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.

A Tough Night

It was a particularly rough start to the night at Innercity Arts. One of the youth had arrived in distress, suffering from a mental health crisis and inebriation. His behaviour was out of control and his health was in danger – so we made the decision to call paramedics.

Like so many other young people on the streets, this young man became afraid and agitated when he saw the flashing lights of police and ambulance. We tried our best to keep him calm and reassure him that he was safe. It was so difficult to watch as he yelled and struggled with the paramedics who were trying so hard to help him.

From the corner of my eye, I could see several peers from Innercity Arts watching quietly. I sensed that they were guarding their young friend, making sure he was not being mistreated.

When the ambulance left with the young man, I approached the group to make sure they were okay.

“I know that must have been hard to see your friend like that”, I said.

“Actually, we wanted to make sure YOU were okay,” one replied.

Surprised, I questioned “Me?”

“Yeah, you looked to sad. We just wanted to make sure you were okay,” one said.

“When I saw how upset you looked, I thought wow, you guys must really care about us,” another said.

It is amazing how one moment my heart was aching, seeing a young person in such distress. And in the next moment, I was being comforted by the very youth I was there to comfort! I am constantly amazed by the capacity young people on the streets have to show compassion and caring for others, even when they have so much going on in their lives. I am so thankful for this community.  

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members (1)

I Met Jesus This Morning

I-Met-Jesus-This-MorningMiracles never cease to move me, even the little ones. They always catch me by surprise even at this age. This morning, like most mornings, in the car I am talking with God and singing, which isn’t unusual. This morning’s song is, ‘Open the Eyes of my Heart,’ which I sing a lot. 

I make a quick stop at a local fast food restaurant for some food and meet a homeless gentleman at the door. He is panhandling, which is strange for this location. He quietly opens the door for everyone, never saying a word, never making eye contact, just holding out his cup, expectantly hoping. His clothes look clean but they are in rough shape. Everyone rushes in trying to avoid him, but I can’t. I ask him if he is hungry and he looks me in the eye and says, ‘yes.’ 

Inside, I place my order and his and they inform me the grill isn’t open yet. I go and ask him to join me inside. It is obvious the manager isn’t impressed that he is inside, but I ignore him and concentrate on my new friend. I tell him to order whatever he wants and I will pay for it. I add a gift card and hand it to him. 

When I get back to my car, I am weeping. I have to pause because I can’t drive.  My only mistake was not staying to eat with him because of a commitment downtown. I am torn, my years in the military demand that I keep my commitment, that I can’t be late, but my heart is crying for me to stay and get to know this young man. As tears roll down my cheeks in the car, I finally begin to see what I have been asking Christ to reveal to me:  his pain, his loneliness, his hopelessness. My heart aches for him.

Tomorrow, if he is there I will be late for my commitment. Meeting Christ, and my commitment to him, is more important than any other. Honouring my commitment to him starts at the fast food restaurant and having breakfast with this young man. I can’t wait for another encounter tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for me then…

~Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

 

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 !

Larissa’s Journey: Life On My Own – Homeless On The Streets

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

homeless on the streets

I don’t remember when I left the shelter. It just was not working for me. I got a boyfriend, and we slept outside together. We were on the streets for about a year.

The pattern was that I would sleep outside in the spring, summer and fall, and go to a shelter for the winter (usually, although there were some winter nights I would be outside). Each time I went outside I’d be sure to have a new boyfriend. It was not safe to be alone.

Life on the streets is different. Everything you knew before, all your survival skills are not enough to survive. You have to hope that someone will have pity on you and give you money, or one of the drop in centers you go to during the day will have everything ready for you. For example, if the showers are not available, you are not showering.

To be able to have food, water, and safety – which can mean being around the right people – that’s the survival skill, along with camping skills. You have to be able to camp to survive outside or on the streets. How to start a fire, what to do on a snowy night when you’re outside (you can die in your sleep from hypothermia), how to find shelter (I’ve slept under a bridge where it’s the most freezing cold place ever) or just sleep along the side of the road. Freezing to death was one constant worry. In the summer, I’d worry about sleeping somewhere and maybe someone with a knife would find you and there is such danger.

I was homeless for four years, and on the streets for three.

We went to drop ins during the day: we made the rounds to all the drop ins, ‘Out of the Cold’ programs, and any place warm wherever we could  stay for a while. Free food was very important.

I got jumped once, and got beat up badly. I did not call the police because the girl that beat me up sometimes let me sleep at her place.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares her experiences first coming “Off The Streets.” Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. 

 

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.

 

 

 

A “New” Pair of Shoes

I will always remember that night out on Street Outreach when I decided to bring a used pair of off-white slip-on shoes that someone donated at the office. These shoes were from a well known brand (I don’t remember which one, maybe Tommy Hilfiger). Even though they were a bit dirty, I thought:  Who knows?  Maybe someone may recognize the brand and be happy to receive it.

The whole night went by and we handed out the usual:  sandwiches, socks, juice boxes.  Finally, as we were ending our shift, one of the last persons we saw that night (if not THE last) asked if we had a pair of shoes. I said: “Yes! Here you go,” showing him the famous shoes. To my surprise, not only did he recognise the brand right away, but he was so happy that he couldn’t stop jumping with joy and thanking us, again and again. Even though these “new-ish” shoes were a bit dirty and a bit too big for him, he was full of joy. (I noticed that his current pair was too small for him and the laces were missing).  

It struck me, in that moment, how some of the things that we take for granted can mean so much to someone in need.

– Sophie, Street Outreach Volunteer

 

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.

 

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.

Taking Time To Notice

homelessnes in Ottawa | street outreachA walk through a mall or along a busy street looking into store fronts of book covers, clothes, food displays;  along with a few obscure individuals crouched, laying, or partially sitting along the sidewalk with an outstretched hand, cup or ball cap anxiously anticipating a few coins, can quickly become a blur of disinterest.

And yet, they are all there with the same message: “I want your attention.” 

The reward in the discovery of a “blur” is like a box waiting to be opened.

Jake was one such potential “blur” when I stopped for a moment just to say hello and ask how the day was going. Jake wasn’t very responsive and not much in the mood for conversation.

Some boxes are harder to open than others; glued, taped and wrapped in string make them difficult to see what’s inside.

I had ongoing opportunities (God’s anonymous intervention) to interact with Jake and gradually the wrappings (distrust, previous disappointments, addictions and low self esteem) came off. Jake and I have a wonderful relationship today through telephone and, as he has time, at my house to talk about life.

Jake is now a follower of Christ, paying attention to his health and addiction-free because he was more than just a “blur” to a few people who took time to notice.

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 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