Danielle’s Story: Episode 3 – A repose in the midst of trouble

“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!

As soon as I turned 16, my friend’s mother invited me to live with them. It was a very emotional experience finally escaping my family once and for all.

It was a highlight of my life.

I remember laying down in the small bedroom that they let me stay in. They painted a nice cloud on the ceiling and they all were so very sweet.

At the same time, I was worried about how they might treat me. I had these panic attacks, with my heart racing and feeling like I was about to die.

I was confused emotionally, and scared, I guess.

My friends mom was very structured. She taught me about doing chores: doing dishes, laundry and all that. She never yelled at me, included me in the trips to the cottage, included me in all their family activities, helping in the garden.

They noticed that I was struggling with my homework, so they sat down with me at the table and helped me focus. I just wanted to write stories, but they helped me get through school.

 Living with my friend proved to be the safest time in my life that I have ever felt. My grades went from D’s to A’s. 

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.

Fabric Art

Last week, local artist and OIM volunteer Ruth Allison did a workshop with the youth at Innercity Arts. She talked to the youth about her love of using fabrics in her art. She said she gets inspiration from music, and then creates art pieces that reflect the music. She showed the youth techniques for using fabric on canvas. Although the youth were more used to using paint on canvas, they had lots of fun exploring with fabrics.

Check out what they made!

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Reaching a Milestone

Innercity Arts reached a significant milestone this week: we registered our 100th youth.

This is a pretty amazing feat, given the programs humble beginnings.

It all began back in 2009, when our Youth Outreach Worker met a youth on the street and noticed the therapeutic and transformative nature of art. After getting input from Ottawa’s street-engaged youth, we decided to start a strength-based arts program called the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program (now Innercity Arts).

On the first day of programming, our Youth Outreach Worker set up the art supplies and waited for the youth to arrive.

But they didn’t.

Not the first day at least. But pretty soon, they started showing up. But by the end of 2009, there were nine youth in the program. These nine youth saw something special in the program. It was their word of mouth that caused the program to grow.

Today, we see over 40 youth each week in our program.

It may have began with one youth and one idea…..but it THRIVED because of the support of volunteers, donations, and prayers.

Thank you to all of our youth and supporters.

 

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.

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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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Giving Their Time

A few weeks ago a handful of our youth participated in a fundraiser for Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat is a small northern Ontario community which has declared a state of emergency due to the large volume of suicide attempts from their population. Our youth felt the pull to show support for the youth in this small community. This was a wonderful event with beautiful traditional ceremonies and dances. The youth participated by creating live paintings for auction. With their work they were able to raise just under $600. I was so proud of them. They worked hard and produced some of the best work I have seen from them in just under 2 hours. Check out the incredible work they did below.

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Art Show….Sneak Peak!

The youth of Innercity Arts have been working hard, creating some amazing art for the upcoming art show. Here’s a sneak peak!

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Please come out and show your support!

Thursday May 12th from 6:30 pm-9:30 pm

Lansdowne Horticulture Building 1525 Princess Patricia Way

 

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.

Knowing You’re Loved

A few weeks ago, I was looking through an old box of memories from my childhood when I found this:

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It was a valentine I received when I was probably about 15, given to me by a friend named Rebecca. Rebecca was not a close friend of mine, but she took the time to make this for me and for her other friends. As an awkward, insecure teenager, I was touched that someone would take the time to do this for me. I kept it all these years because it was a nice reminder of how nice it is to feel loved.

After rediscovering this valentine, I decided to pass on the love to the youth I work with in the art program. Dana and I made valentines for each youth – each one personalized with attributes we love about them. They looked like this:

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We handed these out at the art group and it was easy to see that they had an effect on the youth. Some youth smiled, some thanked us with hugs, some said they’d keep the valentine forever – while others read the card silently – not knowing how to react to the unfamiliar sentiment.

Years ago someone asked me “Do you love the youth you work with?”

Of course, the answer was yes.

But then they asked “Do the youth know you love them?” – and I wasn’t so sure.

Since being asked that question, I try my best to show the youth that I love them. But sometimes, it’s best to tell them – because they deserve to know for sure.

 

The state of metal health services for homeless youth

istock_102_pp_sad_youthWe see so many of our youth struggling with mental health issues. A major disorder that we see is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to traumas at home, school and the streets. Not a lot of people associate PTSD with youth. This is a disorder usually associated with soldiers and trauma of war.  The stress of being homeless has been widely known to cause PTSD. Our youth struggle to juggle everyday needs, such as finding shelter and food, with the weighted needs of their addictions and mental health issues. Many of their addictions form from the need to self-medicate such issues as PTSD or depression or anxiety disorders. This doesn’t even address more complex issues that we see such as schizophrenia, bi–polar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Finding resources they can rely on long term and that they can trust is very hard. It is our experience that many youth and young adults who are ready to receive therapy are ultimately put on long waiting lists. Often the waiting lists for free services are more than 6 months or longer. Therapist, counselors, and psychotherapists are not readily available without coverage. These marginalized youth then become discouraged and give up on finding help. We have seen this over and over again. One of our youth, a boy of 18 years old, has been so traumatized by events at home and being left defenseless on the streets that he barely can speak. He has been in ‘the system’ for a few years now but has yet to get the help he really needs. We watch him every week come in looking lower and lower. He struggles to communicate, to eat, to smile. We can barely connect with him. It breaks our hearts but our hands are tied. And he’s not alone. We see all sides of mental illness, and those who have been lucky enough to get into a crisis program are left hanging at the end of the program as there is so little follow up available. There is such a lack of resources that symptoms are bandaged and root causes can’t be addressed.

Here, let the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness say it best:

“Youth homelessness has existed in Canada for decades; however, recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of young people with complex mental health issues who are also facing the isolation and struggle of homelessness. In communities across the country, the failure to address the specific needs of homeless youth with complex mental health needs, and the lack of appropriate, timely services is resulting in a crisis for homeless young people, their families and the community agencies that seek to support them. The results are devastating as Canada’s most marginalized young people fall between the cracks. They are often ineligible for, or not well served by children and adult mental health systems – nor well suited to services developed for homeless adults with complex mental health needs.”**

** National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness 2012 Canada

For more information please read the whole article: http://homelesshub.ca/resource/backgrounder-homeless-youth-and-mental-health#sthash.BdChOF51.dpuf