Above and Beyond

wednesday team

Wednesday night team on the first snowy night of the season.

When OIM staff pack up for the day and lock the doors at 4pm, we know that OIM’s day is not over. Each evening, a team of volunteers will come in and pack up the outreach wagons, and then venture out onto the streets to connect with people and provide much needed supplies. 

I’m in the office several evenings each week for our youth programs – so I’m lucky enough to cross paths with many of outreach volunteers. What I’ve noticed is that many of our volunteers do special and thoughtful things as they pack up their outreach wagons.

I get to see Rose, as she packs a small zip lock bag full of tea bags for Larry, who appreciates this gesture each week.

And Jess, who made sure to buy Halloween candy when it was on sale so she will have treats to hand out.

And Doug, who brings a thermos full of hot chocolate on the really cold nights so he can offer a warm drink to our friends.

And Laura, who writes down the name of every person she connects with on the street, and prays for them by name when she returns to the office.

I feel honoured to witness these acts of love. We are so lucky to have such kind and dedicated volunteers who go above and beyond each night. As the winter approaches, pray for our teams who go out no matter the weather. And pray for the folks they meet on the street, that they may feel the love the outreach volunteers have in their hearts, and they may find safety this winter.

10 Years of Innercity Arts

As we near the 10th anniversary of Innercity Arts, I wanted to look back on how the program came about. I recently spoke with Jason Pino, the Youth Outreach Worker who started the program 10 years ago.

Jason told me that back in 2009 he was doing regular street outreach – engaging with youth on the streets, under bridges and in parking garages. As he got to know the youth on the streets, he witnessed the social isolation and negative self-esteem that often accompanies street life. He wanted to create a positive program that challenged this negative self-perception and helped youth feel valued.  Around the same time, he got to know a youth named Kerry. Kerry would often sketch and work on art while she was on the street. Jason saw the calm and peace that would come over Kerry as she worked on her art – it was truly transformative. This is where the idea for Innercity Arts was born. Jason’s vision was to create a supportive space where youth could engage in the arts, build supportive relationships and build on their strengths. 

#innercityartshow #10years

“Kerry”, 2009

Jason secured a small room in a downtown church and purchased some basic art supplies. On the first day, just one youth arrived. In fact, for the first several months, Jason admits that sometimes no youth would show up at all. But he persevered and focused on developing trusting relationships with the youth who showed up. It was a partnership with Kelly Santini Lawyers that helped fuel the program. Kelly Santini Lawyers agreed to sponsor the program by providing meals, as well as organizing an art show where the youth could sell their artwork. Working towards the goal of a show was hugely motivating for the youth, and more and more of them started coming to the program.

The first show, which took place in late 2009, was a huge success. 9 youth participated and every painting sold. From there, the program developed and thrived.

Innercity Arts has grown and changed over the past 10 years. Over 40 youth attend weekly, we have 15 adult volutneers, a music room and we have a youth choir. But the vision remains the same: relationships are central and strengths are the focus.

We are thrilled to be having our 10th Anniversary Art Show at the new Ottawa Art Gallery. Kelly Santini Lawyers will again be our sponsor.

We hope you will join us on May 9th !

Nurturing God’s Creation

Each spring, my wife and I find joy in feeding the birds that frequent our large rural Ottawa backyard. Together we peer out at our many-winged visitors through the kitchen window or separately through the patio doors. Species include beloved cardinals, chickadees, doves and nuthatches. Uninvited, yet equally welcome, guests are feisty red squirrels and their companion, more docile black squirrels.

Our love of nurturing nature in this simple way brings great joy.

While most of us understand the need to nurture God’s creation, helping people living on the margins may not always come so naturally. Judgement, criticism and stereotypes sometimes precludes caring for people in need. 

Street outreach organizations like Ottawa Innercity Ministries, however, look beyond ‘first impressions,’ scratching below the surface to the person underneath. They do so by sustaining life on the streets of our fair city and bring great joy to those in need.

Each day of the week, volunteers generously donate a couple of hours of their time to provide food, clothing and words of affirmation to our street friends. The outpouring of Jesus’ love and warmth during this brief interaction offers hope, which can enable the escape from the prison that is street life.

OIM conducts drop-ins, a youth art program and advocacy to those who grasp at this hope and seek a better life.

We know that these interventions bring with them joy through faith in a better future.

Isaiah 43 v 1: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”

-Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer

Ottawa Emergency Services – Thank You!

homelessnes in Ottawa | street outreachYou never know what to expect on street outreach. Some days are uneventful; others are not.

One chilly Sunday afternoon early in April our team crossed Dalhousie Street at Rideau. There in front of a popular cafe, amidst the hustle and bustle of shoppers, lay a big man.

No one else seemed to notice him.

It was disturbing to see someone seemingly asleep like this, especially for our two new team members. We knew he was in very bad shape. Under-dressed, unconscious and helpless on the cold floor of our concrete jungle, we weren’t sure of the cause.

However, our team leader took charge and tried to wake him, as OIM has trained us  to do. With few signs of life, his first thought was that the man had over-dosed and was dying. To administer Naloxone or not?

Weighing the odds, our quick thinker dialed  911 for medical assistance. Coincidentally a police cruiser stopped at the intersection and was approached by another member of our team.

The police promptly took over, checked the prostrate young man for vital signs and called for an ambulance.

Once the man was in the ambulance, when asked, one of the paramedics said Naloxone was not warranted in this situation as an (opioid) overdose did not seem to be the issue. We were thankful for their timely response and expert care.

Just as the ambulance arrived,  a fire truck pulled up to offer assistance and another could be heard approaching rapidly.

All of this happened within ten minutes. Needless to say, we were impressed with our Ottawa emergency services and thankful that our friend had been well taken care of so quickly.

 

-Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer

 

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.

 

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