Even The ‘Unlovable’

Serving those experiencing poverty and homelessness comes with rewards and challenges.If anyone has spent enough time serving those experiencing poverty and homelessness, you will know it is not for the faint of heart.

I’m not talking about the stories of trauma, tragedy or loss which I have – sadly – come to expect.  No, I’m talking about something a little more delicate.  It’s the experience of not having everyone you help respond in quite the way you’d expect.

On the one side are those individuals who are just so easy to serve. Humble, courteous and kind, they are a joy to be around and I am grateful to know them.  Just a few weeks ago, after praying with one young lady, she blessed me by praying over me and asking God’s favour in my life. A wonderful and unexpected act of kindness.

And then there are those who are not so easy to serve.  

Some individuals can be disruptive, pushy and rude. While others can be downright aggressive. Just a few months ago, not long after welcoming a young man to our drop-in and directing him to our breakfast buffet, I had to ask him to leave for the day because of his aggressive behaviour towards others. Unapologetic, he left while yelling profanities into the crowd. While we always extend grace, we also recognize when a ‘time out’ is essential. 

Not the picture of loving, compassionate service that some may envision.

There is always a tension that’s felt between serving the ‘lovable’ and so-called ‘unlovable.’ It’s inevitable, regardless of the kind of service or mission field one finds oneself in.

But it is often in these moments that I am reminded of my own ‘unlovability.’ Me, whose life is ‘charmed’ by comparison to my street-engaged friends. I am reminded of the times I’ve been unkind, rude and downright mean towards others, family and strangers alike. I can be selfish, impatient, disagreeable, unpleasant, ill-natured, and hurtful towards those who care for me.

These are all true of me:  a professing Christian.

And yet, Jesus chose to love me anyway. Even me, who is unlovable, is loved.  

Go figure.

So in these moments when the difficulties of service are most acute, I am reminded of the unmerited favour I receive daily, and thank God for his example of how to love even the unlovable.  

 

-Jelica, Staff

 

 

Lost, but not forgotten

Double digit forecasts are just ahead as spring casts aside all thoughts of the harshness of freezing rain, below zero winds, and yes, big galoshes and snow shovels. All will soon be lost to the recesses of storage sheds and to memory…

Life is like that at times and people somehow seem to end up in the dark recesses of memory and disappear behind the urgency of the lives that are in the forefront of the current battles.

Kris and Gus come to mind as many of those in this category. They were once at the forefront of the urgency of the seasons of their lives. Struggling with inadequacy and self worth and pains that were buried so deep an excavator could not unearth them. One day they disappeared without a syllable said as to their whereabouts. I have not seen them, but can only hope that they are well.

Not every story ends with a wonderful testimony. It is the reality of what we do here at OIM. But it does not mean that I do not think of them every now and again or pray for their well being.

Please take 30 seconds over the next 30 days to support Kris, Gus and many others who like them have been lost in the deep dark recesses of life. Pray that while yet there is light of day that God, “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)” will meet them where they are.

-Lloyd, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

 

 

Conversation at the Drop-In

 

“I’ve been on my own a long time. I left home when I was 10. Been on my own ever since.”

Edward told me this as we sat together in the drop-in.  He is about 65, with tired but kind eyes. He is a quiet, gentle man who can be easily missed in the large drop-in crowd.But he always nods his head hello with a smile.  

I can only imagine the kind of childhood home that would make a 10 year old run away. He said recently he tried to reach out to his remaining family members, but they wanted nothing to do with him. He had tears in his eyes as he told me is all alone in this world.

I couldn’t help but think of the youth I work with, and how many of them have recently left home and are just starting out on their own. I told Edward that it was amazing that, despite what he’s been through, and despite not having a family, he has maintained a gentle and loving spirit. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of bitterness in him.  I told him that he gives me hope for the young people I know who have just left their families.  

“It’s God. God gives me hope.” 

He said, “I know that God loves me and wants me here. I can’t read the Bible, but I know God loves me.”

“Why can’t you read the Bible?” I asked – foolishly thinking maybe he didn’t have a Bible.  

“I can’t read. But I can feel God around me. I know He’s here.”

It was a beautiful moment, listening to Edward talk about his faith.

A faith that trusts in the presence of God,

even in times of loneliness.

A faith that believes in a loving Father,

even in times of abandonment.

Searching for Affordable Housing

You would think that in a city like Ottawa, when a vulnerable citizen faces a crisis and loses their housing, there would be a system in place to support him in finding affordable housing.

And there is. But the truth is – the system is flawed.  

Take Jack: a young man in his twenties with a history of trauma, family conflict, homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. He has worked hard over the past five years I’ve known him to make positive choices like getting sober and finding legitimate employment.

This summer, he lost his housing. He was devastated by the prospect of starting over again. With no family support, and not wanting to enter the shelter system, he opted for staying outside.  

I worked hard with him to find housing. We applied for the Social Housing Registry, YMCA monthly housing, the Salvation Army Housing Response Team and any other housing wait lists we could find. Each time, Jack was put on a list and told to wait.

Every day, he spent hours searching for housing online or went to agencies that specialize is helping with housing – but there was very little he could afford. Even the bug infested rooming houses were often out of his price range. 

As the months went on, and it began to get colder, Jack grew more desperate. He even questioned if he should go back to selling drugs so he could at least afford a place to live. My heart broke when he said “No matter what I do, I’m never going to get ahead.”

Jack is by no means an outlier. Over 10 000 households are on the Social Housing wait list this year, waiting an average of 3 years, with many waiting much longer.

Jack never heard back from any housing wait list.

But there is hope in this story – Jack did find housing. He found it on his own. It’s expensive for what it is – a small room in rooming house, but at least it is safe and warm. But the hope is not in our housing system, but rather the resilience of young men like Jack, who persevere despite a painful past and a flawed system.

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 

Loss, Hope and Joy

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,” Psalm 30: 11

Artwork by Freya Barber

A hopeful image from the book of Psalms, but I wonder how much comfort it would give a young couple mourning the loss of their only child…

It was my first year working at OIM when I met with Hali and Danny Barber. They looked exhausted, still in shock after the death of their 17 year old. My heart sank when they told me that she had taken her own life after struggling with mental health issues.

Joy was so far away from them. They appeared to be struggling to make it through each moment.

Joy seemed….impossible.

They told me about their daughter, Freya – a creative artist with a passion for helping others and a desire to connect with those who don’t fit into society. They wanted to honour her passions by donating in her memory to Innercity Arts. They felt it’s what Freya would have wanted. It was an action that touched my heart – and I felt hope for them. Hope but not joy. Joy was impossible.

Over the past few years, the Barbers have stayed connected with Innercity Arts. Attending art shows, donating supplies and taking the volunteer training. But this year, Hali felt she was finally in a place that she could volunteer at Innercity Arts. She is now attending every Thursday evening and is a support to youth who desperately need the kindness of an adult.

We are honoured that this year, proceeds from the annual Canadian Stone Carving Festival, which is hosted by Smith & Barber – Sculpture Atelier Inc., will go to Innercity Arts.  We are so blessed.

I’m not sure that Hali and Danny would say their mourning has turned to joy. They are still grieving and will always mourn for Freya. But what struck me is that joy was not impossible.

Joy has come to others through Hali and Danny.

When youth opened the donated art supplies….joy!

When Hali sits with a youth at Innercity Arts and creates art with them…..joy!

When we can support more youth through the funds raised at the carving festival…joy!

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30: 5

 

 

 

“At Risk”

 

 

The term “at risk youth” is thrown around a lot, often without much thought or care. It’s a label that can feel very cold and dehumanizing.

But what are “at risk youth” really “at risk” of?

I think if we stopped and answered that question, we wouldn’t use the term so casually.

Because the truth is, right now, these youth are at risk of dying.

Drug addiction and overdose are not new to Ottawa, but the surge of overdoses over the past year is unprecedented. The youth I work with are more at risk of dying from an overdose than ever. So much so, that lately when a youth does not show up for our weekly art group, I get a knot in my stomach worrying they are the latest overdose victim.

It’s a really dark time.

But in the midst of this, the youth at Innercity Arts provide hope. Even in this darkness, they remain resilient and build each other up – like no other community I’ve ever seen.

I’m inspired by their strength. I’m humbled by their generosity. I’m thankful for their compassion.

I’m always amazed by the beautiful things they create. This year, they have created some incredible pieces of art and music and will showing it to the community.

I hope you can attend the show, and be witness to a truly hopeful thing in this dark time.

Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/131027517429263/ 

 

A Time for Quiet Reflection

This title is easier to write than practice! I try to get away for times of silence, and this is where I am as I write. It is a century old farmhouse (remodeled for retreats), and outside it is winter at it fiercest. March 15, -21 Celsuis. The wind is fiercely blowing, trying to gain access through the windows and doors and the air is filled with sharp whines and whistles as it permeates and invades the inside warmth.  Snow crystals driven like machine gun fire pellets mercilessly pound the perimeter of the house. Relentless winds make snow swirls outside dance like miniature tornadoes and I wonder why, when we should be enjoying the beginnings of spring, we are hurled back into winter’s frozen embrace. It is time for solitude, amidst the havoc outside.  It is difficult to find a quiet place physically – quite another to still the noise constantly coming from within.  In keeping with my search for solitude and silence I found this in one of the books here, and thought to share, given our renewed (never ending?) season of Winter:

A Winter Wonderland Psalm

The ancient psalmist plucked his strings and sang a sentence sprung from you/ “Be still, my soul, like a winter landscape which is wrapped in the white prayer shawl of silent snow fringed with icy threads./ Sit still, O my body, like an icy pond frozen at attention, at rest yet alert.// Be still, my frantic mind, from your whirling like a perpetual gyroscope, constantly restless, ever on the move./ Endlessly you rove on a nomadic quest roaming the roads of my Egoland, visiting its likes and dislikes, a Disneyland of distorted discrimination./ Ceaselessly you visit its sacred shrines of self-righteous forts of fears.//  Be still, my being, so that like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, you may, with grace, find the tiny, hidden doorway that leads to Wonderland./ Be still so that you can discover slowly, day by day, that God and you are one, to know in that Wonder-of-Wonderlands who you really are.  (from Psalms of Solidarity, Edward Hays).

The Portrait of the Artist

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”

― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

When I read this quote I immediately thought of Eric. So much of Eric’s character is revealed in his portraits.

You can see that every stroke of paint is exactly where it should be – detail is everything.

You can see that Eric puts a lot of care into each portrait – it usually takes weeks to complete. It shows how much he cares about the person he is painting.

Eric loves to give the portrait as a gift. He loves to see the reaction when the person sees their portrait for the first time.

Eric did this portrait of me recently and gave it to me as a gift.

He often says “I love you, and God loves you too.” I think he really wants people to see their own beauty.