“Tessa’s Home”, Episode 1: My First ‘Home’

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from family radio CHRI, click below.

Please help us spread Tessa’s story through your social media,  Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

My earliest memories? 

I remember we went on a camping trip in a tent trailer when I was three. I remember my brother catching a fish. We put it on the BBQ and it flopped off – we thought it was dead and were about to cook it.  It flopped off and went beneath the trailer, and it was so funny.

When we were going to bed, my sister did this thing like kids do, and she cupped her hands, put them behind her knees and made a fart noise. I thought that was hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing.  I thought it was so funny. I remember my dad going “Shut up! Shut up!” but I couldn’t stop laughing.  I thought it was so funny. So he picked me up and threw me across the trailer and apparently that’s when I got knocked out. My mom was freaking out and saying we should take her to the hospital, but we ended up all going to sleep.

My dad didn’t think I was his daughter, and often told me so, but I really do look like him.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m his kid, but he just never believed it. So I got talked down to a lot. We moved a lot, and I didn’t really have any friends.   

I remember when I was nine, I had a friend over to my house (my brother had a pet pigeon and I showed it to her).  When we came upstairs my dad was just standing there and he yelled at me for about 20 minutes, calling me a whore, a slut, saying I was sleeping with my neighbor, until I was on the ground, I was so terrified. I threw up all over myself, and he got even madder. I never again had a friend come over ever again.

We do not receive on-going government funding for our work, but rely on donations of people who really believe in what we do.  Please make a donation to help us continue to reach out to young people who find themselves on the streets of our city. Click ‘Donate Now’. Thanks!

Social Structures and the Up-coming Passion 4 Youth Art Show

For the past three months I have had the absolute pleasure of working with the young artists involved in OIM’s Passion 4 Youth art program.  They have been collaborating with me on a research project addressing the role of structural violence in their lives, that is to say, the lives of young street engaged people.  This means that we have been talking about the experiences they have had where parts of society create suffering and cause them harm.  Examples of the aspects of society that can create problems for them include the transit system, the police, and the stigma and judgement they face because of how they look and their presence in public spaces. They have also been representing their reflections on these experiences through their art.

This Thursday (Nov 28th) we are inviting the public to come out and see their art, and to engage in art-inspired dialogue about the role that social structures play in the lives of these youth, as well as in all of our lives, and to think critically about how sometimes these structures can be harmful, and to start thinking about how we can change them.  Look forward to seeing everyone Thursday night! (For more information about the up-coming show click here.)


Susannah Taylor

PhD Candidate

University of Ottawa

School of Social Work

heARTfelt Thursdays: A Portrait of a Man

 Drawing - Street Outreach
A new volunteer, Sara, with OIM did this drawing recently. It was her first time on Street Outreach, and she was worried she would be nervous. Street Outreach can be unsettling at first, with all the anxieties and expectations swirling inside of you.

Her first stop was to see Clark, who is pictured above. He was sitting outside a store, soggy from the rain. He was happy to see the bright red vest coming.

Sara crouched right next to him–no hesitation–and they talked like old friends. She was kind and gentle with Clark; she listened to him attentively.

The following week Sara showed me this portrait she had drawn of him. It really looks like him, a man seen with eyes of love instead of prejudice. I believe Sara has a gift, the ability to see people the way God sees them: wonderful and loved.

OIM is so thankful for the kind of volunteers we have, like Sara so many of our volunteers see our street-friends as people–valued and loved, wonderfully made. By taking the time to get to know each street-friend Sara was able to see those wonderful parts of them, and look past the soggy street clothes and guarded posture.

I hope when people look at Sara’s portrait they will see Clark as she does, both in this drawing and on the street.


OIM Staff

Stories from the Street: Caged

Greg arrived at the Tuesday Drop-In looking tired and angry. He had a rough look to go with a tough demeanor. I hadn’t seen him before, and picked him out of the crowd right away.

I sat with him and introduced myself. He seemed happy to talk, and told me he recently got out of jail. Greg had been sentenced as a young adult and since has served 30 years with some of Canada’s most notorious criminals. He talked a lot about jail and what it was like inside.

I assumed he was excited to be out of jail, but he said he didn’t feel that way at all.

“That place killed all of the joy that was inside of me. I died in there.” Greg said, “I feel like I was crucified in jail—like I was nailed to the wall. Now I need to heal. I need to pull out those nails and let them heal.” It is a painful image, and a reflection of the struggles of a young man caged for most of his life.

I asked him if there is anything, even something small that brings him joy.

He said “Nothing. Well, except the zoo. I’d like to go to the zoo. I love animals. I’m done with people, but I love animals. I’d like to work with them and take care of them.”

It is nice to see a glimmer of hope in this man. I know that jail can be difficult on a person, and it really changes you, so it was inspiring to see even a little spark in the darkness.



OIM Staff

Taking things for granted???

Ken Pic

She walked into the drop in with her head held high, her long strawberry blonde hair (it had seen better days) swirled around her head like flames of fire looking to devour anything in its path. Our eyes meet when she entered the room, and I said ‘Hi,’ but she ignored me and quickly moved through the room. I don’t remember meeting her before.

She was both street wise and street tough – a survivor by anyone’s standard. I guessed she was in her mid 20’s, but she looked older.

I tried to connect with her about 1/2 hour later but was ignored – again. Oh well, sometimes it happens…

Today is an unannounced BBQ lunch and now I’m outside in the garden at Dominion Chalmers with my apron and tongs, cooking up a storm. 125 burgers and I’m almost 1/2 done.

Who comes out into the garden but ‘Firestorm’.  She quickly glances around, assesses the situation, comes directly over to me and asks, ‘Can I flip some burgers?’

‘Sure,’I replied, ‘But you’ll need a hair net,’ and pulled the gray net up from around my eye brows.

She quickly wrapped her flowing locks in a double hair bun with an elastic, and ran inside for a net.

She ran back, grabbed the tongs, we cooked burgers together and chatted.

As she turned burgers on the BBQ, we watched the flames from the fire circle, twist and coil all around the grill, she said, “When you’re homeless, you never get to cook.  I love cooking.  Thanks so much for letting me help.”

Question: What other ‘regular’ things do we take for granted?





Stories from the Street: Something in the Silence

Sasha is a very quiet young woman, someone who has seen a lot of the darker parts of life. It is evident in her silence, and her eyes, that she is struggling with hurt. It would be unfair to her to go into the details of it, and honestly it is a hard story to hear. To say the least, it is remarkable to see a young woman so wrapped up in tragedy, struggling with loss, abuse, self-loathing and addiction. Yet, Sasha is such a wonderful example that we are each given endless opportunities to change. Coming from a broken family life and coping by retreating deep into herself there was a possibility Sasha may not be able to find s balance in her life. She was not taught many of the necessary skills children need to survive in this often harsh world. Yet, she learned on her own and with support from caring individuals around her.

Sasha is now on the government regulated methadone program, and is considered ‘clean’ (she no longer uses illegal drugs). She has a partner with whom she is raising a beautiful child, and though it is hard you can see glimmers of contentment within her. She expresses pride, bashfulness, joy, and peace, allowing others to see into her life even if it is just for a moment.

These are the monuments of OIM’s success. Though seeing individuals seeking change and making steps towards health and wholeness it is this healing of the heart that is most meaningful. What bring us to these moments? What formulaic process do we use? There is none, just as God works within us as broken individuals in need of care and comfort, so we are called to treat our brothers and sisters with kindness and gentleness, recognizing their importance in our father’s eyes.

Sasha has a long way to go towards completely healing from her past, but she has taken some of the greatest steps already. You can see it in her silence, which is less and less a silence of isolation and fear but of comfort. She has begun to trust the community around her, and even more importantly, she has begun to believe that she truly is an important part of it.

Stories from the Street: That Time of Year

It is the beginning of a new season for OIM, or so it feels, as the Fall has a particular mood to it. I suppose it is the sight of bright yellow school buses that brings a twinge of hopefulness to each of us. We have been trained, since the age of five, to think of Fall as a time of new beginnings and exploration. What will we learn about ourselves, our community, and our greater context in this coming season?

We never stop learning, though it sometimes may feel as though we do. Our street-friends are a great example of this.

The other night at Passion 4 Youth we had a special guest from the University of Ottawa, a doctoral student who is running a focus group of which our youth are taking part. The room was not set-up as it normally is with scattered artwork, and instead took the form of a horseshoe of tables  facing a chalkboard. This took me back to my own school days.

The discussion surrounded social structures, education being one of them, and one of the youth made a statement I hadn’t really let sink in before. I was sitting listening to the intelligent conversation, how many of the youth picked up on both concrete and abstract ideas, they debated logically, sharply, and synthesized the presented information. As we discussed education one youth said, “Yeah, but most of us never graduated. I left school in grade nine.” I knew this was reality for many of our youth, some of the youth had not graduated high school or even middle school. (Not to say all of them, we also have youth who have attended post-secondary.) It is an easy point to forget if you have listened to them discuss a subject with the intensity I have witnessed.

But formal education is not the only way to learn, to develop yourself. Our facilitator pointed out that she was choosing to develop herself in the academic setting because she liked it, and also recognized it was not the only way to learn. Humans are amazingly adaptive, and have the ability to absorb quantities upon quantities of information.

We are always learning, every minute of our lives is an opportunity to take something new away from our experiences. I have been ‘out of school’ for a year, and how stiff I feel. How quick am I to stay budged in my seat, to tell everyone I have achieved what I needed to achieve. I have a diploma and I am done.

I am ashamed of myself, to feel so completed as a person. The youth kindly kicked my metaphorical behind and reminded me that ‘graduation’ has little to do with anything. We are always in school, though sometimes it feels to like it more than others.

Stories from the Street:

This story comes from a street-friend who was reflecting on a situation that impacted his life greatly. This story was shared during one of our weekly Stop-In times, where street-friends, volunteers and staff share coffee and conversation.

When I first lived on the streets, at 18 years-old in Vancouver, there was a situation that really changed my life.

At the time, I was young, cold and starving but had nowhere to go and nothing to eat. It happened at 4am in the morning when I heard someone coming down the street. I looked up to see there was this little old lady (who was probably not even five feet tall) driving down the road. She was coming towards me in a golf cart and I could see she had sandwiches, juice, water and granola bars with her. After giving me something to eat she began to tell me about Covenant House that was in the city (a shelter and housing NPO for street youth). Since I had nowhere to go I decided that this would be a good place to go.

Covenant House was only for youth, they offered multiple programs and a bed to those in need. When I was there I realized that people actually cared about someone like me, and that there was, in fact, a place for me to go. My time there gave me a chance to get off the streets and the staff offered me the support that I needed most. My experience with Covenant House has prompted me to want to open a similar house, and I continue to hope for this dream to be fulfilled one day.

We appreciate that the work of OIM and organizations like it can bring hope to individuals, like this street-friend, who may not feel valued or cared for. It is stories like this one that motivate us to continue our work and the work of our greater community.

Story collected by OIM staff member  Samara, and edited by Selina