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 

A Place of Third Chances

With his long, white flowing hair pulled back in a ponytail, Simon walked into our drop-in and back into our lives, eager to “give back” as he put it. As Simon explained, he had been released from prison and was getting his life back together. Estranged from his ex-wife and with a 14-year-old daughter to raise, Simon did not want alcohol or his past troubles to hold him down…again.

That’s because this was his third time around.

Having taken the next steps to go through an alcohol treatment program and transition into a community living facility with employment-readiness training, Simon was finally looking forward to the future. “My graduation from the treatment program is tomorrow,” he beamed. “I was up at 5:30 this morning writing my graduation speech – seven pages so far!”

Simon’s sense of accomplishment was evident.

But so was his desire to move forward. “I need to stay busy. I want to get a part-time job and to start volunteering at OIM.” We were happy to welcome him, to come alongside him in his journey back to health and stability. “You guys were there for me when I needed it,” he told us, “and now I want to give back.”

It was gratifying to know that Simon felt welcomed at our drop-in (not an easy thing for ex-offenders to find in any community, as you can imagine). But, there he was, helping us set up, serve lunch, and tear down at the end of the day.

He was in a place where he felt welcome to start over (again).  And while the road to stability is not easy, often paved with setbacks and disappointments, giving ourselves – and others – permission to make some mistakes along the way can make all the difference.

 

Jelica, 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

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: A Mighty Man Hidden

I trust you are enjoying our little get-togethers. I find myself again wanting to share with you about a friend named Bob. (As I will always share, for the sake of anonymity, everyone in this series of posts will be named Bob. This will be my standard opening, so I trust you will be patient with me.)

Back to “Bob.”

Bob is a wonderful guy. He’s articulate, engaging in conversation. He presents that air of an intellectual, but not stuffy or arrogant; just genuinely interested in conversation that goes deeper than the weather. I have sat and talked with Bob several times, and enjoy our conversations very much.

In honesty, I am still waiting for the opportunity for our conversations to get personal. Not just theological about Faith and Christ, but where trust and opportunity will present themselves in time. The reason I am mentioning Bob here is that I truly wonder what set of circumstances has brought him to the place where access to a self-sustaining life is limited and the need for support is high.

We are so fortunate at OIM to be able to support and come alongside our friends like Bob.

As for Bob’s life, with many trauma survivors their ability to guard and protect themselves is highly developed, so he has only shared small bits of that part of his life with me so far. In appearance and conversation though, Bob would fit very comfortably within any social environment. He also applies action to words: whenever he sees that I need help with drop-in duties I don’t need to ask. He just steps in and lends a hand. Bob’s heart and desire to contribute and make a difference in life is evident, even though we run into the big “BUT” that drowns his potential. Bob is quite a paradox and I am genuinely blessed to have met him. I pray also that God brings a revelation of Christ into his life because Bob has so much potential to give and impact the life of others.

Rick O, Staff

Just a couple of Canadians (eh?), talking on the bus.

I ran into one of our clients the other day.

It happened as I got on the bus & looked around for an empty spot.

“There she is!” I heard someone say. It was Ted.

He was sitting alone. The rest of the bus was crowded, cramped. But Ted had an empty seat on his right and an empty seat on his left. Holding an enormous paper bag (a 6-pack of beer inside), he looked weathered, frail, wrinkled, and slightly intoxicated. He smiled up at me.

I sat next to him and we spent the next 10 minutes catching up.

It was like any conversation you might hear on any bus in Canada.

We spoke about Canada Day (how chaotic it was!), the weather (how warm it’s been lately, eh?), and music (I play 1 instrument; Ted plays several. “Like most Newfoundlanders,” I say. He smiles ).

Ted was chatty, friendly; polite and encouraging (“When I was on the streets, your outreach teams helped me out so much!” he says to me. “They are amazing.”)

I couldn’t help but wonder how odd the two of us looked to the other passengers who eyed us cautiously.

I hoped that their expectations were challenged. I hoped that they could see beneath Ted’s rough exterior and see what I saw: the talented musician; the sympathetic listener; the amiable fellow:  a typical Canadian.

A deeply troubled background? Yes. Complex mental and physical health issues? Yes. Making strides? Yes.

And above all, still just a guy, talking to a gal, riding on a bus, on our way home.

Jelica, Staff

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: For Those Who Matter

homelessnes in Ottawa | street outreachWhile on street outreach, I met “Bob” (for the sake of anonymity, everyone I meet on the street will be named Bob in this series of posts).

Back to “Bob”: this is a man who has seen every province in our great country. This is a man who has been through many traumas, who will bring a tear to the most stout heart. This is a man who, when you pass him on the street, is so still and quiet that he looks like a mannequin. Yet Bob has a strength of survival that matches the strongest of souls. The wonderful ladies with me on outreach, when we met Bob, felt an unspoken need to stop, sit, and engage with him.

This is exactly what sparked him to life and he had a story to share.

Bob blessed us with a piece of his life and his story which touched our hearts. We, in turn, provided him with something just as important to him, such as a sandwich and a bottle of water to a man who hasn’t eaten for an extended period of time. We listened and showed him that someone cares and is genuinely interested in what he wants to say and that he matters in life.

I am so blessed to have met Bob and pray that God will intervene and overwhelm Bob with his love and resources which are limitless.

Rick O, Volunteer

Stone Carving Workshop

Innercity Arts was lucky enough to have Patrick Imai, a local carver, volunteer his time to come in to teach us about soap stone carving. Each youth was given a piece of stone, a file, and various types of sand paper.

They were given basic instructions and then invited to try it. I must admit, I was expecting more detailed instruction! But Patrick said the best way to learn was to try it – and of course, he was right. The pieces of stone were grey and rough, and certainly didn’t look like anything special.

But as the youth started filing, carving and sanding, it was amazing the transformation that happened.

 

 

Check out some of the finished pieces.

 

Thanks so much Patrick for sharing your talent with us. We are excited to continue working with soapstone at the art group. We are also excited to see Patrick carve at the Canadian Stone Carving Festival next month. It will be an awesome festival, with proceeds being generously donated to Ottawa Innercity Ministries. We hope you can join us!

 

 

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week – just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, “I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn’t feel like it tonight at least.”

Stop. Pause.

What if it was you?

You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of ‘no good’, you’ll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort…

Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits…

How would that make you feel?

For the one’s and two’s and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, ‘everything’ (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home.

A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was ‘you?’ I know it would mean a lot to me.

Ken MacLaren