to me.  It was like, hey, somebody actually cared for me. 

The next youth event was the art show at the church.  It was really cool.  I saw all the stuff the kids were doing, how happy they were, it was really cool. I didn’t know that about them.  I knew them from the street but I didn’t know that there was anything like this art group.  

There isn’t anything else out there like this.

I started going to the art group all the time.  It is so different from the life on the street.  The street life is drugs, drugs, and more drugs.  At the art group there is something so real, like its real life.  I haven’t seen that in a long time, probably ever.  It’s just like normal everyday kids.  You don’t see normal everyday kids on the streets.

I go to the art group all the time.  I look forward to it.  When I come to the office on Thursdays (work skills program), I don’t even go back home in case I fall asleep and miss art group.  So I just stay downtown until art group.

I am so looking forward to the next art show.  I haven’t been able to show any of my art yet.  I have a couple of pieces, maybe three.  My mom’s really looking forward to coming and my brother too.

It has made a big difference in the last couple of months. 

It makes me think, ‘Yeah, I can do this’.

Next Week:  Amazed at how she has been accepted into the community, Rachel shares her feelings about finally belonging to a community of caring people.

Rachel’s Gift, Episode Four, The spiral downwards continues…

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  Go to www.chri.ca for the audio backgrounders to Rachel’s stories. 

This time when I got out of jail I couldn’t go to Ottawa – I was banned from Ottawa.  You know, I wasn’t supposed to be in Ottawa, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go. So, I got caught in Ottawa in a rooming house because I was taking a shower there and was arrested for a breach of probation.  I went back to jail for one month and then they released me in Ottawa (laughter).  I couldn’t go to my mom’s house because her husband at the time was totally against me living there.  I could see why.

I got out of jail and started doing the same things that I usually do.  I was staying in a heated stairwell at Nepean and Bank – it was public property so they couldn’t arrest you, just tell you to get along.  When you are in drugs, people only want you at your house when you had something for them, they say, ‘I would never see you out on the street.’ But when you were in need and you didn’t have any drugs, they would say, like, ‘We can’t have people staying at our house’.

There are some places to stay when you live on the streets, but you have to be careful.  Staying in a shelter was much worse – in my eyes it was like the bottom… as long as I don’t have to go to a shelter, I hadn’t hit rock bottom.

I didn’t have a place anymore, and I found a website where you could and used that to meet guys for a date…  So, I stayed on the streets or maybe in hotels sometimes.  I don’t know, it just became a way of life, survival.

I basically sick and tired of doing drugs, like heroin… I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I ended up in a crack house downtown: people coming and going all the time; drugs in and out like crazy, and I was still using.  I had started the methadone program, but was still using street drugs.  Anytime I used anything other than opiates, it screwed up my methadone and I would get even sicker. 

I guess I just hit rock bottom then.  Doing things I would never do and being somebody that I totally never was.  People totally lost respect for me.  I would overhear people talking about me, and think, ‘Is that what they really think about me?’

I just took a look around one day. I was introduced to Jesus a few years ago.  When I was in jail I accepted Jesus but I was doing my own thing.  Then one day, looked around and said, “Oh God, I know that this is not what you have planned for me, I just know it isn’t.”

I walked out of that place and got a place with some girls, and it was a safe place.

Next Week:    The story takes a significant turn for the better.  Stay connected, you don’t want to miss this!

Rachel’s Gift, Episode Three, “My first line, and move to Ottawa”

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder, click:  Rachel’s Gift episode 3 If you missed episodes go to ‘Recent Posts’ (right hand column).

So I was at a party and I saw my mom doing a line of coke and I was shocked.   “Wuh?  What are you doing?” and lost my mind and I started to party real hard.  I was confused and concerned and kinda wondering all at the same time.

 I really started to think.  My mom was using a lot, and using more and drinking and using coke and I was wondering why this was so much better than your children, than loving your children – using coke that is.

 I love my mom a lot, and I still do.  Whatever it was about coke, it must be good. That’s what my thinking was.  I did my first line of coke shortly after that.  I was seventeen.

 I had been living on my own, but one of the things that happened when I discovered coke was, I couldn’t pay my rent anymore.  I moved in with my boyfriend and his mom.  I worked a couple of places, but I was always going in hung over.  I had to get out of that small town.

 I moved to Ottawa and I moved in with my dad. I had nowhere else to go.  I ended up meeting this guy that my dad introduced me to, which ended up being his crack dealer, and I started dating him. My Dad was doing a lot of crack then and I ended up paying the rent – or trying at least.  I was working a bit, but I was partying hard at the same time.  I don’t know why, but my dad really got mad at me.  I mean, he was using all the time then, not working, making deals, and I guess he looked at me and couldn’t stand to see me doing what I was doing – with the drugs and all that.

 I lasted three months and then got my eviction notice – signed by the mayor. They (the authorities) basically brought boxes, packed my stuff and moved me out.  My brother was in jail, but his girlfriend had an extra room and I moved in with her.

By this time I was selling drugs big time with the guy that I met through my dad.  Every day was the same – using more and more, all the time.  I got busted and went to jail for a while.

  When I got out of jail I had nowhere to go, I was just like floating around.

 Next week:  Rachel really does ‘hit the bottom’.  More drugs, living on the streets, the crack house… the cycle continues with no apparent escape.  What will happen next?

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the good will donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region.  We need your help to continue our youth outreach program.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate” at the top of this page.  Thanks!

Rachel’s Gift: Episode Two, The early years: ages 9 to 16

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI radio, click:   Rachel’s Gift episode 2

“We moved a lot, especially from the time I was nine until sixteen.  I counted, and we moved thirty-eight times in those seven years.  Just one step ahead of eviction some of the times, mostly we got the eviction itself.  It was hard to live like that. 

I didn’t do well at school.  Even though we moved, there always was a party at our house.  And drugs.  Lots of drugs.  Drug dealers, users and all kinds.  Cocaine, heroin and mixtures of drugs I didn’t even know.

I know I missed a lot of school, ‘cause my mom was always hung over.  We moved a lot and with the partying, we never seemed to have any money.  I used to always wonder why we were always broke, and didn’t really find out until later in life.  The pattern was always the same: somehow scratch up the first and last month’s rent, take one month for the eviction to take place and we were on the move again. 

I left school when I was sixteen, no actually before that, ‘cause I never really went to high school it was just the way it was.  There was a guy that lived with us, tried to raise us or whatever – he used to beat my mom up a lot.  We ended going out to Calgary, but the pattern kept with us – we were only there for three months.  Life at home was pretty hard, but I made it through.  Whatever. 

When my mom went back to Ontario for grandma’s birthday, she met someone new and decided on the spot to marry him. 

I was 15 at the time.  We moved back east, and into this guy’s house.  It wasn’t long before I was kicked out of the house.  I can’t really remember where I stayed then, when I first got kicked out.  I eventually moved back in with them – it was a disaster.  There was more partying and the guy ended up cheating on my mom.  The guy was charged with assault and he had to leave.  More partying and then more – it got to a point where I couldn’t handle It anymore.  I had a boyfriend at the time, so I moved out.”

Next Week: The first time I used Crack Cocaine, evicted again, dealing drugs and then jail.