Larissa’s Journey: Early Years in Foster Care

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!Larissa’s Journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

I would wait until my sister was asleep and then I would cry that I could go back to my mom and dad. I wanted to find out who my dad was, but I never did.

When I was 4 ½, I started to go to different homes in foster care. They finally found a home for my sister and me.  My sister and I were made to change our last names to a hyphenated one, because they were maybe going to adopt us, and they didn’t want anyone to know that we were foster kids. I lived there for 9 years.

They didn’t adopt us. My birth mom fought in court that we should not be adopted. The courts never agreed to allow us to be adopted.  When I left home, I was old enough to know what was going on, and I still wanted to go back home.  I felt so all alone.

My sister was with my at this foster home.  I don’t cook. I used to eat eggs and the eggshells too. It all went into the blender. Me and my sister would make concoctions and have an after school snack.

I went to 10 different foster homes after that, until I was 16. It was somebody else’s family, but you were lucky to be there, because it could be far worse. I must have been a really bad kid, because I never stayed at any place for any long time. One place my foster mom threw a knife at me and it stuck into the wall. I called the cops. I even lived in a group home near Spencerville. In that place other kids in the hoe would run away and get rides from truckers.

One home was way out in the country and we had homemade bread, butter, and we had to get wood from outside and bring it in to heat. Mice ran across my bed, and there were rats too. Crazy. I got really sick once and lay on the floor to cool my fever, and they wouldn’t take me to the hospital. I told my social worker but she didn’t do anything about it. Even though I was really sick when we talked, she didn’t do anything.

Some people that had us used us as if we were a trophy when we were in their home.  We’d get gifts to open in front of everyone, for show, then they would return the gifts to the store.

I went to so many different schools, lasted a month maybe. I only have my grade ten. The last school I was at, I lasted only two weeks. I can’t do school any more, I was hit by a bus and hurt my head really bad.  

When I was sixteen, someone from the group home dropped me off at a shelter in Ottawa.

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

 

Larissa’s Journey: My Earliest Memories

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!


I never met my father, and my mother never married but there were lots of boyfriends – all the time there was someone new. She kept her maiden name and passed it on to me.

When I was small, there was a bowl of bananas on top of the fridge. I climbed out of my high chair to the counter to the fridge and got the bowl and was eating them. I got into trouble, put back in my high chair, sent to bed, and my mom and her new boyfriend would fight.

Once when they were fighting, I went to help my mom and went to punch the boyfriend, and I accidentally punched my mom in the mouth and gave her a fat lip. I was four. She screamed at me to go to my room. That’s when I called the cops. Not just arguing, but fist fighting, tackle to the ground. I called the cops once, when I was four (I still had visits from my mom) – I’m not sure which boyfriend it was because there was a bunch of different boyfriends. The cops came after I went to bed. I got into big trouble for that. They put me in my room with the lights off. I couldn’t reach the light switch or the door knob because I was too small.

We moved from apartment to apartment, mostly in complexes. We moved a lot. I can remember two places I lived in before I was four.

My mom owed a lot of money for drugs. She would abuse her mental health medications. Once she collapsed and the drugs spilled on the floor. I ate some of the pills. My aunt screamed for the landlord to open the door. They took me and my mom to the hospital. I was feeling better, but when I was leaving, I collapsed on the floor. Then they gave me charcoal and pumped my stomach. She did drugs until she died. The last time I saw her, she was on crack. That’s one of the reasons we moved a lot – drugs.

When I was little, my mom would allow me to watch inappropriate adult shows. When I went to school, I strangled a kid – I thought I was Zena the Princess Warrior. I choked a girl out. I got suspended in kindergarten. I was four.

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

 

Showing Love Through Food

 

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 Each month, Terri drops off a home cooked meal for the youth of Innercity Arts. She always puts such love and care into her meals, making sure there are lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, delicious desserts, and plenty of food for seconds and thirds! 

Terri has a heart for youth on the streets, partly because her own son struggles with mental health issues. This was particularly difficult during his teen years. So Terri really understand that youth on the streets need special love and care. 

 

Thank you Terri, for showing love through your delicious cooking!

If you are interested in cooking for the art program, please contact Bonnie at bonnie_oim@rogers.com, or visit  https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/3ly7z8 

 

The Street Youth Who Changed My Life

he came to usI am sitting here trying to get caught up on Facebook, letting family and friends know we are safe after the tornadoes that slammed Ottawa when I stumbled across a friend’s post that brought tears to my eyes.

The poem was heart wrenching, it really struck a chord.

It talks about a young man’s struggle, his pain with life and how he finally gives in and ends it all. Then I read the name that follows the RIP, the tears stream down my face.

I know this young man. It is more than one of the many faces that started me down the path that I am on.  He is the first one.

Years ago a step of faith brought us together and we walked a rough road together. His shell cracked and he shared some of his pain. This is how I learned to love a street youth. I learned things that textbooks will never teach you. I learned that if you let Jesus take the helm, wonderful and amazing things can happen. 

Richard, not his real name, changed my life.

I look at street youth differently because of him. I will not condemn any of them because of him. I will not cross the street to avoid them because of him. In fact, I will purposely cross the street to talk to them. Thank you Richard for the changes you helped forge in this old man’s life. You had a greater impact on mine than I think I had on yours. You forced me to stretch my boundaries well beyond anything that I was comfortable with and many others have reaped the benefits and will continue to do so.

The tears will continue to flow and I am not ashamed of them, I miss you brother. I pray you are in a better place and that you are no longer hurting.

– Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

When the Streets are Safer than Affordable Housing

Homelessness andAffordable Housing (2)“Honestly, sometimes it was easier living on the streets”

You may be surprised to learn that I have heard this been said many times. Today, it was said by Sarah – a young person in our art program.

Up until a couple of years ago, Sarah was living on the streets and things were rough. But that all changed when she discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner made the decision to raise their child. They searched for housing and eventually found something affordable with a landlord willing to rent to them.

Since then, both of them have changed their lives dramatically and they put their child first.  They are the thoughtful, dedicated and loving parents to a one year old. They are also working hard to complete their schooling, and both are involved with community advocacy.

But it did not take long for there to be issues with their apartment. Issues like it being unbearably cold in the winter, extremely hot in the summer, serious pest issues and much needed repairs, including water damage, being ignored by both the landlord and bylaw. The apartment does not feel safe and causes the new family endless stress. 

“Things are supposed to be easier when you get housing.” Sarah told me, looking completely worn out.

But the truth is – there may be “affordable” housing in Ottawa – but it is not always safe. So families like Sarah’s, who have no other option but to live in this housing, are victimized by landlords.

Sarah and her partner have been trying for months to find a better apartment. But their limited income, combined with prejudiced landlords who refuse to rent to them make it nearly impossible to find adequate housing. They need a break.

Until then, it is Sarah and her partner’s resilience and resourcefulness that make me confident that they will persevere. But I can’t help but feel angry at the system that keeps them victimized, even in housing.

Conversation at the Drop-In

 

“I’ve been on my own a long time. I left home when I was 10. Been on my own ever since.”

Edward told me this as we sat together in the drop-in.  He is about 65, with tired but kind eyes. He is a quiet, gentle man who can be easily missed in the large drop-in crowd.But he always nods his head hello with a smile.  

I can only imagine the kind of childhood home that would make a 10 year old run away. He said recently he tried to reach out to his remaining family members, but they wanted nothing to do with him. He had tears in his eyes as he told me is all alone in this world.

I couldn’t help but think of the youth I work with, and how many of them have recently left home and are just starting out on their own. I told Edward that it was amazing that, despite what he’s been through, and despite not having a family, he has maintained a gentle and loving spirit. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of bitterness in him.  I told him that he gives me hope for the young people I know who have just left their families.  

“It’s God. God gives me hope.” 

He said, “I know that God loves me and wants me here. I can’t read the Bible, but I know God loves me.”

“Why can’t you read the Bible?” I asked – foolishly thinking maybe he didn’t have a Bible.  

“I can’t read. But I can feel God around me. I know He’s here.”

It was a beautiful moment, listening to Edward talk about his faith.

A faith that trusts in the presence of God,

even in times of loneliness.

A faith that believes in a loving Father,

even in times of abandonment.

Coming Full Circle @ The Innercity Arts Giveaway

January 6, 2018:  the day of the Innercity Arts Program giveaway to reduce inventory, find good homes for unused art supplies, save landfill space – and all for FREE.  We had just over 100 people come to our ‘Give Away’ and I had the task of standing outside and directing people to the correct door to access the space.

Minus 27 degrees Celsius – windchill made it to minus 30s.

Apart from the emotional weight of moving Innercity Arts to donated Dymon Storage and no prospect of a permanent space, it was a good day. I was dressed appropriately for the weather (mostly – although the thought of clients spending their time outside in this weather was incomprehensible, and these thoughts were recurring), people were happy and friendly, expecting to ‘score’ some free art supplies and go back home to warmth and comfort.

A young lady, maybe 16 or 17 approaches, no hat or gloves, her coat buttons almost popping apart but still holding together (I’m guessing she is pregnant). 

I ask her name and she responds, Shelley (not her real name). I tell her mine, and she says, “I know you,” and with a certain amount of pride, continues, “I’m in the Art program.”

We chat for a while: she enjoys the Innercity Arts program and is currently on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program).  She loves to attend the program because, well, she doesn’t get out very much and it is very positive, and yes, she is pregnant.

Just then a car drives up and Rachel (not her real name) from our older group of the Innercity Arts program arrives to collect some of her art. She doesn’t stay visiting long (what is it, minus 35 Celsius?), goes inside to get her stuff, back to the car and leaves.

Then Shelley goes inside, and I continue my watch for folks trying wrong doors to get to the art give away. All good.

Later that day, I have a déjà vu moment and connect the dots.

Shelley is Rachel seven years ago.

(Click to read our blog series about Rachel’s journey from Homelessness to Hope: “Rachel’s Gift” – episode: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight)

Seven years ago, Rachel was homeless or shacked up in cheap hotels either for one night or just a few hours at a time, on drugs and selling drugs, had pock marks all over her face from drug use, was prostituting herself on craigslist and was either pregnant or very close to becoming pregnant (chronologically).

Fast forward seven years in our program, and now she is healthy and well, not using drugs at all, is an amazing mother to her young boy, and volunteers as a mentor to the kids in the younger program.

In that moment of illumination, I had a refreshed platform from which to pray, “Father God, these are your little ones. Provide us all we need so that we may continue to serve you, and serve others.”

We continue to pray and search for space for our Innercity Arts program, so that we can help more kids and change lives.                                                        

 

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

 

Click for the full story covered by CTV News:

  At-risk youth arts program looking for new space 

WATCH TV Spot

 

Click for the full story covered by CBC News:

Arts program for homeless youth forced to find new space

 

 

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

 

 

 

Canadian Stone Carving Festival

On July 21-23, thirty-five stone carvers gathered on Ottawa’s historic Sparks Street for the Canadian Stone Carving Festival. Each was given a large slab of limestone and 18 hours to make it into something.

During those 18 hours, I saw some amazing things.

I saw people bringing renewed life into an old art.

I saw community members giving up their time and skill for a cause.

I saw artists creating extraordinary works of art out of ordinary things.

But what was most noteworthy for me was to see the carving community interact. They are a special community who supports each other and bonds over a passion for carving. There way no competition or arrogance, just fellowship.

Together, $9650 dollars was raised in support of Ottawa Innercity Ministries.

We are so thankful for the amazing carvers who took part in this festival.

A special thank you to Smith & Barber Atelier for putting on this festival, for Dave Smith for acting as our guest auctioneer, and to all of the sponsors who made this possible.

 

Stone Carving Workshop

Innercity Arts was lucky enough to have Patrick Imai, a local carver, volunteer his time to come in to teach us about soap stone carving. Each youth was given a piece of stone, a file, and various types of sand paper.

They were given basic instructions and then invited to try it. I must admit, I was expecting more detailed instruction! But Patrick said the best way to learn was to try it – and of course, he was right. The pieces of stone were grey and rough, and certainly didn’t look like anything special.

But as the youth started filing, carving and sanding, it was amazing the transformation that happened.

 

 

Check out some of the finished pieces.

 

Thanks so much Patrick for sharing your talent with us. We are excited to continue working with soapstone at the art group. We are also excited to see Patrick carve at the Canadian Stone Carving Festival next month. It will be an awesome festival, with proceeds being generously donated to Ottawa Innercity Ministries. We hope you can join us!