Changing the Legacy of Youth Homelessness

How can we change the legacy of youth homelessness in Ottawa?

This is a complicated question with an array of possible answers.

Back in June, we partnered with A Way Home Ottawa and set up a table at Glowfair. We asked people to answer this question in just one sentence, and write it on a piece of cardboard.

Tons of people made signs and pretty soon our table was surrounded by cardboard. People had all sorts of great suggestions: more affordable housing, advocacy, community outreach… But of all the signs, the one that stood out the most was a sign made by a little girl, who was probably around 7 years old.

When asked how to help homeless youth she wrote: Love everyone. Every day. Every night.

love everybody sign

Yeah….I think that if we all took her suggestion the legacy of youth homelessness in this city would drastically change.

 

 

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Giving Their Time

A few weeks ago a handful of our youth participated in a fundraiser for Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat is a small northern Ontario community which has declared a state of emergency due to the large volume of suicide attempts from their population. Our youth felt the pull to show support for the youth in this small community. This was a wonderful event with beautiful traditional ceremonies and dances. The youth participated by creating live paintings for auction. With their work they were able to raise just under $600. I was so proud of them. They worked hard and produced some of the best work I have seen from them in just under 2 hours. Check out the incredible work they did below.

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Art Show….Sneak Peak!

The youth of Innercity Arts have been working hard, creating some amazing art for the upcoming art show. Here’s a sneak peak!

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Please come out and show your support!

Thursday May 12th from 6:30 pm-9:30 pm

Lansdowne Horticulture Building 1525 Princess Patricia Way

 

Adulting101

Although I consider myself a fairly competent adult, sometimes the youth in the art group ask me questions that leave me stumped – and I feel like I need to go find a “real” grown-up to help.

This happened a few weeks ago when Mark asked me about credit checks. While I knew a little about them, I brought in one of the volunteers (Doug: aka a “real” grown-up) into the conversation…just in case. Doug was able to answer with ease, which led Mark to ask more questions about banking, taxes etc.  You see, Mark had been homeless for years but he recently gained employment and moved into his first apartment – so now he’s trying to navigate adulthood.

At the end of the conversation Mark admitted that he felt stupid for having to ask these questions.

He said “I’ve been homeless since I was 13…..I should know this stuff.”

My heart sank.

Because of course it makes sense that he doesn’t know this stuff. While most youth have parents to transition them to adulthood, Mark’s been on his own for years.

I reflected on this and thought that even at age 30 I have so many amazing people who I can call up when something about adulthood is confusing me. It would be awesome, I thought, if I could lend my people to Mark to help him navigate adulthood.

And that’s basically what we decided to do.

Together, Dana and I created a seminar called “Adulting101”. Any youth could attend to ask questions about living independently (taxes, banking etc…), and we would try our best to answer. We also brought in some experts to help: a career coach, a financial adviser, an entrepreneur and a few other highly successful adults. The results of this night were amazing. There were tons of questions like: “If I get a job, how does a boss pay me?”, “What if I’ve never filed taxes before?” and “How do I start my own business?”.

It was an incredibly simple night – no structure, no complicated programming. Just young people eager to ask questions and adults willing to listen and offer guidance. Simple but so effective.

Knowing You’re Loved

A few weeks ago, I was looking through an old box of memories from my childhood when I found this:

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It was a valentine I received when I was probably about 15, given to me by a friend named Rebecca. Rebecca was not a close friend of mine, but she took the time to make this for me and for her other friends. As an awkward, insecure teenager, I was touched that someone would take the time to do this for me. I kept it all these years because it was a nice reminder of how nice it is to feel loved.

After rediscovering this valentine, I decided to pass on the love to the youth I work with in the art program. Dana and I made valentines for each youth – each one personalized with attributes we love about them. They looked like this:

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We handed these out at the art group and it was easy to see that they had an effect on the youth. Some youth smiled, some thanked us with hugs, some said they’d keep the valentine forever – while others read the card silently – not knowing how to react to the unfamiliar sentiment.

Years ago someone asked me “Do you love the youth you work with?”

Of course, the answer was yes.

But then they asked “Do the youth know you love them?” – and I wasn’t so sure.

Since being asked that question, I try my best to show the youth that I love them. But sometimes, it’s best to tell them – because they deserve to know for sure.

 

The state of metal health services for homeless youth

istock_102_pp_sad_youthWe see so many of our youth struggling with mental health issues. A major disorder that we see is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to traumas at home, school and the streets. Not a lot of people associate PTSD with youth. This is a disorder usually associated with soldiers and trauma of war.  The stress of being homeless has been widely known to cause PTSD. Our youth struggle to juggle everyday needs, such as finding shelter and food, with the weighted needs of their addictions and mental health issues. Many of their addictions form from the need to self-medicate such issues as PTSD or depression or anxiety disorders. This doesn’t even address more complex issues that we see such as schizophrenia, bi–polar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Finding resources they can rely on long term and that they can trust is very hard. It is our experience that many youth and young adults who are ready to receive therapy are ultimately put on long waiting lists. Often the waiting lists for free services are more than 6 months or longer. Therapist, counselors, and psychotherapists are not readily available without coverage. These marginalized youth then become discouraged and give up on finding help. We have seen this over and over again. One of our youth, a boy of 18 years old, has been so traumatized by events at home and being left defenseless on the streets that he barely can speak. He has been in ‘the system’ for a few years now but has yet to get the help he really needs. We watch him every week come in looking lower and lower. He struggles to communicate, to eat, to smile. We can barely connect with him. It breaks our hearts but our hands are tied. And he’s not alone. We see all sides of mental illness, and those who have been lucky enough to get into a crisis program are left hanging at the end of the program as there is so little follow up available. There is such a lack of resources that symptoms are bandaged and root causes can’t be addressed.

Here, let the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness say it best:

“Youth homelessness has existed in Canada for decades; however, recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of young people with complex mental health issues who are also facing the isolation and struggle of homelessness. In communities across the country, the failure to address the specific needs of homeless youth with complex mental health needs, and the lack of appropriate, timely services is resulting in a crisis for homeless young people, their families and the community agencies that seek to support them. The results are devastating as Canada’s most marginalized young people fall between the cracks. They are often ineligible for, or not well served by children and adult mental health systems – nor well suited to services developed for homeless adults with complex mental health needs.”**

** National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness 2012 Canada

For more information please read the whole article: http://homelesshub.ca/resource/backgrounder-homeless-youth-and-mental-health#sthash.BdChOF51.dpuf

 

A Blessing on the Street

pannerIt was just a few days before Christmas and you could feel the hustle and bustle in the air. Everyone had somewhere to go so the streets were full of shoppers.  I was walking into work when I saw Laura. Laura is a youth on the streets who is heavily addicted to crack. She was crying so I stopped to make sure she was okay. I began to comfort her but she was sobbing and yelling and moving erratically on the side walk. Everyone who walked by us would stare at Laura. I could barely understand what Laura was saying, but then I heard her say over and over again “People don’t even treat me like a human!”

That’s when Jocelyne approached. (Jocelyne is an older woman who struggles with schizophrenia. She has lived on the streets for several years and rarely speaks to others, but can be abrasive at times). As you can imagine, I was nervous when Jocelyne approached us. But to my surprise, Jocelyne looked at Laura and gently asked “Do you need some spare change?” Laura nodded, hesitantly. Jocelyne then handed Laura a few dollars. She smiled at Laura and walked away.

Jocelyne’s kindness touched me. Despite the extremely difficult mental health challenges Jocelyne experiences, her gentle, kind and generous spirit still shines though. She was able to treat Laura in a loving, compassionate and humane way. I felt blessed to have witnessed this.

 

 

Eric’s Christmas Wish

“Eric’s Journey” is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to Eric read his Christmas Wish on  Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below

 

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Eric at art group 2015

“This year was an amazing gift from God.

I hope life remains positive for me and for many, many other people.

Smiles and laughter can go a long way, and they have the power to touch and change people’s souls.

Merry Christmas 2015 by Eric Larkin

Christmas card made by Eric, Dec. 2015

What I wish for Christmas is that more people would be able to receive more joy and become more joyful. Usually when you help people, you become more joyful yourself – you are passing the joyfulness along.

My Christmas wish for the art group is that they should enjoy God’s gifts and that more kids on the street could come to the group and enjoy doing art together.

In life, God allows you to go down the right path. The right path really means walking towards God.

God is waiting for each of us to come to Him. He wants to give us joy.

That’s my Christmas wish. Merry Christmas!”- Eric

 

 

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click Donate Now. Thanks!

 

Eric’s Journey, Episode 6: Eric`s New Life

“Eric’s Journey” is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button belowFollow along all month to hear this amazing story! 

Eric Continues His Story. . .

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Eric with the bench he painted at Dundonald Park in June 2015.

“So many things changed in my life since the accident. I`m back in relationship with my dad and my mom and we are really enjoying one another’s company. It`s so great to be back with my family.

I just completed my high school training at the adult high school in Ottawa. I go to the gym every week, I jog regularly (of course), I meet with my psychologist. I go to the visitor centre, I hardly ever miss the OIM art group and I even joined the youth choir with the Kiwanis music festival.

Undoubtedly, the biggest change that happened in my life is that I perceive Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. I`ve been baptized in water and I have been attending church regularly with my dad.

I have hope for the future and I want to make a difference with my life. The old Eric is gone, and I am a new person!

My life is a miracle – a gift from God. ”

 

Coming Up on December 24th – A Special Christmas Wish from Eric

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click Donate Now. Thanks!

 

Eric’s Journey, Episode 5: Hope Restored!

“Eric’s Journey” is a 7 part series running throughout December. To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button belowFollow along all month to hear this amazing story! 

 

Eric Continues His Story. . .

“My whole life has been radically changed. Radically! I used to create art when I was a young child and always enjoyed doing art. This has been restored to me.

Now, however, my paintings are not filled with darkness and demons, and terrible things. Instead they are filled with light and life and people. They now reflect my restored hope and my love for life.

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A painting Eric made in April 2012, a month before his accident.

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A painting Eric made in 2015.

I look forward to going to the art program every week. The support, the help they give me, having staff and volunteers work with me, it’s an amazing gift from God!

My dad took me to art group when I first returned after my accident and he stayed with me there for the whole length of night’s program. Both he and my mom have a great source of support and strength for me. My aunt as well! Even I am in touch with my nieces and nephews now. It is totally awesome!”

Coming Up on December 21st – Episode 6: Eric’s New Life 

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs. Instead, we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business people in the National Capital Region. We need your help to continue our youth outreach program. Please make a donation today, click Donate Now. Thanks!