You would think that in a city like Ottawa, when a vulnerable citizen faces a crisis and loses their housing, there would be a system in place to support him in finding affordable housing.
And there is. But the truth is – the system is flawed.
Take Jack: a young man in his twenties with a history of trauma, family conflict, homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. He has worked hard over the past five years I’ve known him to make positive choices like getting sober and finding legitimate employment.
This summer, he lost his housing. He was devastated by the prospect of starting over again. With no family support, and not wanting to enter the shelter system, he opted for staying outside.
I worked hard with him to find housing. We applied for the Social Housing Registry, YMCA monthly housing, the Salvation Army Housing Response Team and any other housing wait lists we could find. Each time, Jack was put on a list and told to wait.
Every day, he spent hours searching for housing online or went to agencies that specialize is helping with housing – but there was very little he could afford. Even the bug infested rooming houses were often out of his price range.
As the months went on, and it began to get colder, Jack grew more desperate. He even questioned if he should go back to selling drugs so he could at least afford a place to live. My heart broke when he said “No matter what I do, I’m never going to get ahead.”
Jack is by no means an outlier. Over 10 000 households are on the Social Housing wait list this year, waiting an average of 3 years, with many waiting much longer.
Jack never heard back from any housing wait list.
But there is hope in this story – Jack did find housing. He found it on his own. It’s expensive for what it is – a small room in rooming house, but at least it is safe and warm. But the hope is not in our housing system, but rather the resilience of young men like Jack, who persevere despite a painful past and a flawed system.
You see her every day on your way to work. Usually she is sitting at Tim Horton’s or resting on a bench. She is hard to miss – a small woman, probably less than 100 pounds – wearing many layers of clothing which make her look even tinier. She is small but strong; carrying several bags as she walks quickly down the streets.
You have heard her mumbling to herself, or occasionally yelling at nobody in particular.
One day, you don’t see her at the Tim Horton’s. As the weeks pass, you wonder where she has gone…is she safe? Has anyone else noticed? You worry about the fate of this unknown woman.
But she is not unknown.
On the streets, she is known as La Petite Joanne – a kind and generous woman. She often shares her money with panhandlers and offers them her food. In turn, others on the streets look out for her and protect her.
By her family, she is known as Jocelyne. She grew up on the East coast, one of 10 children. She graduated high school and went on to become a secretary. Her career brought her to Ottawa, where she worked on Parliament Hill. She was proud of her work, and her family was proud of her too. It’s hard to imagine this woman, the woman muttering to herself on the streets, working for the federal government on Parliament Hill. But that is how swiftly and drastically schizophrenia can change a life. Her family remained loving and supportive. Although far away, they spoke to her often, visited, provided financial resources and attempted to get her medical care.
One day, her family received a call from Jocelyne. She was in hospital after having some health issues. During that call she recited the Lord’s Prayer with passion…
“Notre Père, qui es aux cieux, que ton nom soit sanctifié…”
Days later, they received word Jocelyne has passed away in hospital. They brought her back home to the east coast, where she was mourned by those who knew her as sister, aunt and friend.
Indeed, she was not unknown or forgotten.
At the funeral, the eulogist beautifully articulated this by saying “I am absolutely convinced that God knew Jocelyne….and I am equally convinced that she knew Him.”
At OIM we knew her too. And we shall miss her.
Moira, Youth Outreach Worker
I ran into one of our clients the other day.
It happened as I got on the bus & looked around for an empty spot.
“There she is!” I heard someone say. It was Ted.
He was sitting alone. The rest of the bus was crowded, cramped. But Ted had an empty seat on his right and an empty seat on his left. Holding an enormous paper bag (a 6-pack of beer inside), he looked weathered, frail, wrinkled, and slightly intoxicated. He smiled up at me.
I sat next to him and we spent the next 10 minutes catching up.
It was like any conversation you might hear on any bus in Canada.
We spoke about Canada Day (how chaotic it was!), the weather (how warm it’s been lately, eh?), and music (I play 1 instrument; Ted plays several. “Like most Newfoundlanders,” I say. He smiles ).
Ted was chatty, friendly; polite and encouraging (“When I was on the streets, your outreach teams helped me out so much!” he says to me. “They are amazing.”)
I couldn’t help but wonder how odd the two of us looked to the other passengers who eyed us cautiously.
I hoped that their expectations were challenged. I hoped that they could see beneath Ted’s rough exterior and see what I saw: the talented musician; the sympathetic listener; the amiable fellow: a typical Canadian.
A deeply troubled background? Yes. Complex mental and physical health issues? Yes. Making strides? Yes.
And above all, still just a guy, talking to a gal, riding on a bus, on our way home.
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.
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!
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,” Psalm 30: 11
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.
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.
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
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/
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Ottawa Innercity Ministries
384 Bank Street, Suite 300