Above and Beyond

wednesday team

Wednesday night team on the first snowy night of the season.

When OIM staff pack up for the day and lock the doors at 4pm, we know that OIM’s day is not over. Each evening, a team of volunteers will come in and pack up the outreach wagons, and then venture out onto the streets to connect with people and provide much needed supplies. 

I’m in the office several evenings each week for our youth programs – so I’m lucky enough to cross paths with many of outreach volunteers. What I’ve noticed is that many of our volunteers do special and thoughtful things as they pack up their outreach wagons.

I get to see Rose, as she packs a small zip lock bag full of tea bags for Larry, who appreciates this gesture each week.

And Jess, who made sure to buy Halloween candy when it was on sale so she will have treats to hand out.

And Doug, who brings a thermos full of hot chocolate on the really cold nights so he can offer a warm drink to our friends.

And Laura, who writes down the name of every person she connects with on the street, and prays for them by name when she returns to the office.

I feel honoured to witness these acts of love. We are so lucky to have such kind and dedicated volunteers who go above and beyond each night. As the winter approaches, pray for our teams who go out no matter the weather. And pray for the folks they meet on the street, that they may feel the love the outreach volunteers have in their hearts, and they may find safety this winter.

The 52-Hertz Whale

Have you ever met someone who is just amazing at remembering names?

That person who you met once 3 years ago, who remembers your name as soon as they see your face. And you feel bad as you frantically skim your internal Rolodex trying to remember their name.

the-whale-2464799_1920That’s Ash.  Ash remembers everyone’s name. Even people she briefly meets. She often remembers details about them too. “Yeah we met that one time last year. You were wearing a red sweater and we talked about the election.”

“How do you do that?” I asked her once.

She shrugged. But in the next breath she said “No one ever remembers me. So I just want to make sure I always remember other people.”

Ash only shares snippets from her childhood. But these snippets show a lot of trauma.  She told me once “I grew up feeling like a consequence…the result of my mom’s bad decision. I was bounced around between relatives. And they always made sure I knew what I was – a consequence.”

She did not have loving, supportive people in her life. In fact, she had a lot of people in her life who actively hurt her. 

Yet she makes an effort to treat people with respect and love.  She greets people by name, with a smile and usually a hug.

“I don’t think anyone would blame you for completely giving up on people. But you haven’t – that’s pretty incredible.” I said. 

“Have you ever heard of the 52 hertz whale?” She asked me – I shook my head no.

“You know how whales communicate with each other using sounds frequencies? Well there is this one whale that has a frequency of 52 hertz. It’s the only whale in the ocean with this sound. So no other whales can hear it. It’s called the loneliest whale because it swims around all alone because no other whales  can hear it.

Sometimes I feel like that whale, like I’m destined to be alone. But then I watched a documentary on it. And even though it’s been alone all its life, it keeps calling out as it swims around the ocean. It keeps looking for other whales who can hear it. It doesn’t give up. So I guess I’m like that. I haven’t given up.” she said.

Sometimes when I meet with a youth I feel like I am meeting with a wise elder who is teaching me valuable life lessons. The resilience in Ash is astounding, and her willingness to connect with people despite what she’s been through brings so much hope in a world that is often so disconnected.

 

 

Learning to Carve

Larissa volunteering at the 2017 festival

Every year, the Canadian Stone Carving Festival raises funds for Innercity Arts. Many young people from the program help out at the festival, including Larissa, who has volunteered her time the past two years. Whether it is shoveling stones, sweeping up dust, or making sure the carvers have enough water – she is always eager to help. She loves talking to the carvers about their creations.

“I wish I could do that!” she told me last year.

Learning to carve with Danny Barber

 

 

 

 

For the first time this year, we used some of the funds raised at the festival to create a bursary, called Freya’s Bursary, which gives youth an opportunity to learn how to carve. Larissa immediately applied for the bursary and put a lot of thought into her application. When I told her she had been chosen as a bursary recipient, she was ecstatic. “I can’t believe it!” she said with a huge smile.  She spent the next 8 weeks attending an Introduction to Stone Carving course at Barber Carving and Sculpture Inc. I visited Larissa at her carving course one night. It was amazing to see her focus, and how comfortable she was using the tools. She was truly in her element and looked so proud of herself. 

We are thrilled that Larissa will be back again at the festival, but not as a volunteer….as a carver! Larissa will be showing off her new skills by carving alongside amateur and professional carvers. Her carving will be up for auction on Sunday July 21st at 2pm at 190 Sparks Street. 

Please come out and show your support! 

Click here for more details! 

 

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Larissa’s first carving!

 

 

When the Streets are Safer than Affordable Housing

Homelessness andAffordable Housing (2)“Honestly, sometimes it was easier living on the streets”

You may be surprised to learn that I have heard this been said many times. Today, it was said by Sarah – a young person in our art program.

Up until a couple of years ago, Sarah was living on the streets and things were rough. But that all changed when she discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner made the decision to raise their child. They searched for housing and eventually found something affordable with a landlord willing to rent to them.

Since then, both of them have changed their lives dramatically and they put their child first.  They are the thoughtful, dedicated and loving parents to a one year old. They are also working hard to complete their schooling, and both are involved with community advocacy.

But it did not take long for there to be issues with their apartment. Issues like it being unbearably cold in the winter, extremely hot in the summer, serious pest issues and much needed repairs, including water damage, being ignored by both the landlord and bylaw. The apartment does not feel safe and causes the new family endless stress. 

“Things are supposed to be easier when you get housing.” Sarah told me, looking completely worn out.

But the truth is – there may be “affordable” housing in Ottawa – but it is not always safe. So families like Sarah’s, who have no other option but to live in this housing, are victimized by landlords.

Sarah and her partner have been trying for months to find a better apartment. But their limited income, combined with prejudiced landlords who refuse to rent to them make it nearly impossible to find adequate housing. They need a break.

Until then, it is Sarah and her partner’s resilience and resourcefulness that make me confident that they will persevere. But I can’t help but feel angry at the system that keeps them victimized, even in housing.

Nurturing God’s Creation

Each spring, my wife and I find joy in feeding the birds that frequent our large rural Ottawa backyard. Together we peer out at our many-winged visitors through the kitchen window or separately through the patio doors. Species include beloved cardinals, chickadees, doves and nuthatches. Uninvited, yet equally welcome, guests are feisty red squirrels and their companion, more docile black squirrels.

Our love of nurturing nature in this simple way brings great joy.

While most of us understand the need to nurture God’s creation, helping people living on the margins may not always come so naturally. Judgement, criticism and stereotypes sometimes precludes caring for people in need. 

Street outreach organizations like Ottawa Innercity Ministries, however, look beyond ‘first impressions,’ scratching below the surface to the person underneath. They do so by sustaining life on the streets of our fair city and bring great joy to those in need.

Each day of the week, volunteers generously donate a couple of hours of their time to provide food, clothing and words of affirmation to our street friends. The outpouring of Jesus’ love and warmth during this brief interaction offers hope, which can enable the escape from the prison that is street life.

OIM conducts drop-ins, a youth art program and advocacy to those who grasp at this hope and seek a better life.

We know that these interventions bring with them joy through faith in a better future.

Isaiah 43 v 1: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”

-Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer

Small Gestures

When I speak to new volunteers about what they can expect, I often say that even the smallest gestures – a smile, a conversation, a shoulder to cry on – can mean so much to someone in need.

I was reminded of this recently when a former client called us from Toronto.  She and her husband had been struggling with serious housing and health issues and decided to move to Toronto to be closer to family. While still in Ottawa, they turned to us for basic needs: food, gift cards, personal care.

Quite honestly, at times we felt inadequate to address the seriousness of their problems. What  could our support do to address the bigger complexities of their needs?

Apparently – to my surprise – a lot.

 “OIM,” the wife explained “did more for us than anyone else.”  Puzzled, I stammered, “well, we did very little except to give what we had.” “No, no, you don’t understand,” she insisted. “You were the only ones who supported us through our ordeal.  We had no one.  No one.  I was afraid that one day you would say ‘no more.’  But we kept coming and coming, and you never turned your back. We are so thankful for that.”

I’m still unpacking this today  – amazed, perplexed, reflective.  And I am reminded that only in God’s economy can the smallest of gestures have this kind of impact on people’s lives.

-Jelica, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

Catching A Glimpse

My encounters with a new street friend from our weekly drop-in unfolded as many connections do. We had a few great conversations and OIM was able to assist him with some pressing needs. Eventually, though, he disappeared and I lost contact with him for a time. I could only hope that I was able to be a supportive connection point in his life.

Several months later I am sitting in a coffee shop and who comes over out of the blue, but my new street friend. He tells me how his life has changed and thanks us for being there for him. He then proceeds to pray, declaring a blessing and favour, as powerful as any prophetic word received.

I just want to honour God for dropping such a wonderful blessing that allowed me to catch just a glimpse of the increase he has brought to someone’s life and to know the small part I played in that. These are part of the moments that regenerate your tanks and strengthen your resolve. I pray that God will stretch my friend, and that the fruit of his boldness to share what the Lord has done for him, only increases.

-Rick, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

Conversation at the Drop-In

 

“I’ve been on my own a long time. I left home when I was 10. Been on my own ever since.”

Edward told me this as we sat together in the drop-in.  He is about 65, with tired but kind eyes. He is a quiet, gentle man who can be easily missed in the large drop-in crowd.But he always nods his head hello with a smile.  

I can only imagine the kind of childhood home that would make a 10 year old run away. He said recently he tried to reach out to his remaining family members, but they wanted nothing to do with him. He had tears in his eyes as he told me is all alone in this world.

I couldn’t help but think of the youth I work with, and how many of them have recently left home and are just starting out on their own. I told Edward that it was amazing that, despite what he’s been through, and despite not having a family, he has maintained a gentle and loving spirit. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of bitterness in him.  I told him that he gives me hope for the young people I know who have just left their families.  

“It’s God. God gives me hope.” 

He said, “I know that God loves me and wants me here. I can’t read the Bible, but I know God loves me.”

“Why can’t you read the Bible?” I asked – foolishly thinking maybe he didn’t have a Bible.  

“I can’t read. But I can feel God around me. I know He’s here.”

It was a beautiful moment, listening to Edward talk about his faith.

A faith that trusts in the presence of God,

even in times of loneliness.

A faith that believes in a loving Father,

even in times of abandonment.

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: THANK YOU!

Our Christmas Story this year took us on a journey with Kurk. We walked alongside Kurk as he tried to get back on his feet after losing everything in a fire in 2013.

Together we got to see what it’s really like to navigate our social services  system: feeling his pain, experiencing his disappointment, and discovering the strength and stamina he found to stay the course.

Well, it took  over three months after Kurk’s initial attempt to get what is rightfully his, and he finally gets a cheque.

Listen as Kurk comes into the CHRI studio and shares his heart of thankfulness for your support and encouragement over the airing of his journey.

 

Please consider giving a special Holiday Gift to help us continue to reach out, help and support people just like Kurk. To donate, please click on the link below:

 

DONATE NOW

 

(If you missed the start of this 10-Part blog series, click on the link below to start reading. It’s a journey you will not forget – Be careful though – it just might change your life!)

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 1

 

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Hear Kurk In His Own Words, Part 2

Hard times. At all times. It’s not one ‘bad thing’ but it is often a series of one bad thing after another and then another and then another, with no time to regroup and gather strength, and no support to help you through.

No support to help you through… unless someone steps up!

OIM staff and volunteers step up on a regular basis to help and support people who are struggling to survive.

Although there is still much to be done, click the play button below to listen to Kurk’s final thoughts after coming through on the other side of this leg of his journey:

 

Hear Kurk’s Final Thoughts on his Journey So Far. You Won’t Want to Miss it! –>

 

Kurk’s  Final Message.

 

Please consider giving a special Holiday Gift to help us continue to reach out, help and support people just like Kurk.  To donate, please click on the link below:

 

DONATE NOW

 

(If you missed the start of this 10-Part blog series, click on the link below to start reading. It’s a journey you will not forget – Be careful though – it just might change your life!)

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 1