Remembering Homeless Veterans

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People hurry by the large monument every day, most never pausing to look or even acknowledge it. One lonely man, white haired, in torn and dirty clothes stands alone at the base of the steps leading up to a large stone coffin. Tears running down his cheeks, his jacket showing signs that they are real, a well-worn beret clamped in his hands. People avoiding him, his actions make them uncomfortable. Slowly he places the beret on his head, adjusting it so it sits perfectly. His posture changes, he stands erect. He marches 2 steps forward, slams his right foot onto the cement and slowly raises his right hand in a perfect motion. His fingers touch the edge of his glasses and he offers a silent prayer mouthing thank you as he slowly lowers his arm to his side. Executing an about turn he marches away from the coffin. Still weeping but managing to control the tears and is quickly engulfed in the flow of strangers.

Who is this man?

He is a symbol of what we cherish the most; our freedom. But he is also homeless, a veteran of our military now reduced to living on the streets because the help he desperately needed was either denied or wasn’t made available to him. My friend John lived in a nightmare with things he was asked to do while serving our nation. Things that he refused to talk about until one cold day just after OIM’s Easter Dinner. He told me about driving a truck in some far off country, the pain still vividly haunting him as he relived the horrors and the stern warnings about not stopping for anything if the convoy was assaulted. He spoke of the methods the Taliban used to try and force them to stop, of how they would sacrifice woman and children for to achieve their goals. He spoke of the memories that came screaming back every time he looked at his little girl and how he eventually lost his wife and her to the lack of treatment. His pain was real, not something created for attention.

The man at the coffin is also George, a veteran who was forced to retire before his prime because of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) whose battles continue daily as he struggles to survive. He faces ridicule because, unlike the war vets, he fights not only his demons but the stigma of being forgotten because he has never gone to war.

This man is Jim, a warrior now forced to survive in a wheel chair whose battle is now staying alive as he faces countless medical challenges. Whose heart is bigger than anyone I have met. Whose love fills the air around him like a beacon, but who is, sadly, ignored because of the image people see.

Who are these people? They are men that I am proud to call friends, brothers, someone that I share something in common with; we are all veterans. They have been forgotten because the reminder of what we stood for is too painful to recognize. They are the walking wounded. They are the marginalized, the ridiculed, the scorned, the forgotten. Take the time to get to know them, have a meal with them, thank them for their service. Remind them that the sacrifice they were willing to make will not be forgotten, they will be remembered, and not just on Remembrance Day but every day of their lives.

The next time you find a man, or woman, weeping at the monument as they pay their respects. Put an arm around them; support, them, remember to say thank you.  When you are asked what a veteran is remind people that a veteran is a man or woman, who signed a blank cheque, payable to their country, Canada, for everything up to and including their lives. They were a special group of people willing to die , to ensure that Canadians can live free. Only two people have been willing to die for you: Jesus on the cross for your salvation and a veteran for your freedom.

– written by Ken Byars, a Canadian veteran and a dedicated  OIM volunteer

Something About a Name

Every Tuesday, each week, we have our drop-in.

I am sure by now many of you know what that is but let me explain for those who don’t. From 10am to 3pm each week we have breakfast (continental), hair care, foot care, touch care, clothing room, chiropractic care, spiritual care, hot lunch and a food bank. We always have a lot of regular people come out to just hang out, eat, laugh and relax in a healthy environment for the day.

Yesterday was like most days; calm, loud and busy but there was one event that stood out to me. A man wearing a REDBLACKS hat approached me in the morning with a not so happy look on his face. He proceeded to tell me that he was unhappy with the system of how sign-ups for hair care worked. He was clearly upset that he was going to have to wait until next week even though he got there early to sign up. About mid-way through that conversation I said “I completely understand Joe.”

That’s it! I said his name.

I have talked to this man maybe once or twice over the past year. Instantly, his expression change, he lit up and said “you remembered my name!”

Then I proceeded to talk to him about football (the little that I know) and the hat he was wearing. It was like a switch went off. He went from frustrated to smiling. We started chatting about other things, I told him I would find out the details about sign-ups and he went and sat down, happy. I was standing there amazed at how a simple action, saying his name, completely changed the outcome of that situation. He wasn’t angry anymore and was totally understanding of the hair care procedure.

There is something about a name that is special – remembering it is a way of saying “you matter!”

 

 

– Samara, Volunteer and Events Coordinator 

“I’m so glad you’re open today”

We had to close our drop-in for a few weeks this summer due to a scheduling conflict with the church we use. I missed seeing our regular drop-in guests, and I wondered if they missed the drop-in too. When Millie arrived our first week back, I knew the drop-in had been missed: 

She walked into the drop-in – the blanket she was wrapped in was soaking wet, it’d been raining all morning. Her face was bruised, her eyes looked tired. She buried her head into my shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably. All I could make out from her muffled words were

I’m so glad you’re open today.”

Once she calmed down, she told me what had happened. She’d recently been evicted from her apartment, so she was staying with her long-term boyfriend, Fred. Fred and Millie had been together for years, and during the entire course of their relationship, he’s been physically and emotionally abusive towards her. Lately he’d been worse, and she told me horrific stories of how he’d dehumanized her.

Am I that worthless? Am I that bad a person?” She asked me.

She wouldn’t believe me when I told her about her real value and her true worth.

She then told me that Fred only valued her as a way to make money, as he tried to force her into prostitution. When she refused, he kicked her out. She’d spent the previous night wandering the streets.

“I was just walking around in the rain, with nowhere to go, and then I remember the drop-in. And I just prayed you guys were open.”

Like so many women trapped in abusive relationships, Millie was not ready to accept help at a woman’s shelter or other agency. Even though I wanted to force her to get some help, I knew I couldn’t. All we could do was get her some dry, warm clothes, a hot meal and a cup of coffee. We tried to show her just a little about how she deserves to be treated. My hope is that one day she sees her true value and that she surrounds herself with people who love her and treat her well.

 

 

 

Volunteer Perspective

Hand ReachingOff to Ottawa Innercity Ministries today.

Getting up for 5:30 am isn’t very enjoyable to me but then I get thinking about our street friends in Ottawa. They have already started their day and are anticipating that large pot of coffee being brewed for them. Something they can look forward to every week, along with trays of breads, croissants, jams and juice and other goodies. Thinking about this turns my attitude around 180 degrees and I’m thankful that I can be part of their day. People from all walks of life….it makes life interesting.

I was given several large bags of clothing to take to the drop-in with me today. Many were not anticipating the heavy rain and temperature drop later in the day. Quite a change from yesterday’s milder 20 degree plus weather. Soaked through many of our street friends headed straight up to the clothing room for a quick change to dry, warmer clothing. Ottawa Innercity Ministries always has a need for toiletries and clothing. It’s amazing how everyone seems to find a “treasure” on the clothing table. A special top or an ideal suit jacket, it’s great to see a happy face leaving the room.

A couple of weeks ago a very tall woman possibly in her 40’s, came to visit the clothing room for the first time. I could see that her day was not going well and she was struggling personally. As she was looking through the folded sweaters she started sharing a little about herself. The longer she talked the brighter her face became. She smiled and laughed as she shared pieces of her life story. (Every week several people like this woman will come to the drop-in carrying nothing else than the clothes they are wearing on their body). While searching through the clothing this women found a stylish coat that looked very nice on her. She was very pleased with her find and left the room feeling like a new person. I’m thinking it was a combination of both, her stylish coat and perhaps the audience of listeners that made a difference in her life that day.

Good stuff is happening and it’s great being part of it.

– Judy, OIM Drop-In Volunteer 

It was there all the time.

It was right before my eyes all the time, just waiting for me to wake up and see it!

Typical of many smaller organizations, our needs often outweigh and outnumber our resources.  While OIM has a good number of faithful supporters whom we rely upon for things like prayer and donations and volunteers, there really is no venue for me to speak to ‘my people’ except through written correspondence (newsletters, letters and email).  This can leave one with a feeling of distance at times as the communication piece is generally one way.

An idea was stirring in my mind for some time, and at the drop in last week, I shared it with our street friends. Just before lunch I asked our group for their attention and said:

It is common in church settings that the Pastor can come to his congregation at special times and ask for things like prayer for special needs that the church might have whether it be in the church itself or within the community.  We have people that faithfully support our ministry, but I never realized that I have a congregation right here from whom I can ask for help, and up until now,  I have never asked for any help from you.

I’m asking for help today.

We need to find new space that will accommodate our office and our outreach program to street youth. It has to be in the downtown area and should be about 3,500 square feet.

I know that many of you pray, so I am asking you to pray for this need.  Whenever you pray, whether it is daily or just once in a while, if you could remember this prayer request, I would really appreciate it. 

Thank you.

Even while I was talking I saw several people scrambling to find something to write on (and with).  There were a few questions of clarification.  Many, many heads nodded in agreement.

For the rest of the day, people came up to me and said things like: “I already prayed.” “I will be praying for you.”  “I wrote it down and will remember you.”  “Praying for you.”

The positive response was overwhelming!  So many positive things will come of this, perhaps the least of which will be the space for our office and youth program!

It was an idea ‘come of age’, and will bring certain results!

Over 2,000 times in Scripture we hear how we are to look after those who cannot look after themselves: the poor, the orphans, the widows, the strangers in our midst. These are ‘my people’.

Our drop in is a ‘sleeping giant’ of a resource that will change the face of OIM through the power of prayer!

It took a long time to recognize it, and its  effects are eternal.

Question: Do you think that God hears the cry of the poor in a special way?

Choosing Love

 

When Art, a long time friend of OIM arrived at the office one morning, his famous smile was missing.

“You okay?” I asked.

“You’ll never believe what happened. I was sitting in my spot panning, doing my thing. You know me, not bothering anybody, and then this one worker comes out of the store and yells at me ‘Get out of here! We don’t want $!&# outside our door!’ I told him not to yell, that’d I’d leave, but he just kept yelling ‘We don’t want $!&#  in front of our store!’ …..He called me $!&#. How can someone do that?”

To say I was disgusted by this story would be an understatement. I wanted to go to the store, find the employee who had dehumanized my friend and give him a piece of my mind.

Instead I sat with Art and we had coffee together.

Just then, Brian entered the office. Brian is a street-friend who has severe Tourettes Syndrome, so out of nowhere he may start to yell or kick or even hit himself repeatedly. It can be quite alarming to witness. As the three of us chatted together, Brian started to have one of his Tourettes attacks. He was stomping his feet and hitting himself, all the while apologizing to us through his screams. He was clearly embarrassed.

Art very gently said, “It’s okay man, it’s not your fault. Don’t mind us, you just do what you need to do. It’s okay.”

I sat in awe of how Art, someone who had just been treated so inhumanely by the store worker, offered such love and compassion to Brian. It amazes me that so often our street-friends are able to comfort each other, despite the fact that they are often in need of comfort themselves.

How often do we feel insulted, cheated or hated, and we let that hate affect how we treat others? But maybe we should take a lesson from Art, and choose love instead.

 

 

Behind the Story…

I noticed ‘Cal’ on several occasions at the drop in, but I never took opportunity to have a conversation with him until this week.

He was a large man with a hint of European blood in his heritage, often coming to complain about some kind of unjust or unfair thing that he noticed others doing at the drop in.  We always took the time to courteously address his concerns, but I’m not sure that any of us have ever taken time to get to know him.

I approached the table where he sat alone, as he always did, and asked if I might join him for a while.  He agreed and we spent the next hour in a meaningful conversation about his life, where he had been, what he had done and what was going on right now.

As had happened so many countless times before when I have taken the time to visit with one of our street friends, I was amazed at how resilient and strong the human spirit can be.  I heard Cal’s story with great interest,  and listened beyond the details to hear another story running parallel with the one he articulated.

The outward story was about his violent home, his unfaithful wife, his distant mother and his hardened and calloused brother.  Injustice, greed, exclusion, partiality and rejection were the dominant themes outwardly, but inwardly there was even more. He had become embittered, jealous, and resentful: his anger was fueled by the traumatic childhood memories, and constant reminders of his failures from his brother.

I asked about his father, the one figure conspicuous by its absence. The response was immediate: a white collar professional that lived a double life.  He had beaten and abused the two boys from their very first memories and earlier – until the sons became big enough to fight back and put a stop to it.  The adjectives he used to describe his dad(apart from the beatings): hideous, unthinkable, sick, perverted, twisted – it broke my heart.

I hear these kinds of stories from most of my street friends frequently.  The details are different but the themes are the same – all the time.  From earliest memories and before, the effects of abuse, neglect and pain now manifest themselves in a broken man or woman at a table at a downtown drop in. Living with this pain all their lives, lacking needed support without even a friend to talk to, they come to us and share.

And us?  We are privileged to hear the stories, listen intently and for some, for the first time ever, demonstrate the love and care of God.

For the remainder of the day, Cal watched me. Constantly. His eyes were on my every move as I visited from table to table and friend to friend. Every time I looked over to him, he was already looking at me.  It takes a great deal of courage to share your life story with another person, and you might imagine what thoughts might be racing through his mind.

Question: Over 7,300 different people stayed in one of our Ottawa shelter systems last year.  How many carry stories like this?  How can we expect people with this kind of background and no support from family or friends to function properly (“Get up and get a job!”) How many times have we offered a ‘quick fix’ to a complex problem?

The Small Things Guy…

Following from last week, my friend ‘Jesse’, the ‘small things guy’.

So last week at the drop in, I had to call the police and ask them to remove Jesse as he would not cooperate and leave when I asked him.  The reason?  He was drinking (no surprise) openly (not allowed) and blatantly (not allowed) and was not showing respect to the church where we house our drop in (the biggest offense), neither did he respect the staff and volunteers who make things work.

I was hurt – OK, so I know it’s not about me – but it pained me that my ‘friend’, who in his last letter from jail called me his ‘Best Friend’ walked and stomped all over me (not literally) and our friendship (I thought).

He left the premises last week only when Ottawa’s finest escorted him out – no problem.

So my week goes on and I think about Jesse a lot, and our friendship, and wonder how badly it’s been violated.  Then I’m looking through my shirts and I find one that I think Jesse would like and bring it to the drop in, thinking I would meet him there today.

On the way it struck me that Jesse would not remember even one of the details of our encounter last week.  Nothing.

Staff called to tell me he had arrived at the drop in and I came shortly afterwards.

We connected.  I gave him a shirt.  He liked it. I told him I loved him, and he knew that.  I told him he was not respectful last week and I had to call the police.  What?? he said. Didn’t remember a thing.  Truly.  We hung out for a while and he said he would help me with the memorial service to come later that day.  It was a new day. Fresh start. My Best Friend.  Again.

So what to do?  Life goes on.  Hold things lightly.  Hold others with a firm grasp.  Never let go of hope.  Never give up on people.  Love unconditionally – people need to be loved.

Question: What about the seventy times seven plus one? Does love ever draw the line?

PS (and unrelated): It’s not too late to join our Urban Intervention Training for new volunteers: next session Feb 6. 2014

Volunteers Welcome!

Thinking about volunteering?  Just that in and of itself might be enough to change the course of your life!

Volunteers are truly the backbone of OIM, and are the change agents that can bring about change in our street friends’ lives.  I have seen this over and over again, and it never ceases to amaze me.

Sometimes when I go to the drop in I just take a chair near the wall and take notice of how our volunteers are making a difference!  Over here, someone is in an in-depth conversation with a friend.  Not so unusual for our culture perhaps, but we need to realize that this might be one of the first times or one of the only times that anyone has actually taken the time to listen to them, hear their story and show genuine concern for their well-being.

One of our guests is really a loner:  he has never spoken more than two words to me personally (despite countless attempts over many years); one who keeps to himself at a table at the far end of the room alone, and does not interact with anyone; over whom we as staff have prayed and talked and wondered about his story, noting his ‘involvement but only on the fringe’.  On the way to a table to interact with some of the guys, I walk past him as he is in conversation with Fred, one of our volunteers.  I am totally amazed as I listen to him talking and having an actual conversation with Fred!,I counted them, he spoke THREE SENTENCES in a row!  Fred responded as if this was no special occurrence, and it was then that I realized that our friend had found someone with whom he connected.

One volunteer, with no special training (apart from our Urban Intervention Training, see below) has made a connection when ‘trained professionals’ could not.  And a very positive connection at that!

I will be interested to see how this unfolds.  It may seem like a small thing for us, but really this is nothing short of amazing!

Would you like to have a positive influence like Fred has? I’d say the chances of this are very good.  Maybe there is a special someone waiting just for you, who would talk to you, if only you reached out.

Join us for volunteer training January 30.  Maybe God has someone waiting for you to impact in a positive way.  Who knows the change that you could make!  See you at the training!

A Table to Share

“Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” –Ephesians 5:20

Thanksgiving Dinners are a time to gather together with family and friends over an abundance of food—a feast to celebrate the Fall harvest. It is a time of celebration as the air chills and the leaves finish changing colour.

Though Thanksgiving is normally celebrated on the second Monday in October we choose to celebrate the season three weeks later at our Tuesday Drop-In. There are 12 holiday meals available in the city for men or women who may not have the means or company to celebrate. We wait until the turkey has worn off to celebrate with our street-friends—our OIM family.

That is exactly what it looked like last week; if you had been there you would know exactly what I mean. During each of our two sittings we had tables of 10 packed with folks sharing coffee and tea, with servers scuttling between the rows. Tables were covered with tablecloths and floral centrepieces, while plates were heaped with turkey, stuffing, and veggies. One-hundred-fifty friends, 32 volunteers and OIM staff filled Dominion Chalmers with the meal taking place in the hall and the movie “Evan Almighty” playing in the sanctuary for those waiting to be seated.

With the laughter, bad jokes and enticing smells it was a family dinner multiplied by forty! The mood was spectacular as all seemed in high spirits—the wonderful pumpkin and apple pies might have had something to do with that.

We are so incredibly thankful to be able to share those moments with our friends; we are privileged to experience the warm-hearted moments with them.

We are thankful for the churches and businesses that support our organization, the individual donors who enable us to do this good work; the volunteers who serve alongside us; the street-friends who have invited us into their lives and God for sustaining our ministry these past 25 years.

Specifically, we would like to thank everyone who donated to our dinner and our wonderful volunteers. These dinners are such a wonderful opportunity to do something special for our friends, as you might invite a guest to your own home to celebrate the season.

As I poured coffee for an older woman, she held her Styrofoam cup and looked me in the eye, “It’s always so nice to get out of the cold.” She was certainly right, and I was thankful to have for her a place to invite her into, and a hot drink to share.

~Selina

OIM Staff