Rachel’s Gift, Episode Four, The spiral downwards continues…

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  Go to www.chri.ca for the audio backgrounders to Rachel’s stories. 

This time when I got out of jail I couldn’t go to Ottawa – I was banned from Ottawa.  You know, I wasn’t supposed to be in Ottawa, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go. So, I got caught in Ottawa in a rooming house because I was taking a shower there and was arrested for a breach of probation.  I went back to jail for one month and then they released me in Ottawa (laughter).  I couldn’t go to my mom’s house because her husband at the time was totally against me living there.  I could see why.

I got out of jail and started doing the same things that I usually do.  I was staying in a heated stairwell at Nepean and Bank – it was public property so they couldn’t arrest you, just tell you to get along.  When you are in drugs, people only want you at your house when you had something for them, they say, ‘I would never see you out on the street.’ But when you were in need and you didn’t have any drugs, they would say, like, ‘We can’t have people staying at our house’.

There are some places to stay when you live on the streets, but you have to be careful.  Staying in a shelter was much worse – in my eyes it was like the bottom… as long as I don’t have to go to a shelter, I hadn’t hit rock bottom.

I didn’t have a place anymore, and I found a website where you could and used that to meet guys for a date…  So, I stayed on the streets or maybe in hotels sometimes.  I don’t know, it just became a way of life, survival.

I basically sick and tired of doing drugs, like heroin… I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I ended up in a crack house downtown: people coming and going all the time; drugs in and out like crazy, and I was still using.  I had started the methadone program, but was still using street drugs.  Anytime I used anything other than opiates, it screwed up my methadone and I would get even sicker. 

I guess I just hit rock bottom then.  Doing things I would never do and being somebody that I totally never was.  People totally lost respect for me.  I would overhear people talking about me, and think, ‘Is that what they really think about me?’

I just took a look around one day. I was introduced to Jesus a few years ago.  When I was in jail I accepted Jesus but I was doing my own thing.  Then one day, looked around and said, “Oh God, I know that this is not what you have planned for me, I just know it isn’t.”

I walked out of that place and got a place with some girls, and it was a safe place.

Next Week:    The story takes a significant turn for the better.  Stay connected, you don’t want to miss this!

Rachel’s Gift, Episode Three, “My first line, and move to Ottawa”

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder, click:  Rachel’s Gift episode 3 If you missed episodes go to ‘Recent Posts’ (right hand column).

So I was at a party and I saw my mom doing a line of coke and I was shocked.   “Wuh?  What are you doing?” and lost my mind and I started to party real hard.  I was confused and concerned and kinda wondering all at the same time.

 I really started to think.  My mom was using a lot, and using more and drinking and using coke and I was wondering why this was so much better than your children, than loving your children – using coke that is.

 I love my mom a lot, and I still do.  Whatever it was about coke, it must be good. That’s what my thinking was.  I did my first line of coke shortly after that.  I was seventeen.

 I had been living on my own, but one of the things that happened when I discovered coke was, I couldn’t pay my rent anymore.  I moved in with my boyfriend and his mom.  I worked a couple of places, but I was always going in hung over.  I had to get out of that small town.

 I moved to Ottawa and I moved in with my dad. I had nowhere else to go.  I ended up meeting this guy that my dad introduced me to, which ended up being his crack dealer, and I started dating him. My Dad was doing a lot of crack then and I ended up paying the rent – or trying at least.  I was working a bit, but I was partying hard at the same time.  I don’t know why, but my dad really got mad at me.  I mean, he was using all the time then, not working, making deals, and I guess he looked at me and couldn’t stand to see me doing what I was doing – with the drugs and all that.

 I lasted three months and then got my eviction notice – signed by the mayor. They (the authorities) basically brought boxes, packed my stuff and moved me out.  My brother was in jail, but his girlfriend had an extra room and I moved in with her.

By this time I was selling drugs big time with the guy that I met through my dad.  Every day was the same – using more and more, all the time.  I got busted and went to jail for a while.

  When I got out of jail I had nowhere to go, I was just like floating around.

 Next week:  Rachel really does ‘hit the bottom’.  More drugs, living on the streets, the crack house… the cycle continues with no apparent escape.  What will happen next?

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the good will donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region.  We need your help to continue our youth outreach program.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate” at the top of this page.  Thanks!

Rachel’s Gift: Episode Two, The early years: ages 9 to 16

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI radio, click:   Rachel’s Gift episode 2

“We moved a lot, especially from the time I was nine until sixteen.  I counted, and we moved thirty-eight times in those seven years.  Just one step ahead of eviction some of the times, mostly we got the eviction itself.  It was hard to live like that. 

I didn’t do well at school.  Even though we moved, there always was a party at our house.  And drugs.  Lots of drugs.  Drug dealers, users and all kinds.  Cocaine, heroin and mixtures of drugs I didn’t even know.

I know I missed a lot of school, ‘cause my mom was always hung over.  We moved a lot and with the partying, we never seemed to have any money.  I used to always wonder why we were always broke, and didn’t really find out until later in life.  The pattern was always the same: somehow scratch up the first and last month’s rent, take one month for the eviction to take place and we were on the move again. 

I left school when I was sixteen, no actually before that, ‘cause I never really went to high school it was just the way it was.  There was a guy that lived with us, tried to raise us or whatever – he used to beat my mom up a lot.  We ended going out to Calgary, but the pattern kept with us – we were only there for three months.  Life at home was pretty hard, but I made it through.  Whatever. 

When my mom went back to Ontario for grandma’s birthday, she met someone new and decided on the spot to marry him. 

I was 15 at the time.  We moved back east, and into this guy’s house.  It wasn’t long before I was kicked out of the house.  I can’t really remember where I stayed then, when I first got kicked out.  I eventually moved back in with them – it was a disaster.  There was more partying and the guy ended up cheating on my mom.  The guy was charged with assault and he had to leave.  More partying and then more – it got to a point where I couldn’t handle It anymore.  I had a boyfriend at the time, so I moved out.”

Next Week: The first time I used Crack Cocaine, evicted again, dealing drugs and then jail.

Kids on the Street

Sometimes people talk to me about how they came to be on the streets, and there are as many reasons as there are people.  Whether young or old, all the circumstances surrounding a life are different.

Kids on the street, for example, might find themselves there for many reasons.  A seasoned leader of a youth street outreach agency told me this:  on average 1/3 of the kids come from broken and disfunctional homes; another 1/3 come from regular homes; and about 1/3 come from homes where the kids have everything they need.  But on the street there is a very level playing ground. 

Pimps, drug dealers, con artists, pedophiles and other exploiters really do not care where the kids come from!  They are quick to befriend, deceive, and use for their own purposes.

We are there on the streets.  We meet the kids where they are and offer support, help and friendship.  Sometimes it’s a small beginning, but it’s something to build on.  We look for the strengths that the kids have, but maybe do not even recognize themselves.  It is one of the hardest things we have done, and at the same time, brings a satisfaction and a sense of thankfulness when we see the kids make positive life choices.

Thanks for your support!


Imagine: You have lived your whole life thinking you are a ‘zero without the rim’.  Violence in your ‘home’ has forced you to leave.  The streets are as bad as your worst imaginations, but at least better than the mean drunk of a step father who beat you with a hockey stick.

Then: You become a part of a safe enviornment where you do art.  You certainly are not an artist by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but guess what? People you don’t even know, talk to you about how interesting your creations are, how they stir their imaginations, ask what the story is behind the art… and you are launched into a new realm of existence where suddenly, you are a person.

This is not a far stretch of the imagination!  One of the kids in the show came up to me and with absolute amazement in her eyes, told me that someone bid $100 for one of her paintings.  Low and behold, that person was right beside me at the time!  It’s enough to change a life!

Unexpected outcomes: Relatives of the kids came and bid on the art pieces!  People spoke highly of the program and congratulated the kids!  People lingered and spoke with the young artists.  It was a good day and a great show.

Thanks to the many who made this happen!  Want to learn more?  Call us!

COME AS YOU ART, Art Auction & Coffee House

We wish to invite you to our next PASSION 4 YOUTH ART AUCTION showcasing the artwork and musical talents of street-engaged youth this THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10 from 7pm to 9pm @ Dominion-Chalmers United Church, 355 Cooper St. 


Imagine growing up with no support, friends, security or encouragement.  Running away from home because of domestic violence and abuse.  You hit the streets with all its darkness, but it’s better than what you left.

It’s like stepping up to the batter’s plate with three strikes already against you.

Then you find there is a safe, clean, dry, welcoming space where you are able to let your creativity flow, join with other people just like you, and find freedom to do whatever you like with paint, canvas and brush.

A volunteer comes along and  looks at your art, and you hear words you have never, ever heard in your entire life: “That is beautiful.  Did you do that?   I would love to have that in my living room.  Can you tell me more about it? What inspired you?”  And they listen to your story.

Can you imagine what that would be like? To have someone you just met show that kind of interest in your life?  When you’ve lived your entire 19 years ‘learning’ you will never amount to anything, never get a job, finish school or make any kind of positive contribution to anyone, anywhere?

Or maybe it’s someone who wants to buy your art, not because they are doing an act of charity, but because they really like your work.  They think it’s great! And you tell them.

A few words of encouragement, just those, might just be enough to turn a life around!


Wrongs turning out Right!

Mich and his mother came to be friends of OIM first through our outreach teams and then started coming to the drop in. Mich is 19 and Candace, his mom is in her early thirties.  We developed relationship over several months and Mich joined our Passion 4 Youth art program.  There is a story here that I want to share:

Mich came home to their small apartment and saw his mom lying on the kitchen floor – her third suicide attempt!  He called 911 immediately and after the paramedics came, they told him that if he called just 5 minutes earlier, his mom would not be here.  The next time he came to the art program, he asked if he could speak with our youth outreach worker in the hallway for a few minutes. 

When they were alone, he said, “We’ve been talking about spiritual stuff for a while now.  I’m ready.  I need to have Jesus in my life.”  Mich prayed and so began his spiritual journey with Jesus.

Fast track a few weeks later and Candace asks to speak with me at the drop in.  In the adjoining garden we take a bench and she tells me about some of the things happending in her life and she asks for some advice.  She is scared and doesn’t know what to do.  We talk and conversation comes around to the change in life that Jesus can bring.  Mich joins us and the conversation about spiritual things continues.

“Did I tell you what happened a few weeks ago at the art program?” Mich queried.  I nodded yes.  “How’s it going with you?” I ask.

“I don’t really understand it all – but I sleep each night with my bible right beside me in bed.”

“You know, we have a great program just about to start here at the drop in – it’s called Alpha.  There is a video each week, you ask questions and we talk about the Bible.  Would you guys like to attend?” 

To make a long story short, both Mich and Candace have indicated interest in our Alpha course.  Until then we will work with both mother and son, to help them in their spiritual journeys.

God can take the very worst of situations and turn things around to make good.  If we can be there to be a part of what He is doing, it is a privelege and blessing!

I just started back to school – well adult high school to make up two classes, and then college.”

Street Outreach: An Encounter!

The Street Outreach team met Bess and Ken near Confederation Park near the first of September.  They came up to us asking for sleeping bags because they were sleeping outside.   Since we were on the way back to the office anyhow, we asked them if they would like to come and we could help them.  The tent they had was stolen the night before and for various reasons, they were having difficulty accessing resources.  They were from southern Ontario and moved to Ottawa with hopes of finding work and an apartment.  Before they left, we invited them to keep in touch.

The next week we met them on outreach again, and first saw Bess panhandling with a sign that said, “Need $ for a ticket to Owen Sound”. A quick glance around saw Ken across the street keeping an eye on her. We sat and chatted. The sleeping bags were working out great, they were both doing well and did not need any outreach items. We said goodbye and then went across the street and chatted with Ken. He mentioned that they were still having trouble finding a place because rent was much more expensive than they had anticipated. He told us that Bess had been pan handling with a sign asking for money for first and last month’s rent, but that it had not made very much money. He said that he was feeling guilty about the new sign because it is dishonest, but that it is making them much more money. We told him that the important thing was that the money was going to be spent on something positive, like an apartment. After a brief conversation we offered outreach items and then said goodbye.

We were well on our way back to the OIM office about ten minutes later when I heard someone calling for us. It was Bess and Ken.  They were running to catch up with us. Bess handed me something and asked me to return it to Karen, one of our outreach workers. Opening the envelope we saw five twenty dollar bills. Bess explained that she had met Karen the night before on outreach. Karen returned the next day and gave Bess the money and a sandwich.  Bess and Ken were feeling very guilty that Karen had given the money thinking that it was going towards a ticket to Owen Sound. Ken added that he felt that Karen might  get discouraged if she found out that they had been lying on their sign.

We were speechless!  We promised that we would return the money to Karen so that she could decide what to do with it. They seemed relieved. My fellow outreach worker told them “God will bless you for your honesty”. Ken replied “We already feel so blessed. He’s already blessed us so much.”

Bringing you up to date:  Bess and Ken have become our friends.  They have entrusted us with $1,000 to hold for them so they can pay their first and last month’s rent.  Last Friday, September 16th, they got their place!!  Now that they are set up, Ken is actively looking for work, and Bess is planning to finish her high school. She is sixteen.

Eddy turns himself in!

Our youth outreach worker recounted this story of last Monday’s events, and I thought you would be interested.

Eddy was one of the first members of our Passion 4 youth art program. He enjoyed coming every week and worked on building model cars and also a model of a mountain with a stream running from the side. After the first art show he and his girlfriend Sue stopped coming to the group. I caught up with him a few times on outreach and he told me that he was selling too much crack now and could not afford to take a night off. So we just kept telling him that we loved him and that he was welcome to come back whenever he wanted to. Then we stopped hearing from him all together for a few months. At one point his girlfriend Sue contacted me and told me that he had been arrested for selling drugs. A few more months went by and I got a facebook message from Eddy. He told me that he had served 7 months in Jail and then was released to serve the rest of his sentence at a rehab facility in Quebec. He was allowed to go home for a weekend and while at home he used heroin again. When he came back to rehab and failed a drug test and was dismissed from the facility.

At his next court appearance Eddy was informed that he would have to serve a few more months in jail because he failed the drug test. He asked if he could go and call his mother. When he left the room, Eddy got scared and decided to run from the court room. He later called his lawyer who told him that he needed to turn himself in to the authorities. He knew that he should do the right thing but he was very scared to turn himself in.

Eddy asked me what I thought he should do and I told him that he needed to listen to his lawyer. He said that he has never willingly put himself in Jail. It was just too crazy to think about. So over the next few weeks Eddy would contact me and tell me that he was going to turn himself in. But the next day he would not follow through. He called me again and said that he was thinking about turning himself over to authorities in the morning. I told him that if he wanted I would meet him I would meet with him at the Rideau center in the morning and we could go together. That way he could have a friend with him in case he got scared and wanted to run away again. Eddy said that he would like that so we arranged a time to meet. When I arrived at our meeting spot he was already there waiting for me. We hugged and I told him that I was proud of him. I got him some breakfast and sat and talked for a while. I asked him why he felt that he was ready now. He told me that he had just found out that our mutual friend Roni had died of a drug overdose last week. Roni was a good friend to him and her death had a profound effect on him. He decided that if he didn’t want to end up the same way he needed to make some changes in his life. We talked about how this was an opportunity for him to face some of the things that he has been running from. We walked over to the court house together. Along the way Eddy noticed a man sitting on the Mackenzie King Bridge pan handling. Eddy walked over and gave him all but 4 of the cigarettes from his pack, as well as all of the money in his pocket. We went into the court and called his lawyer. The lawyer agreed to meet him there. When the lawyer came we approached one of the police officers stationed at the court house and told him that Eddy was turning himself in. He filled out some paper work gave up his wallet and shoe laces. He looked very scared and started to cry. The officer told him that he was going to process the paper work and be back in about fifteen minutes. In the mean time Eddy was allowed to go outside and have one last smoke.

We walked out to the patio in the back and he lit his cigarette. At this point I reminded him of all the times we had talked about the difference that Jesus could make in his life. We talked about how God’s love for him is unconditional, and that he was going to need Gods strength to overcome the things that were controlling his life. Usually an agnostic, Eddy told me that this time he really believed that what I was saying was true. So I asked if he would like to ask the Lord to be his Savior and give his life to Christ he said that he did. I sat next to him and we prayed together.  When we were done praying we looked up and the police officer was waiting in front of us to take him to the cells. We stood up and walked together with the officer to the elevator.

The officer agreed not to handcuff him until they were downstairs so as not to embarrass him in front of the public. Eddy teared up again and then gave me a hug. I left him my number so that he can continue to call me while he is in jail. He thanked me for staying with him and then asked if I would call his dad and let him know what happened. As I left the court I thought about how proud of Eddy I was. This was very hard for him but he did it anyway. I thanked God for taking what the devil would want to use for harm and turning it into an opportunity to bring my friend into a relationship with him.

It’s a new beginning for Eddy, a fresh start.  Let’s pray that he continues to make good decisions and plans for his future.


Now That’s ART!!

Our recent youth art show was a hit!  Great venue, great art, great food and guests – but there is a dynamic to the whole scenario that surpasses them all!  For you ‘bottom liners’, it’s the work of the Master Artist shaping, reforming and molding lives.  That is the real deal. 

One of the gals with yellow spiked hair took the art group camera and just started taking pictures of people, artwork and activities.  Another young man took opportunity to play the guitar and sing.  A second guitar was picked up and strummed.  One of the girls shared some poetry about life on the street, and another gal sang Janis Joplin’s hit “Lord wontcha buy me a Mercedes Benz.”  People from the community mulling and commenting about the art and reviewing its impact.  Art hanging from the ceiling, art displayed on the tables, spoken word and song… and then, well you know I’d come back to it, the living art that made the art.

Moving.  Stirring.  Amazing.  All of the above.

One piece in particular grabbed my attention.  An old school Polaroid camera with some instructions written and taped near the viewfinder, “Look here.”   Another message taped on the side of the camera said, “One picture doesn’t tell the story.”  Curiousity aroused, I took a peek. 

The viewfinder revealed one photograph of a young man sitting on a curb.  No distinctive expression on his face.  Nothing particular about his appearance, dressed in shirt and jeans.  Not ‘flying a sign’ or cap inviting donations.  Just a young man sitting on the curb.

Ah, then I remember the ‘one  picture doesn’t tell the story’ line and my mind races forward at light speed.  How true, not just of this one young man, but the larger picture (sorry about that) about life.  What you see in a moment, what you experience in one interaction, what you can assess or glean from one brief conversation – does not even begin to tell the story.

Then I got angry at myself: how many times have I had the audacity to analyze, scrutinize and evaluate from one brief glimpse, from one short encounter?  Far too many for me to recount here.  How many times have I made my assessment from one snapshot?  Instances started to flood my mind and my head was spinning.

I held the Polaroid at arms’ length, its message penetrating deep into my own soul. I really don’t know much about art, but something was happening here…

The Master Artist was doing a bit of reshaping in me…