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.

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

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Loss, Hope and Joy

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,” Psalm 30: 11

Artwork by Freya Barber

A hopeful image from the book of Psalms, but I wonder how much comfort it would give a young couple mourning the loss of their only child…

It was my first year working at OIM when I met with Hali and Danny Barber. They looked exhausted, still in shock after the death of their 17 year old. My heart sank when they told me that she had taken her own life after struggling with mental health issues.

Joy was so far away from them. They appeared to be struggling to make it through each moment.

Joy seemed….impossible.

They told me about their daughter, Freya – a creative artist with a passion for helping others and a desire to connect with those who don’t fit into society. They wanted to honour her passions by donating in her memory to Innercity Arts. They felt it’s what Freya would have wanted. It was an action that touched my heart – and I felt hope for them. Hope but not joy. Joy was impossible.

Over the past few years, the Barbers have stayed connected with Innercity Arts. Attending art shows, donating supplies and taking the volunteer training. But this year, Hali felt she was finally in a place that she could volunteer at Innercity Arts. She is now attending every Thursday evening and is a support to youth who desperately need the kindness of an adult.

We are honoured that this year, proceeds from the annual Canadian Stone Carving Festival, which is hosted by Smith & Barber – Sculpture Atelier Inc., will go to Innercity Arts.  We are so blessed.

I’m not sure that Hali and Danny would say their mourning has turned to joy. They are still grieving and will always mourn for Freya. But what struck me is that joy was not impossible.

Joy has come to others through Hali and Danny.

When youth opened the donated art supplies….joy!

When Hali sits with a youth at Innercity Arts and creates art with them…..joy!

When we can support more youth through the funds raised at the carving festival…joy!

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30: 5

 

 

 

 

“At Risk”

 

 

The term “at risk youth” is thrown around a lot, often without much thought or care. It’s a label that can feel very cold and dehumanizing.

But what are “at risk youth” really “at risk” of?

I think if we stopped and answered that question, we wouldn’t use the term so casually.

Because the truth is, right now, these youth are at risk of dying.

Drug addiction and overdose are not new to Ottawa, but the surge of overdoses over the past year is unprecedented. The youth I work with are more at risk of dying from an overdose than ever. So much so, that lately when a youth does not show up for our weekly art group, I get a knot in my stomach worrying they are the latest overdose victim.

It’s a really dark time.

But in the midst of this, the youth at Innercity Arts provide hope. Even in this darkness, they remain resilient and build each other up – like no other community I’ve ever seen.

I’m inspired by their strength. I’m humbled by their generosity. I’m thankful for their compassion.

I’m always amazed by the beautiful things they create. This year, they have created some incredible pieces of art and music and will showing it to the community.

I hope you can attend the show, and be witness to a truly hopeful thing in this dark time.

Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/131027517429263/ 

 

The Portrait of the Artist

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”

― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

When I read this quote I immediately thought of Eric. So much of Eric’s character is revealed in his portraits.

You can see that every stroke of paint is exactly where it should be – detail is everything.

You can see that Eric puts a lot of care into each portrait – it usually takes weeks to complete. It shows how much he cares about the person he is painting.

Eric loves to give the portrait as a gift. He loves to see the reaction when the person sees their portrait for the first time.

Eric did this portrait of me recently and gave it to me as a gift.

He often says “I love you, and God loves you too.” I think he really wants people to see their own beauty.