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.

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 2

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 2, click play below:

Taking Kurk aside, I asked him about the money that the government owed him. He told me that he was owed money from Canada Pension, Old Age Pension and Superannuation.  He said that they had frozen his bank account and he was not receiving any money, and in fact, had not received any money for over two months.

I was not sure how to proceed with this, so I picked up my phone and called my friend, Ron Petersen from McMillan LLP, and passed the phone to Kurk. After 40 minutes Kurk returned the phone to me, and Ron told me that Kurk did not need a lawyer, but suggested he might get some help from Catherine McKenna, Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre. I phoned McKenna’s office immediately.

Monica, from Catherine McKenna’s office was more than helpful as she listened to Kurk’s story and offered to help. We set up an appointment and started the process of Kurk’s claim.

Kurk had lost all of his identification in a fire in 2013. All of it!  He never had the where-with-all to have it replaced, for any number of reasons: capacity, money (it costs to replace identity), and support.

He was staying at the Salvation Army shelter. His bank account, where once he had been receiving direct deposits from Canada Pension Plan had been frozen. I eventually found out why: Kurk had tried to access his account on a number of occasions from different ATMs to see if his money had been deposited. Each inquiry cost $3.  So, because he had a negative balance of $21 ( seven inquiries at $3 each), his account was suspended/frozen, and the deposits stopped.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Imagine if this had happened to you, what do you think you would do?

What would you do if your were in Kurk’s position? A homeless veteran with absolutely no support, and no resources.

Please leave us a comment below. 

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 3)

 

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 1

For the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey click play below:

Kurk had served several tours of duty in the armed forces, serving his country, and some time ago we learned that  he had also been a mercenary. He suffers from what happened in war, and suffers now from Post Tramautic Stress Disorder. When he needed help there was none – no counselling or support to help him recover. He carries this pain and his suffering.

You can easily tell when Kurk is at the drop in. His big booming voice announces that he has arrived – no doubt about that!

He had become more irritable in the past several weeks: he spoke loudly about the injustices of the ‘system’ and how people just were not treated right, and how he really should not ‘be here’ as the government owed him a significant amount of money.

One  drop in day, Kurk was so upset that he was yelling at someone who cut in front of him in line, and yelled that you can’t expect anything more from ‘these people’. It may have been the contents of the food hamper that day, or someone had actually cut in front of him in line, or maybe just that he really didn’t belong here with all these other people. Usually it doesn’t take too long for complaints about the government to arise: the government was withholding money from him that was rightfully his!  They had even ‘frozen’ his bank account!

His voice had risen beyond the level of disruption, and I watched as Jelica walked over to Kurk to calm him down. There was a brief interaction, and Kurk finally settled down. In the midst of their conversation, he said something like, “… AND I HAVE BRAIN CANCER AGAIN…”

I later spoke to him in the hallway, alone. He told me that he had been through two previous episodes of cancer, and this third recurrence caused him serious concern. His eyes welled up with tears and he cried when he told me that his cancer had returned. He continued to cry as I offered a prayer to God for help.

Note: Today there is help for those who return from war and suffer from PTSD. This has not always been available to our veterans and they suffer terribly. ADD to that the challenges of not having a place of your own, and it’s not too difficult to imagine that life will look pretty gloomy, to say the least.

Interact: How might you cope under similiar circumstances? Where would you go? Who would you talk to? How could you manage?

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 2)

 

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

Imagine A World With More HOPE

george frederick watts hope paintings

This is George Frederic Watts 1886 painting, “Hope.” Hope is sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left intact. She sits in a hunched position, with her head leaning towards the instrument, perhaps so she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string.

This painting,  inspired a scene from a (1922 film) of the same name and it is thought by some that it had an influence on Picasso’s early ‘Blue Period’ paintings.

Nelson Mandella reportedly had a print of the painting on the wall of his prison cell on Robben Island..

After Egypt was defeated by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Egyptian government issued copies of this painting to its troops.

The painting was the subject of a lecture by Dr Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, who described it as a study in contradictions. The lecture was attended by Jeremiah Wright and inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 on the subject of Hope. He said:

…with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God … To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope … that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting.

Barack Obama attended this sermon, and later adopted the phrase “audacity of hope” as the title for his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address as well as the title of his second book. Obama’s speech instantly catapulted him to a national stage, both as a star within the Democratic party and set the stage for the day that he would become president.

Imagine a World with more Hope.

Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may overflow with hope.

Ken MacLaren

 

 

 

Danielle’s Story: Episode 1 – Early Life

“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!

Hi my name is Danielle. This Christmas, I’d like to share my story with you- not to make you feel sorry for me, but because, I strongly believe stories help bring communities closer together. They teach us powerful lessons. They help us grow. They teach us to be thankful. I am so very thankful for all that God has given to me through OIM and people in our  community who really want to help others. Stayed tuned to Family Radio CHRI to hear my story after the 8 AM and 5 o’clock evening news. Here is my story as I told Ken.

My father had been disowned by his parents; my mom lived in a group home and suffered from mental health issues. After my mom became pregnant with me while staying at the group home, she left the province and cut all ties with my birth dad. I never met him as a child. He tried to make contact,  but my mom would not allow it. When I asked my mom about my dad, she never told me the truth, she changed the stories all the time. She told me she didn’t know where he was, but I found out later, she knew where he was all the time.  I remember as a young child asking God to please help me find my father. But I never found him.

 My step dad came into the picture when we moved to a different province, and they had a child together. I had friends that wouldn’t talk to me because my mom would tell them untrue things about me.

 It was also around then, I noticed my mother was acting very strange – she and my step dad fought constantly and she’d throw things at my stepfather. He was using drugs and alcohol regularly, and when my sister was born, she had developmental and speech delays that really affected her.  

 When my brother was born, he had even more learning disabilities. They beat him with a belt, threw him down the stairs, yelled in his ear – he can’t hear properly even now.  He hurt his sister with his metal toy car, and my step dad took the metal toy car and hit him with it on the head.

 At the  time, I wished my siblings had never been born. I think my parents stopped loving me.

 

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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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 5: Hope Restored!

“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 Continues His Story. . .

“My whole life has been radically changed. Radically! I used to create art when I was a young child and always enjoyed doing art. This has been restored to me.

Now, however, my paintings are not filled with darkness and demons, and terrible things. Instead they are filled with light and life and people. They now reflect my restored hope and my love for life.

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A painting Eric made in April 2012, a month before his accident.

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A painting Eric made in 2015.

I look forward to going to the art program every week. The support, the help they give me, having staff and volunteers work with me, it’s an amazing gift from God!

My dad took me to art group when I first returned after my accident and he stayed with me there for the whole length of night’s program. Both he and my mom have a great source of support and strength for me. My aunt as well! Even I am in touch with my nieces and nephews now. It is totally awesome!”

Coming Up on December 21st – Episode 6: Eric’s New Life 

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click Donate Now. Thanks!