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

 

 

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Hear Kurk In His Own Words, Part 1

The lives and stories of people on the streets are dark and difficult. Like watching a  bad B- grade movie – circumstances and events happen and  you can hardly believe a human being could endure, and live to tell the tale.

Our Christmas Story this year took us on a journey with Kurk, a homeless Vet, who lost everything. We walked alongside him 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.

Click the play button below and listen to Kurk’s final thoughts after coming through on the other side of his journey: 

 

 

Hear the rest of Kurk’s message –>  A Homeless Vet’s Journey – episode 9

 
 
Please consider giving a special Christmas Gift to help us continue to reach out, help and support people just like Kurk. Click on the Link Below to Donate:
 
DONATE NOW

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: The Saga Continues…

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – The Saga Continues…, click the play button below:

Week 12, and the only word about Kurk’s Baptismal Certificate is, “It’s ‘in the mail’.”

Kurk has not been back to the drop in – totally understandable. He did stop by the office and paid us back the $30 for his Verification of Status inquiry.

This battle of bureaucracy is not yet complete: we need the Certificate of Baptism (Birth Certificate) and then start the process of application for ‘Verification of Status’ and proof of Canadian citizenship. Then we need confirmation of Citizenship, and then after these pieces of identification, we can begin the process of application for Old Age Pension and Superannuation.

  • Week 20 – after calling <Europe> several times, we discover the Certificate of Baptism was received by the Embassy in Ottawa. As soon as we found out, I drove Kurk downtown and we were able to pick up his official Baptism Certificate.
  • Week 29 we received Kurk’s ‘Verification of Status’ which is a critical piece of identification. Waiting now for Confirmation of Citizenship.
  • A request for confirmation of CPP and OAS on received on Week 31
  • We are now in Week 40 (Christmas week) and are still waiting for Kurk’s Citizenship document.
  • AFTER we get this final document, THEN we can apply for both Kurk’s backlog of eleven months each of Old Age Pension and superannuation. Then we’ll change his address to his new apartment, and pray that he does not have to go through this ‘Identity Maze’ again.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Interact:  How do you think you would cope after 40 weeks (and then some) of waiting for your citizenship documentation? How would you cope, homeless, alone and with no family supports?

Hear Kurk in His Own Words Here:  A Homeless Vet’s Journey – In His Own Words – episode 8

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 8

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 8, click on the play button below:

The letter with updated information for Kurk’s account for CPP was faxed by Catherine McKenna’s (MP Ottawa Centre) office on Week 6 and two weeks later, with no mail, and no news on his CPP, I called McKenna’s office to follow up.

I was becoming quite frustrated with this process by now, the bureaucracy and all the red tape, and I wondered how I would hold up in this process if it was MY CPP cheque that was not forthcoming.

Kurk told me in fact, that he had given up. He was done waiting. He was in a depressed state, and in serious trouble. On several occasions by now, Kurk had spoken to me about taking his life, considering himself not worth the effort. This was very disturbing to me, because I sensed he meant it.

Here is the response from McKenna’s office on Week 8:  “I just called CPP about the case, they had a mix up on their end and had changed the address but did not send out the cheque. They have now corrected that and are sending it out now. He will receive the retroactive amount plus the most recent payment. This month’s payment will come at the end of this month. I am sorry about this, it is very strange as I have called several times on this file to make sure things were moving.”

Kurk made seven trips (over several months) to Service Canada before we took up his case with Catherine McKenna’s office.

The Time Line: the date of the initial fax from McKenna’s office to Service Canada took place on Week 5; the second inquiry on Week 8.

I received a letter from the Government of Canada and delivered it to Kurk on Week 9.

We sat in my car and Kurk cried when he opened the letter. Through tears of joy he said, “I would never, never have this unless you helped me. Thank you. Thank you.”

The contents? A cheque for several months of back pay from Canada Pension Plan.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Interact:  Finally, a breakthrough for our friend Kurk! Imagine if you were Kurk, homeless and finally seeing that small silver lining – after 2 long months of waiting! What feelings would you be experiencing in that moment? How would this impact you?  

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 7)