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 !

New Bursary Program

For the past several years, the Canadian Stone Carving Festival has raised funds for Innercity Arts. The festival founders are passionate about supporting street-involved youth through the arts, and wanted to make a meaningful impact.

We are proud to announce a new initiative in partnership with the Canadian Stone Carving Festival and the Ottawa School of Art, called Freya’s Bursary. This bursary will provide professional level art education to four Innercity Arts participants each year.

Two youth will take a course at the Ottawa School of Art, and two will take an introductory stone carving course at Smith & Barber Atelier.

Several youth applied for the bursary and it was incredibly difficult to decide on just four youth – as all of them are deserving of this opportunity. Some common themes in the applications: a desire to learn a new skill, a need to use art as a therapeutic tool to cope with trauma and mental illness, and a hope that being in a post-secondary institution will help them regain the confidence to return to school.

We are so excited about this bursary and can’t wait to see where it leads!

To learn more about why the bursary is called “Freya’s bursary”, click here.

 

 

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Larissa’s Journey: Off 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.

Larissa’s-Journey

I got off the streets, because I got pregnant.

I stayed at a male rooming house when I was pregnant. Then my partner went off to jail, and I went to Windsor to see my mom. It didn’t go well. She was on crack and kicked me out. She kept her crack pipe behind the garbage pail in the kitchen. Her crack dealer was coming over all the time, and she kicked me out because she was too nervous to deal with things in the right way.

Eventually I got back to Ottawa, and stayed at the family shelter motel. I had my daughter while I was living there. Children’s Aid deemed my place unlivable, so I went to another shelter and my daughter was placed in care. It was hard to give my daughter up, but I couldn’t look after her properly.

Later on I put her up for adoption, but it’s an open adoption, and I can visit her. I don’t visit her, because I think it would be too hard for her. Maybe some day I will. I get letters twice a year with pictures of my daughter.  She is five years old.

I stayed at the shelter until I got Ottawa housing, probably about six months.  I’m still in Ottawa Housing in a one bedroom apartment. They sprayed my apartment for bed bugs and cockroaches some months ago, but yesterday they showed up again. The exterminators don’t know why the problem continues, and they are investigating.

In my first apartment I hit my head on the bathtub – real bad. It was like someone grabbed me and smashed my head against the tub. I fell. I woke up the next day in the tub. I never went to the hospital.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares how she first connected with OIM’s Innercity Arts and Choir programs. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

 

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. 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Teen Years

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 JourneyNo more foster homes would take me. No more group homes. I had aged out. They asked me where I wanted to live. Since I had always wanted to live in Ottawa, I chose there. They dropped me off at the young women’s shelter, and left me on my own.

I didn’t feel ready to be on my own, but it was a rush – at least at first.  I was so new to everything. At the shelter I could go out whenever I wanted (in group homes you weren’t allowed to do this), and I felt like a free bird. After three weeks though, things were very different.

I had freedom yes, but there were also responsibilities. Before the shelter, anything I did, I got a slap on the wrist, and told not to do that again. Consequences came at the shelter. Anything you did wrong, you had to answer for it and deal with it. It was terrible to be an adult. At sixteen I was forced to be an adult, and I wasn’t ready.

My clothes were always stolen by other girls. I was a bit smaller than everyone else, so tighter clothes on the other girls was very popular. I watched them in my clothes, and I felt like crying. Some of those clothes had memories.

At the shelter, for example, I learned that you couldn’t share a toothbrush. Hygiene was different for me too. I really didn’t know how to look after myself. I still don’t know some things. I don’t do dishes. I used to fill the tub with hot water, soak the dishes in the tub with ½ tub of bleach, and you let them soak. When you can pull them out and there’s no food stuff on it they were ready.

When I was about 16, I went to see my mom, and found her Percoset and OxyContin pills and my mom was doing crack. I used those drugs for about one month before they almost killed me. Every step was like almost floating on clouds. I felt like I was on a big marshmallow. I couldn’t feel the ground under me

I went home to the kitchen and dropped.  I went to the hospital for a couple of weeks. I almost lost one of my kidneys. That was the end of drugs for me. 

I was at the shelter until I was seventeen. I left when I was banned and was homeless.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares what it was like to be living on her own, homeless on the streets. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

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.