Building Relationships On The Street

Building relationships with those experiencing poverty and homelessness is a cornerstone of our ministry. So when I have the privilege of getting to know someone on a deeper level, I count it a real blessing.

One of those individuals who I have met while on street outreach is “Bob.” Bob has been living on the streets for many years. I count it a blessing that he seeks me out for conversation. I know that Bob lives in difficult circumstances as he carries his entire life on his back with the occasional reprieve when he can find a safe location to hide away his belongings.

We have some very interesting conversations as Bob’s outlook on life is quite unique. Bob, though, never gets angry or refuses to listen when I discuss Jesus and the topic of religion. In fact, we could all take a lesson in manners and upbeat, positive behaviour from him. I know some of the difficulties of Bob’s life and, yet, he still always manages to show a smile, crack a joke and share something encouraging. It warms my heart to see it. Bob has, in our more intimate conversations, told me that he admits to having a dark side, but most of the time he can push it aside and find a glass half full.

I am truly honoured to know my friend Bob and count it a privilege to share the love of Jesus on the streets.

-Rick, Staff

 

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 including a permanent location for our OIM Office as of Aug 1 .

Thanks and God Bless.

Is there someone out there who cares?

God humbled my pride one night when I met two homeless individuals while on street outreach. Both had experienced tremendous loss. The first was sitting with some Listerine bottles partially hidden away. With a gruff tone, he told us he had lost a friend to overdose recently. The second individual told us he had lost his brother, but he would not share any details.

When someone from the street experiences loss, their own isolation and marginalization is often compounded with the question: Does anyone really care?

Their pain was very real and tangible. In fact when I made the mistake of saying ‘I’m sorry.’ The response from both was a few expletive words wrapped around, ‘what do you care?’ Their comments really struck a nerve with me. I really did empathize with what they were going through. But how do I share with them that they are not alone and that someone does care?

While I genuinely care, I also realize that words often fall short of the mark.

My deepest prayer is that God will show his overwhelming love and never-ending commitment to these men.

– Rick, 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 You.

The Kindness of Human Contact

On a recent family vacation to BC, we witnessed polite but dishevelled panhandlers plying their trade amidst the more decidedly destitute segment of the population, all passive against the throb of the downtown core of that province’s largest city.

In front of the exquisite old railway station and among the edgy new commercial buildings, we found them.

Similarly I saw disadvantaged people in Cincinnati and Shreveport.

They seem to stand out, as icons of another world in which, save for circumstances and choices, we too could share. Perhaps it’s the starkness of winter in the cold and grey inner city landscape that makes them more noticeable.

The homeless are systemic to the “human condition” for a variety of reasons. But few are on the streets because they want to be.

Some are victims, sometimes avoidably so. Many are mentally or emotionally challenged.

However, the vast majority of our street friends silently long to engage in an authentic relationship with someone who cares.

We help simply by lending an ear or sharing a kind word during short encounters on the streets of our nation’s capital.

It takes only a few moments, yet it soothes an ache that only those of us who understand and are willing can relieve.

God’s love, as demonstrated by the kindness of human contact, inspires hope.

Simply being a small part of a less fortunate person’s day can make an immeasurable difference in their lives.

 

1 Corinthians 14 verse 13: “Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.”

 

Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer

 

 

An Unexpected Encounter

I want to share a short, but quite wonderful, blessing I received from my street-engaged friend named ‘Bob.’

When you are on the streets, you are surrounded by many difficult stories and so much pain, so when a blessing erupts in your ministry it’s an amazing thing. The feeling you get is that of God just dropping a wonderful nugget in your lap to bless you.

Bob is a friend I first met at out drop-in and we also had a few connections at our stop-in. We had talked and shared during these times and things unfolded as many connections do. We at OIM, as always, helped where we could with Bob’s needs. I eventually lost contact with him for several months, so I just had to be content with the fact that I was able to plant or water by being a supportive connection point in his life.

Now, several months later, I am sitting in a coffee shop and who comes over, but Bob! Out of the blue he tells me how his life has changed and he thanked us for being there for him. He then proceeds to pray over me, declaring a blessing and favour, as powerful as any prophetic word received.

So I just want to honour God for dropping such a wonderful blessing in seeing the fruit of the increase he has brought to someone’s life and in knowing the small part I played in that. These are part of the moments that regenerate your tanks and strengthen your resolve. I pray that God continues to grow and stretch my friend Bob, and that the fruit of his boldness to pray for and share what the Lord has done for him, only increases in his life. 

 

Rick, Staff

 

 

“Mountains” | a Poem by Street Poet ‘Stan’

Most of our street friends are respectful of our overtures to assist them with food, warm clothing and kind words of encouragement. Many are cheerful, despite their homelessness, addictions or traumas. 

Some seem helpless and solely dependent upon one or more of the many institutions, like Ottawa Innercity Ministries (OIM), whose support is freely and willingly available to them.  

Often, OIM outreach teams come across those whose friendly banter and hopeful smiles make our simple acts of kindness extremely rewarding.

Recently, seated on the sidewalk on a cold winter’s afternoon in front of the Rideau Centre, a young man named ‘Stan’ (not his real name) displayed all of these signs of outward appreciation. But in his own small way he exemplified God’s love as can only be found on the street by giving our team something he created himself; a poem of hope called “Mountains” as follows: 

 

Mountains have snow-capped tops

Along its’ ridges many jagged rocks

This makes for difficult terrain

But I want to climb one all the same

 

Maybe just to say I did

But more to conquer the fears I’ve hid

There is always the chance that you could fall

And from this height it could end it all

 

You can’t have these thoughts in your mind

Or the law of attraction must abide

So get out there and give it a shot

And see the view from a mountain top

 

Your whole perspective just might change

Once you remove the fears and doubts from your brain.

 

Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer

 

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 

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

 

 

 

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