God knows what we need..

I can’t help but feel a profound sense of sadness and tragedy some nights during outreach.  But, once in a while you stumble upon an individual who truly inspires and humbles you in the face of such “despair”.  One such individual I have seen on a rather consistent basis in the past month, and he never ceases to inspire and reaffirm the greatness of God.  “On one hand,” he tells me emphatically, “On one hand I can count the number of times, in the last five years, when I have been hungry.” Amazed, I am pretty speechless at this point in the conversation.  This fellow then goes on to give all the glory to God, Who he says (correctly I might add) will provide to those who ask with a sincere heart.  A rather jolly fellow, I always look forward to chatting with him; I have since come to realize that God is most certainly among our street friends, giving them all that they need.  “The difference,” he goes on “is that we may not always know what we need, but God does.”  Leading a simple yet humble life, this street friend demonstrates how little we need to be faithful and reverent – two qualities God very much adores.

Kevin

The bright shining key

Well, it wasn’t exactly bright and shining.  It was more like a dull and well-worn silver key, but the glow that came off the face of our friend Danny made it shine like the my grandmothers newly polished silver.  Danny has been trying to find housing he could afford for a very long time.  The week before at stop-in, he was waiting for news about an apartment that looked very promising.  He was just waiting for the landlord to give the final approval.  He was pacing in the office, he simply couldn’t sit still because he was so anxious and excited.  We prayed with him that the answer would be positive and that he would be able to stop sleeping on the streets.  When the doors opened at drop-in last Tuesday, he bounded up to me waving his key all the way down the hall.  “I GOT IT!!!!” he said.  He was wearing his key around his neck and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the pictures I’ve seen of athletes when they wear their medals around their necks.  I joined in his excitement and asked him what he needed now to set his place up.  He could have said ‘everything’, but he only mentioned one thing.  He wanted a clock.  He said that when he wanted to know what time it was he had to go outside and find someone with a watch.  How incredibly simple…he just wanted to feel home…

-Kim

Love and Respect

Some of the most down to earth and insightful exchanges I have are during outreach with OIM.  Week after week I stop with my fellow OIM volunteers to chat with people with diverse backgrounds and histories.  To us it doesn’t matter where they came from, or where they may be headed; the point is to be there for them in whatever way they desire.  If they want to chat, we lend an ear; if they need something to eat, we give them some food; if they don’t want anything, we move on.  At OIM we aren’t there to judge, but to do what God has called us to do, and that is to love others as we would ourselves.  We are there to give a little bit of respect to people who perhaps deserve it more than people think.  Day in day out they are scrounging, facing judgment, being humiliated, ignored, and sometimes flat out disrespected.  Once you get to know our street friends, you might see that they deserve a little more than what they get.  Being blessed, God gives us the privilege to go and deliver the love and respect that He so readily offers to everyone.  And of course without fail, I see God forge true friendships between volunteers and street friends time and time again – not surprisingly.  Praise God!

Kevin

Where everybody knows your name

Community: We all crave it. From adults to children, men and women, CEOs to stay-at-home moms, we all want to belong or at least find a place ‘where everybody knows your name.’

And yet for all our desire to create community, our society is becoming increasingly fragmented. We resemble less a community than a collection of individuals consumed with blazing our own trails, not bothering to see who or what we’ve left behind.

There is an unlikely group of people, however, that are real role-models in reversing this trend: our homeless and street-engaged friends. Marginalized, ignored, forgotten, they are society’s original ‘displaced persons.’  And yet, their communal deprivation from the mainstream has been the very thing that has propelled them to prioritize community while living in the margins.

“We are not here for the food,” John explained to me one day at our drop-in. “We are here for the friendship.” It was our first day at our new drop-in location and we were running 10 minutes behind schedule for lunch. I made the announcement to our guests, apologizing profusely for the delay. After informing our guests, John approached to reassure me. Looking out into the crowd, several others looked my way, smiling encouragingly and confirming John’s words. These were the same individuals who scarcely got by on the meager resources they had; the same people who sifted through our donated clothing each week searching for that one item that may just fit; the same ones who desperately needed one of the free chiropractic, touch and foot care services we offered each week. John cocked his head at me that day, looking at me inquisitively, as if to say, “Did you not know?”

Friendship, not food: This is how community begins. This is where God’s love reigns supreme.

Jelica

“Heroin Saved My Life”


“Heroin saved my life.” Not something I ever thought I would hear, let alone, believe.

One of the youth in the art group said this to me last week. He was talking about trauma he experienced as a child and how it led him to severe depression. Things got so bad that he was considering taking his own life. That was when he got into drugs. The drugs gave him an escape, or at least temporary relief. Using drugs also gave him something to do, even a sense of purpose. For the past several years, heroin has distracted him from the suicidal thoughts that plague his mind. So in a way, I understand what he means about heroin saving his life.

But this thing that he thought saved his life then, is now killing him, now, and he knows it.

Now he is desperately seeking a place to go for rehab.

Sometimes we see addicts on the street, and shake our heads thinking “How can they do this to themselves?”  But how do you give something up that has been keeping you alive?

–       Moira

Joy was all over her face..

She wheeled the stroller into drop-in.  It was a bitterly cold day and the bundle inside the stroller was barely recognizable…But WE knew who it was!  Since we have known Gladys, she has been talking about gaining full custody of her granddaughter who was in the foster care system.  She and her husband are housed, receive a pension and were fighting hard to get three year old Amy back.  They had a lot of hoops to jump through, but they did it and as she walked into the drop-in a couple of weeks ago, Gladys could barely contain her joy.  Once she was freed from the confines of her snowsuit, Amy mirrored her grandma’s big smile and said that she got to live with grandma and grandpa ALL the time now!  She talked non-stop about how much she loved being with her grandparents and how happy she was.  This couple doesn’t live high-off-the-hog, but they have a lot of love to give this little girl and she has a lot of love to give back.  We count ourselves blessed to be a part of their support system!

Kim

Who gives more?

“Excuse me m’am…do you have any bus tickets?  I have to get to an appointment this afternoon.”  I was speaking with a couple of our friends at drop-in this week when a quiet and somewhat unsteady woman approached me and posed the question.  I answered that we only give out tickets from the office and that there was no one there right now.  I was just starting to tell her that I would double-check that when Corie, one of the friends in the group I was standing with, reached into his pocket and gave her 2 loonies.  He doesn’t have much himself.  Each week he gets a bag of groceries from our food-bank and I know that the ends don’t often meet in his budget.  To say that I was humbled would be an understatement, but we see examples of generosity in the street community all the time.  At the office the other day, one of our friends gave his gloves to another because he had a warm place to sleep and the other guy didn’t.  I think we’re often guilty of thinking that we have so much to teach our street friends…but maybe…it’s the other way around.

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.