Coming Full Circle @ The Innercity Arts Giveaway

January 6, 2018:  the day of the Innercity Arts Program giveaway to reduce inventory, find good homes for unused art supplies, save landfill space – and all for FREE.  We had just over 100 people come to our ‘Give Away’ and I had the task of standing outside and directing people to the correct door to access the space.

Minus 27 degrees Celsius – windchill made it to minus 30s.

Apart from the emotional weight of moving Innercity Arts to donated Dymon Storage and no prospect of a permanent space, it was a good day. I was dressed appropriately for the weather (mostly – although the thought of clients spending their time outside in this weather was incomprehensible, and these thoughts were recurring), people were happy and friendly, expecting to ‘score’ some free art supplies and go back home to warmth and comfort.

A young lady, maybe 16 or 17 approaches, no hat or gloves, her coat buttons almost popping apart but still holding together (I’m guessing she is pregnant). 

I ask her name and she responds, Shelley (not her real name). I tell her mine, and she says, “I know you,” and with a certain amount of pride, continues, “I’m in the Art program.”

We chat for a while: she enjoys the Innercity Arts program and is currently on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program).  She loves to attend the program because, well, she doesn’t get out very much and it is very positive, and yes, she is pregnant.

Just then a car drives up and Rachel (not her real name) from our older group of the Innercity Arts program arrives to collect some of her art. She doesn’t stay visiting long (what is it, minus 35 Celsius?), goes inside to get her stuff, back to the car and leaves.

Then Shelley goes inside, and I continue my watch for folks trying wrong doors to get to the art give away. All good.

Later that day, I have a déjà vu moment and connect the dots.

Shelley is Rachel seven years ago.

(Click to read our blog series about Rachel’s journey from Homelessness to Hope: “Rachel’s Gift” – episode: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight)

Seven years ago, Rachel was homeless or shacked up in cheap hotels either for one night or just a few hours at a time, on drugs and selling drugs, had pock marks all over her face from drug use, was prostituting herself on craigslist and was either pregnant or very close to becoming pregnant (chronologically).

Fast forward seven years in our program, and now she is healthy and well, not using drugs at all, is an amazing mother to her young boy, and volunteers as a mentor to the kids in the younger program.

In that moment of illumination, I had a refreshed platform from which to pray, “Father God, these are your little ones. Provide us all we need so that we may continue to serve you, and serve others.”

We continue to pray and search for space for our Innercity Arts program, so that we can help more kids and change lives.                                                        

 

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

 

Click for the full story covered by CTV News:

  At-risk youth arts program looking for new space 

WATCH TV Spot

 

Click for the full story covered by CBC News:

Arts program for homeless youth forced to find new space

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding purpose in low places

Have you read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning? During Nazi-era Germany, Frankl’s wife, father, mother, and brother all died in concentration camps. Frankl himself was imprisoned and under a constant threat of death.

Despite these dark – and unimaginable – circumstances, Frankl emerged still holding onto hope. His rationale, as he explains in the book, is that even in terrible circumstances, the one freedom still left to a person is the choice of creating meaning out of one’s own life.

I don’t often think of Frankl’s book when serving our street-engaged community. But it was a casual conversation with Ken, our Executive Director, about Frankl’s account that made me think of a few of our clients who find opportunities to create meaning out of their circumstances – despite finding themselves in very low places.

Take Sandra. She is on ODSP and struggles with clinical depression, at one point becoming a recluse for a two-year stretch. While her depression remains, she now manages to get up every morning to visit with friends and to volunteer at a retirement home where she socializes with seniors and, as she puts it, tells jokes and makes everyone laugh around her!

Mandy, too, finds herself in ‘a time of waiting on God,’ she says. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago, Mandy eventually found herself all alone after her husband left her. Now, she lives in a rooming house. She is at her lowest and, while she seeks housing, she volunteers at a local soup kitchen, serving food and clothing, and providing comfort to others in similar circumstances.

And then there’s Craig. Craig’s past is littered with self- and other-destructive tendencies:  Drugs, alcohol, and childhood abuse contributed to Craig’s 30-year life of violence with stints in jail. Back then, Craig used his fists for fighting. Today, he uses his hands to fix and repair. He runs a word-of-mouth ‘handyman’ business that has him doing an array of jobs from repairing porches to painting interiors and even bike tune-ups.

Sandra, Mandy and Craig are some of my greatest teachers. They have found a way to use their challenges, their traumas, and their pain to help others. And while they have not ‘arrived’ by any means – and who has, really? – it is their continual search to create purpose and meaning in the midst of their circumstances, that constantly encourage and inspire me.     

Jelica, Staff         

 

 

Making a Difference In The Midst of Adversity – Is It Possible?

Every time I do street outreach in downtown Ottawa, I can’t help but notice the constants. Like the difference between those who are blessed with “enough” and those who aren’t.

I see it each Sunday night in the stylish clothes some people wear or the cars others don’t have. It’s visible in their health or sickness. It’s in their expectant or distant gaze.

Affluence in Ottawa abounds. We work hard and from a “world” perspective, deserve this. It is apparent in the streetscapes of the neighbourhoods we visit in the downtown core. Walking purposefully north from the office on Bank Street to Sparks Street, over to the Market and then back along Elgin we see the imposing, manmade landmarks; great buildings old and new. Our parks are pleasant places to rest and take in the abundant fresh air. In the evenings at least, the streets are quiet and clean. Ottawa is a world class city. It abounds with hope and a prosperity.

But from a spiritual perspective, things are not always so positive.

There is much strife on our streets and we see it every week. It, too, is world class…

In spite of this, I love going downtown in the fall. We start before the sun sets and end after dark. The vibe doesn’t change; just the ratio of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ alter as the night marches on.

The trendy restaurants are full during the dinner hour but afterwards, while the bright lights still shine throughout the downtown core, people begin to flee open air events like the light shows and canal cruises. Stores close and tired workers escape to the relief of their homes.

But the homeless have no home other than the streets we find them in. Our street community is diverse and reflect a variety of circumstances. There are two happy and informed 62 year olds who I have come to know separately, who never complain and are joyful in our conversations. We frequently meet youth on Rideau Street who are similarly outgoing, but often in various states of sobriety. Then there are the despondent who can’t seem to grasp the severity of their situation nor seek adjustment to it. The more difficult ones are those who suffer from the unkind effects of psychological disorders. They share a common home and often a similar future.

Last Sunday night my young colleague and I sat down beside a woman seated on a curb in an Elgin Street parking lot. She was obviously in a saddened state, bent over crying. She had two plastic bags on the ground beside her, stuffed with clothes that she may have had to rescue in an attempt to escape an unfortunate social situation.

We spoke to her compassionately, telling her we were “outreach”, asking how we could help but to no avail. She wouldn’t lift her head from within her cupped hands nor acknowledge our extended hearts. All we could do was leave her a sandwich and a bottle of water with the good news that “Jesus loves you”.

My accomplice and I are both blessed with happy, healthy homes to go back to at the end of our short shift on the streets. But as we hang up our red vests we are easily reminded that our friends are not as fortunate.

However, we believe that, through our small effort, we leave them in the love of Jesus Christ and continue in the hope that there be a positive change in their lives.

Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer

 

 

She is Not Unknown

 

You see her every day on your way to work. Usually she is sitting at Tim Horton’s or resting on a bench.  She is hard to miss – a small woman, probably less than 100 pounds – wearing many layers of clothing which make her look even tinier. She is small but strong; carrying several bags as she walks quickly down the streets. 

You have heard her mumbling to herself, or occasionally yelling at nobody in particular.

One day, you don’t see her at the Tim Horton’s.  As the weeks pass, you wonder where she has gone…is she safe? Has anyone else noticed? You worry about the fate of this unknown woman.   

But she is not unknown. 

On the streets, she is known as La Petite Joanne – a kind and generous woman. She often shares her money with panhandlers and offers them her food. In turn, others on the streets look out for her and protect her.

By her family, she is known as Jocelyne. She grew up on the East coast, one of 10 children. She graduated high school and went on to become a secretary. Her career brought her to Ottawa, where she worked on Parliament Hill. She was proud of her work, and her family was proud of her too. It’s hard to imagine this woman, the woman muttering to herself on the streets, working for the federal government on Parliament Hill.  But that is how swiftly and drastically schizophrenia  can change a life. Her family remained loving and supportive. Although far away, they spoke to her often, visited, provided financial resources and attempted to get her medical care.

One day, her family received a call from Jocelyne. She was in hospital after having some health issues. During that call she recited the Lord’s Prayer with passion…

“Notre Père, qui es aux cieux, que ton nom soit sanctifié…”

Days later, they received word Jocelyne has passed away in hospital. They brought her back home to the east coast, where she was mourned by those who knew her as sister, aunt and friend.

Indeed, she was not unknown or forgotten.

At the funeral, the eulogist beautifully articulated this by saying “I am absolutely convinced that God knew Jocelyne….and I am equally convinced that she knew Him.”

At OIM we knew her too. And we shall miss her.

 

Moira, Youth Outreach Worker 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: Somebody see me

Welcome today to my third blog. I find myself again wanting to continue our “Bob series” (part 2, part 1). Next month I think I will interrupt this adventure, and connect some dots. It is of critical importance that we see Bob’s tremendous value that equals our own.

I wanted to share today about a gentle soul that I have been blessed to serve on several occasions. Bob has never responded to me except to speak with the eyes or a nod of the head. I don’t know what mental health issues or traumas are at play here but when I see Bob, I pray for the wisdom to look in Bob’s eyes and know what treasures are hidden there. I always feel an emotional tug when engaging Bob. I feel I have the opportunity to carry a very fragile and expensive piece of China for a brief moment and I want to do its value justice. I never want to dismiss or take for granted that here is a child of the King and there is no limit of the time and resources that should be shared regardless of the return that I might receive. It is humbling for me to be around Bob because I can so easily be in the business of serving people and forget to see the one. Jesus talked about leaving the 99 to search for the one lost sheep and “carry” it home.

Those who serve and those who support OIM are the ones who allow for these precious and valuable moments.

I pray that God will use me to show his overwhelming love for Bob that comes with no strings attached. I also pray that God will soften Bob’s heart enough to let someone inside and represent that overwhelming love that comes with no strings attached.

Rick O, Staff

 

 

One evening, while on street outreach…

Earlier in the day at church I prayed for increased spiritual closeness to our street friends. Wow, was I rewarded!

Later that evening, my young street outreach partner and I met 52 street friends. They represented all facets of this diverse culture; those just trying to get by, those seeking secure and comfortable housing, those on disability and those suffering with addictions.

A former “hooker” hugged me while we were ministering to someone and told us both how OIM has positively influenced her life.

Later, a middle aged unmarried couple asked for prayers for themselves and also for the man’s son who was also present. The couple expressed their love for one another and inquired as to how they could be married by a minister.

We had several open and friendly lifestyle conversations with young adults living on the edge and the fringes of society. One young woman confided the food we provided her that night would preclude her from shoplifting and its inherent dangers!

We prayed with others and were both inspired by the rewards of our work for The Kingdom that night as never before. In fact, I believe my outreach partner, who is new to the city and looking for meaningful ways to help the under privileged, felt the Holy Spirit’s presence that night and was re-invigorated by the experience.

 

Peter T, Volunteer

 

 

 

A Humbling Experience

Recently, a few of us were talking about people we had met through the drop in and where they were. I talked about John, a man that I had met over 15 years ago when we ran our drop in out of another location downtown. John was a homeless man who had his challenges being homeless with mental illness issues. He was a flamboyant individual, colourful, always had an opinion and was willing to discuss any current topic and extremely political. (If he could have found a way to control his mental illness, I do believe he would have made an attempt to become a politician. But that is another story.)

John’s colourful dress reflected his mood and his outlook. I had once told him he reminded me of a peacock because he always had feathers in his hat and he was brightly dressed. I didn’t mean it as an insult and he didn’t take it that way. It sparked a friendship that has lasted many years…

During Christmas of 2005 my father died, predeceased by mother in 1994 and both in the month of December which makes the period of Christmas hard for me.

In May 2006 I am outside the drop in and in a real depressed mood. We had just put dad in the ground and I am dealing with a lot of emotions; guilt, everything associated with the loss of your last parent. With no close family nearby to talk to I am isolated, with my only siblings in British Columbia. John comes up to me pushing his grocery cart filled with his worldly possessions and sees that I am depressed and asks me what is wrong and I tell him. No one else has picked up on this, or if they have they haven’t asked.

He leans over and very quietly says to me, “I have been there brother. I know exactly what you are going through. I am here for you if you need to talk.” He reaches out, squeezes my shoulder, looks me in the eye and something passes between us that can’t be expressed in words. Tears flow and I mumble ‘thanks.’

Every week I give up my time for the homeless, the marginalized, to support them. And, here, it took a homeless man to recognize my pain and hurt and to provide me the one thing I needed: unconditional love. I was humbled, I was loved and I learned a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Love comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. We just need to learn to recognize it and accept it.

 

Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

It’s the small things in life that matter

We all look for opportunities to share our love with those around us, to reach out and make a difference, to make a conscious effort to touch someone’s life in a special way that will make a lasting impact. We look for the big things, the major events that will change, have a profound effect on someone’s life and many times we miss the little things, the simple events because they are mundane, unimportant, and not glamorous.

But it is the mundane, the everyday events, that can have the biggest impact.

My role at the drop-in is that of a greeter. Some say it is a waste of time; others look forward to talking to me every Tuesday when they come in. It is a role I enjoy and I have met many interesting people, built relationships that have developed into more than casual friendships.

One of those relationships has developed into a closer bond with a gentleman who has had a hard life. His past is filled with ghosts that haunt him, that threaten to overtake and destroy him. He stands alone pushing everyone away, yet a couple of weeks ago a simple act of kindness became a common thread, a common bond, caused him to breakdown and hug me. We talked, he shared some of his past for over half an hour and I gained a better insight into his struggles. I can’t explain what happened, other than by following the Lord’s prompting He opened the doors and for a brief moment “Paul” found someone who truly cared for him. We hugged, we wept as God blessed both of us. It went beyond anything either of us expected.

We are His messengers, we carry His Gospel to those who have been abused, used and trod upon. They have heard it all. If we want to reach them we need to live what we believe, not just preach it. They are not invisible, they are important and not only do we need to repeatedly tell them they are important we need to show them.

Do you have the courage to ask God to use you?

 

Ken B, Volunteer