A Chance Meeting

When I meet a youth on outreach for the first time, I am always aware that it may be the only time I ever see them.

The lives of street-engaged youth can be so insecure and unpredictable that our paths may never cross again. Knowing this, I try my best to make some sort of connection and pray that I have helped the youth in some way.

I met Jasmine in the summer of 2014. She was standing on bank street and told me she was staying in a shelter after becoming homeless after fleeing an abusive relationship. We talked for a little, and then I went on with my route. Months passed and I didn’t see her again. I wondered about her…was she still at the shelter? Had she returned to her abusive partner?

Then, about 7 months later I received this text:

final text

 

Since sending me this text, Jasmine has become a member of the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program. She is there every week and always has a bright smile on her face.

I took a picture of this text and saved it so that if I every wonder if these brief outreach meetings are meaningful, I know the answer.

Shane’s Story, Episode 4: Outreach Team and P4Y

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!”

Click the ‘play’ button below, then read the rest of her story in this post:

I met Moira (OIM youth outreach worker) a few years ago. That was during my really messed up time. I remember how it happened…

I was busking on Rideau Street with my ukelele and Moira came up and said she ran an art group and that I should come. She gave me a sandwich and a juice box and she just kind of kept doing that every once in a while when I would be playing and panning.

I thought it sounded like a trap. I know you’re wearing a vest and all that but anyone can wear a vest. I thought she had some sort of agenda. She came around 4 or 5 more times and I got to know her.

There was another kid from the streets who had gone to art group that I had spoke to and she said that it was legit. I was like ok, and that there was free dinner every night. Ya I went and it was legit. That was pretty cool.

At first I was nervous because there was older street youth that I recognized. I was scared at first but I got used to it. Plus there was like the art supplies I was like oh my god! I don’t have to pay for paint but I can paint anyways! So I kept coming. I think I’ve been going there for about 2 or 3 years.

The art group is really great, you kind of get like self-confidence, like a self esteem boost especially when your art goes up for auction and your art is shown.   Sometimes you’ll see other kids art from the same group in like a restaurant. You feel like ‘I’m professional’. Definitely I look forward to every Thursday, guaranteed I am getting supper. It’s not gonna be just macaroni because I can’t afford anything else or just tuna because I can’t afford anything else. It’s gonna be like vegetables and casserole – not just pasta all the time..

It’s good, I like it.

You get to learn social skills.  I guess I kind of missed learning social skills. You get kind of forced into it: it’s good talking to people or acknowledging strangers when they talk to me is now a little bit easier. It does a lot of good things for a lot of people.

I like the art shows. Sometimes I just hang out by myself or whatever, and sometimes I play my own music, like live for people, and there’s lots of food. I’m always game if there’s food. I always bring my ukulele. You can hear what people say about your art, and that’s cool.

wishing well

A sculpture of a well Shane made at art group called “Space Change”.

Shane’s Story

ShaneDuring the month of December, we will be featuring the story of a remarkable young woman from our Passion 4 Youth Arts Program named Shane.

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 CHRI radio spot posted in this blog and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. 

For a preview of her story, click here or click the ‘play’ button below:

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!

Remembering Homeless Veterans

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People hurry by the large monument every day, most never pausing to look or even acknowledge it. One lonely man, white haired, in torn and dirty clothes stands alone at the base of the steps leading up to a large stone coffin. Tears running down his cheeks, his jacket showing signs that they are real, a well-worn beret clamped in his hands. People avoiding him, his actions make them uncomfortable. Slowly he places the beret on his head, adjusting it so it sits perfectly. His posture changes, he stands erect. He marches 2 steps forward, slams his right foot onto the cement and slowly raises his right hand in a perfect motion. His fingers touch the edge of his glasses and he offers a silent prayer mouthing thank you as he slowly lowers his arm to his side. Executing an about turn he marches away from the coffin. Still weeping but managing to control the tears and is quickly engulfed in the flow of strangers.

Who is this man?

He is a symbol of what we cherish the most; our freedom. But he is also homeless, a veteran of our military now reduced to living on the streets because the help he desperately needed was either denied or wasn’t made available to him. My friend John lived in a nightmare with things he was asked to do while serving our nation. Things that he refused to talk about until one cold day just after OIM’s Easter Dinner. He told me about driving a truck in some far off country, the pain still vividly haunting him as he relived the horrors and the stern warnings about not stopping for anything if the convoy was assaulted. He spoke of the methods the Taliban used to try and force them to stop, of how they would sacrifice woman and children for to achieve their goals. He spoke of the memories that came screaming back every time he looked at his little girl and how he eventually lost his wife and her to the lack of treatment. His pain was real, not something created for attention.

The man at the coffin is also George, a veteran who was forced to retire before his prime because of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) whose battles continue daily as he struggles to survive. He faces ridicule because, unlike the war vets, he fights not only his demons but the stigma of being forgotten because he has never gone to war.

This man is Jim, a warrior now forced to survive in a wheel chair whose battle is now staying alive as he faces countless medical challenges. Whose heart is bigger than anyone I have met. Whose love fills the air around him like a beacon, but who is, sadly, ignored because of the image people see.

Who are these people? They are men that I am proud to call friends, brothers, someone that I share something in common with; we are all veterans. They have been forgotten because the reminder of what we stood for is too painful to recognize. They are the walking wounded. They are the marginalized, the ridiculed, the scorned, the forgotten. Take the time to get to know them, have a meal with them, thank them for their service. Remind them that the sacrifice they were willing to make will not be forgotten, they will be remembered, and not just on Remembrance Day but every day of their lives.

The next time you find a man, or woman, weeping at the monument as they pay their respects. Put an arm around them; support, them, remember to say thank you.  When you are asked what a veteran is remind people that a veteran is a man or woman, who signed a blank cheque, payable to their country, Canada, for everything up to and including their lives. They were a special group of people willing to die , to ensure that Canadians can live free. Only two people have been willing to die for you: Jesus on the cross for your salvation and a veteran for your freedom.

– written by Ken Byars, a Canadian veteran and a dedicated  OIM volunteer

What a difference a year makes….

outreach workerSeptember 27, 2013 was a very special day for Eva: it was the day she moved off of the streets into her own place. It was a small room, but it was hers. And it was the first time in years that she had a place to call her own.

Eva left home in her early teens. Eventually, she became homeless and addicted to drugs. As a young woman on the streets, she was quite vulnerable. But she learned how to take care of herself and when I met her on outreach several years ago, I quickly discovered that she was one of the strongest young women I had ever met. Despite having to be in “survival mode” on the streets, she still had a loving and generous spirit.  She would often point out others who needed help, or tell me places to go where she knew I would find more people needing outreach. She often joked that she should do outreach, because she knew how to find people.

I soon learned that Eva was artist, and in fact, she was one of the first youth to join the art group. One time at art group I remember talking with her about her future, about getting sober and going back to school. She told me that she would never stop using drugs. When I asked why, she told me that last time she tried to get sober she became suicidal. Using drugs was her way of coping, and she was scared to take away that coping mechanism.

But a year ago something changed. She started making small changes in her life, which led to big changes like stopping her drug use, reconnecting with friends and family, and starting to think more about her future and what it could be.

This September marked some big landmarks for her: not only did she celebrate one year of living in her apartment, but she also re-enrolled in high school for the first time in years.

September 25th marked another incredible moment: it was her first night doing outreach as an OIM volunteer. Together, Eva and I walked the streets of Ottawa handing out sandwiches, socks and drinks. Most of the people we met on the street had to look twice at Eva, often saying “Hey it’s you!” or “I knew you looked familiar!” before congratulating her on becoming an outreach volunteer.

They were so proud of her.

And we are too.

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Eva.

Her new outlook on her future? She plans on becoming an addictions worker.

Caution: P4Y Poetry

The Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program was fortunate enough to have Bruce Narbaitz come in and do a slam poetry workshop with the youth. Many of the youth had never tried poetry, and some were nervous to share their poetry with their peers. To be completely honest, I was nervous to give slam poetry a shot too! It’s an intimidating thing to get up in front of people and share poetry.

But Bruce made everyone feel very comfortable. He placed some objects on a table: a sleep mask, a toy Chewbacca, a piece of police caution tape, and a pirate flag.

He encouraged everyone to take 5 minutes and to write anything about one of the objects.

The results were absolutely amazing.

Check out one of the youth’s poem that was inspired by the police caution tape. This youth is commenting on how she feels about her interactions with the police while panhandling.

 

poetry

 

No compassion or care for the mentally ill at the Ottawa Hospital

I have known Skye for 3 years. She was one of the first street-engaged youth I met while doing outreach. I remember our first meeting fondly: I was still new, and somewhat terrified, and she reached out and was incredibly welcoming and kind to me.

But when Skye came into my office on Friday, she was not the same kind and gentle youth who I had come to know. She was having persistent and overwhelming thoughts of hurting herself and others. The thoughts she was having were scary and disturbing and she was worried she would act on them. We talked about the different resources she could go to, but within moments, I could tell it was too late to make an appointment with a counselor.

Skye was having a mental health crisis and she needed immediate help.

She agreed to go to the Civic Hospital emergency room but she was reluctant to go alone. She did not think the doctors would take her seriously, as they have refused to help her in the past. I agreed to go with her for support.

hospital hallwayI assured her that she would get some help, and we would not leave until she felt safe.

I was hopeful when we were directed right away to the psychiatry department. The psychiatrist introduced himself and asked to interview Skye alone. I told her I would be just down the hall if she needed me.

Within 2 minutes, I could hear Skye screaming. I ran towards the interview room and saw her violently banging the furniture and walls. She was screaming because the psychiatrist had told her he was calling the police due to the violent thoughts she was having. Skye, like most street-engaged youth, is terrified of the police. She was screaming and punching herself in the face. I calmed her down, reminding her she had not broken the law so she would not be arrested. She calmed down and we waited for the police.

 

The police arrived, and did a brief assessment of her mental state. Skye told them about her violent and suicidal thoughts. The police then spoke privately with the psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist came back to us, and explained that he believed the best course of action would be for Skye to do an outpatient program at the Royal Ottawa Hospital: First, a program to deal with her addiction, and then a program to deal with her mental health issues. The programs sounded helpful, but Skye expressed that she could not wait until Monday for the program to start. She needed help right away.

“What if I kill someone tomorrow?” she asked the psychiatrist.

“Well, that might happen.” replied the psychiatrist.

I was absolutely shocked by his response.

“You are responsible for your actions and you need to take responsibility for them” he continued.

“That’s why I’m here, I need help! Why won’t you help me?” Skye yelled. At this point, Skye was furious and left the hospital to go cool down in the parking lot.

I then spoke with the psychiatrist. I explained that I believed the programs he recommended would be helpful for Skye, but that she needed more immediate help. The doctor proceeded to list off his several years of experience and education, and assured me this was the best course of action. I stressed that Skye was still expressing that she was going to hurt herself or someone else, and how could he not admit her for that?

He told me that if she hurts someone, that would be a police matter.

I argued with the doctor until I realized that he was not going to change his mind. Although I’m sure the doctor believed he was helping Skye, how could he let her leave after admitting that she was at risk of hurting herself and others?

When I got to Skye who was in the parking lot, she was still upset. She was pleading for the police to help her, even going so far as to ask them if she stabbed herself, would they help her then? The stunned police officers had no response.

I assured her that together, she and I would create a plan for the weekend in order to keep her safe until she could enroll in the Royal Ottawa program on Monday.

Before leaving, the police said “If you are in trouble tonight, if there is an emergency, call us.”

This is an emergency, I thought.

So we left the hospital, with Skye still feeling unsafe in her own body.

I left thinking: Would this have happened if Skye was not an addict? Would they have taken her seriously if she was not street-engaged? Would they have treated her differently if she didn’t have piercings and tattoos?

I have always believed that if a youth is having a mental health crisis and nothing is working, the hospital is there to take care of the youth and to ensure their safety. This belief has been completely shattered. Instead, it seems that we have a system that is more interested in intervening once damage has been done or a crime has been committed, rather than listening to the pleas of a young woman, desperate for help.

Ottawa Home and Garden Show. Why?

OIM has been given a booth at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show, March 20 to 23 at the Ernst and Young Centre.  Why?

A friend of the ministry donated this 10’ x 20’ exhibitor’s space so that people who are thinking about renovating, redoing and re-fixing their own homes might take a moment and consider people who don’t have any home at all.

Our booth will have an area where visitors can see some of the art work that our Passion 4 Youth artists have created; we will be showing the 7 minute OIM DVD and also another shorter DVD featuring interviews from three of the youth from the program; we will have a visual aid of a home (on Bristol board) where visitors can buy a brick for a donation of any amount, and we can collect funds for new space (which we desperately need).

Then we’ll top it off with not one, but two (and maybe three) surprises that you can only discover if you come by and have a visit with us.

The Ottawa Home and Garden people are expecting over 20,000 visitors to the show this year, and it is a privilege to represent OIM there.  We have scheduled volunteers and staff for the entire weekend, and you will want to see how this works!

Please consider this your special invitation: ‘Come on down’ and visit us!

It was there all the time.

It was right before my eyes all the time, just waiting for me to wake up and see it!

Typical of many smaller organizations, our needs often outweigh and outnumber our resources.  While OIM has a good number of faithful supporters whom we rely upon for things like prayer and donations and volunteers, there really is no venue for me to speak to ‘my people’ except through written correspondence (newsletters, letters and email).  This can leave one with a feeling of distance at times as the communication piece is generally one way.

An idea was stirring in my mind for some time, and at the drop in last week, I shared it with our street friends. Just before lunch I asked our group for their attention and said:

It is common in church settings that the Pastor can come to his congregation at special times and ask for things like prayer for special needs that the church might have whether it be in the church itself or within the community.  We have people that faithfully support our ministry, but I never realized that I have a congregation right here from whom I can ask for help, and up until now,  I have never asked for any help from you.

I’m asking for help today.

We need to find new space that will accommodate our office and our outreach program to street youth. It has to be in the downtown area and should be about 3,500 square feet.

I know that many of you pray, so I am asking you to pray for this need.  Whenever you pray, whether it is daily or just once in a while, if you could remember this prayer request, I would really appreciate it. 

Thank you.

Even while I was talking I saw several people scrambling to find something to write on (and with).  There were a few questions of clarification.  Many, many heads nodded in agreement.

For the rest of the day, people came up to me and said things like: “I already prayed.” “I will be praying for you.”  “I wrote it down and will remember you.”  “Praying for you.”

The positive response was overwhelming!  So many positive things will come of this, perhaps the least of which will be the space for our office and youth program!

It was an idea ‘come of age’, and will bring certain results!

Over 2,000 times in Scripture we hear how we are to look after those who cannot look after themselves: the poor, the orphans, the widows, the strangers in our midst. These are ‘my people’.

Our drop in is a ‘sleeping giant’ of a resource that will change the face of OIM through the power of prayer!

It took a long time to recognize it, and its  effects are eternal.

Question: Do you think that God hears the cry of the poor in a special way?

Choosing Love

 

When Art, a long time friend of OIM arrived at the office one morning, his famous smile was missing.

“You okay?” I asked.

“You’ll never believe what happened. I was sitting in my spot panning, doing my thing. You know me, not bothering anybody, and then this one worker comes out of the store and yells at me ‘Get out of here! We don’t want $!&# outside our door!’ I told him not to yell, that’d I’d leave, but he just kept yelling ‘We don’t want $!&#  in front of our store!’ …..He called me $!&#. How can someone do that?”

To say I was disgusted by this story would be an understatement. I wanted to go to the store, find the employee who had dehumanized my friend and give him a piece of my mind.

Instead I sat with Art and we had coffee together.

Just then, Brian entered the office. Brian is a street-friend who has severe Tourettes Syndrome, so out of nowhere he may start to yell or kick or even hit himself repeatedly. It can be quite alarming to witness. As the three of us chatted together, Brian started to have one of his Tourettes attacks. He was stomping his feet and hitting himself, all the while apologizing to us through his screams. He was clearly embarrassed.

Art very gently said, “It’s okay man, it’s not your fault. Don’t mind us, you just do what you need to do. It’s okay.”

I sat in awe of how Art, someone who had just been treated so inhumanely by the store worker, offered such love and compassion to Brian. It amazes me that so often our street-friends are able to comfort each other, despite the fact that they are often in need of comfort themselves.

How often do we feel insulted, cheated or hated, and we let that hate affect how we treat others? But maybe we should take a lesson from Art, and choose love instead.