Justice III

Justice  vs Injustice – treating people fairly, justly, equitably, or not.  An all too familiar story: the same principles with different characters.  It sets me over the edge.  We hear about it at our drop in, outreach and just talking to our street friends – most every day.

Scene 1:  A call to a social worker, medical person, agency, landlord or service provider ends in complete frustration in one or several results: they can’t get through to the right person, they are told to make an appointment or come and stand in que, there are forms and procedures that need to be followed/completed first, or any number of excuses that reinforce an already too familiar message: “Go away.”

Scene 2: One of our staff or a volunteer makes that same call, that same day, to the very same person, and things begin to happen: no more delays, forms, procedures, ques, that needed person suddenly becomes available… almost magically.

It’s not magic at all.  It’s injustice.  It’s treating people with favoritism, prejudice, and it ranks of everything wrong.

Who am I that I can get through?  Executive Director?  OK, well Loris the outreach volunteer can get the same results.

In our city, it is obvious that people experiencing poverty and homelessness are apparently easy to detect over the telephone.  Maybe it’s years of abuse, insecurity, mental health issues, faltering and halting speech, the ‘not sure what to say next’  that gives them away – whatever the indicator, the poor are quickly earmarked as second class (or lower) citizens and the message is clear:  “You are not important.  You can wait.  I don’t have to deal with you.”

It’s the same message they received from those who have oppressed them throughout their lives, the stepfather who beat them senseless or exploited them sexually, the foster home where the violence never stopped, or the residential school experiences that terrorize their sleep and  they wake up screaming.  The BIG difference  is that the people who are answering these calls for help are not supposed to be hampered by alcoholism or drugs or hatred or violence – at least not while they are working.

This sounds ludricrous, but it happens regularly in our current culture.  No wonder many of the men and women who have had to make the streets their home have given up on life.  No wonder that trust is something that has to be earned on a daily basis.  No wonder that it takes months and years to build relationship. No wonder hope is lost.

It’s a travesty of injustice.  It has been accepted by our street friends as a way of life. That’s the way it is, get used to it.

A bigger travesty?  We let it happen.  All the time.  Every day.

Justice I

Biblical Justice as it is demonstrated towards the poor.  What’s that look like?  First the Old Testament:

  1. Historically we see the development of the children of Israel beginning as slaves in Egypt through the Exodus to their coming into the promised land.  No real class distinctions.
  2. Canaan/ Promised Land:  The land was allotted to every Israelite, which produced conditions which developed into social differences and classes of distinction.  With a concern to prevent permanent poverty, God gave specific commands to His people regarding care of the poor: those sold into slavery were to be released (Exod 21:2), gleaning of the fields was allocated to the poor (23:19,21) with instruction that the poor were not to be exploited (22:22).  God was the Protector of the Poor and by His laws sought social justice for the poor.
  3. The period of the Monarchy brought economic development and prosperity for some but poverty for others.  Things worsened and the prophets took up the cause of the poor decrying forced labour (Amos 5:11,12), enslaving of fellow countrymen (Jer. 34:8-11) and the depriving of widows, orphans, and the poor of their rights (Isa 10:1,2).  Those who were socially strong were guilty of oppression (Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:11).  Hunger for land was driving the poor from their inheritance (Isa 3:15; 10:2;14:32)

 

God would not forget the poor (Ps 9:12; 40:17); He pities and comforts them (Ps 34:6; Isa 49:13), and is concerned for their well-being.

 

  1. Israel becomes more and more selfish, materialistic and self-centered.  The poor become increasingly oppressed by the rich (Prov 30:14; Isa 3:14); afflicted by the wicked (Ps 10:2; 12:5); subject to oppression and abuse (Amos 2:6; 5:12); were constantly in want or poverty (Prov 6:11; 11:24) and lacking the basic necessities of life (Job 30:3).

God speaks forth in Micah 6:8 “He has shown thee O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you.  Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God.”

Do Justice” – what’s that all about?  Here in my office, I am a 15 minute walk away from the Supreme Court of Canada.  When we think about justice we think of robed lawyers and judges making judgments that affect the lives of Canadians.  We think of decisions made passionately but passively in the halls of this great building.  Or perhaps we move east on Wellington Street to the Peace Tower and Parliament Hill where more judgments and decrees are pronounced.

Sound pretty complicated doesn’t it?  It’s not really that difficult at all.

Justice is something to be acted upon, an action word, a decision, it could be considered by some as a verb even.  Do Justice.  Do justly.  Do the right thing.  Treat people fairly.  Show the same respect to all.

Treat people equally and with fairness.

What’s so hard about that?

Street Survival Kit

Build a “Street Survival Kit”

We are in need of donations all year round, not just during the cold winter months!

In fact, we generally give out over 100 pairs of socks and over 100 bottles of water every WEEK during the summer.

If you are looking for a group project or for a unique donation, putting together a Street Survival Kit is a great way to help our outreach teams make a great connection with people on the streets of our city AND it will bring practical help in positive ways!

Why do we include these specific items?

For those sleeping on the streets, receiving these items provides a real relief. All of the items we have chosen are based on the need our outreach workers see.

Do all items need to be new?

Ideally yes. We will accept good condition/gently used items like back packs, but try to imagine yourself as the recipient. We believe our street friends deserve good quality items that will keep them healthy and safe.

Does OIM give an entire kit to one person ?

If a street friend is in need of an entire kit, then we will absolutely give them one! But often times, our street friends may be in need of just a few items, so we will provide those instead.

What is an alternative to the full survival kit?

Our most popular items during the summer months are white tube socks, bottled water, and granola bars. You may want to donate these items rather than making a full kit.

How can I involve my church/youth group/Sunday school?

We are always excited to partner with any group that is interested in making Street Survival Kits. We are happy to provide your group with material outlining what is required to build a kit, bringing in a staff member to speak to your group, and offering alternatives to the full survival kit.

Or contact our office at 613-237-6031 or by e-mail ottawainnercity@rogers.com

 

Street Outreach Encounter

Allow me to divert from my traditional ‘blog’, and share an account from one of our Street Outreach teams:

Scene 1:  Rideau Street McDonalds.  We had not seen Amy for about 18 months, but there she was!  We learned she has been in Montreal since we last met, but was just back on the streets in Ottawa.  It was great to see her again, and she felt the same.

Out from the shadows emerges ‘Nain’ who struts over in a territorial, macho, ‘turf’, teenage alpha male style.  In no uncertain terms, Nain let me know who he was and who Amy was relative to him.  His nose almost touched mine as he ranted that he was a ‘real’ street guy and an Arian ‘brother’.  Not threatening really, but certainly intentional.

We talked: how we knew Amy, what OIM was, how things were going with them, and we actually got to know each other.

Scene 2: Outreach in the Market Late night Monday outreach we found Amy and Nain tucked into a door stoop, under a sleeping bag, in the Market area. Nain remembered our first encounter and was actually happy to see us.

We spent the next ½ hour with our new friends.  This time things were different.  Gone was the harsh cold superficial exterior of the teenage alpha male.  Instead we saw two young people who missed out on most childhood things because of abuse and violence in the home.  They became like kids again as they shared their childhood stories, stories that were enough to move the strongest of characters to tears.  At one point Nain made the statement “I was raised on hatred; I don’t really want to be this way”.

It was now after midnight and we had to move along: both for our outreach and so the two young people would remain ‘hidden’ in the door stoop. 

I guess it was the father in me, that made me lift their sleeping bag, give it a shake and put it back over them in the cold doorway.  I was careful to tuck in all the edges, just as I would do to my own children.

One of the most difficult things I have ever done was walk away and try to rationalize how we could leave two ‘kids’ to sleep in a doorway outside in the cold.

Scene 3:  The next Thursday night we come across Nain, Amy and a few more street friends on Rideau. We strike up a conversation ranging from the weather change to hockey, etc, and in the midst of our ‘chat’, Nain looks directly at us and says, “Thank you for tucking us in the other night”.

Our macho, teenage alpha male, Aryan ‘brother’ had been transformed into someone, who just like us, who was able to enjoy a small piece of love and understanding under a sleeping bag in a doorway on a cold Ottawa winter night. 

Reminders: 1. ‘Things on the street are not always as they initially appear, and more importantly, 2. We are genuinely humbled that we could have such a special moment and developing relationship with some young friends.  That’s what makes volunteering such a great experience.   Gregg.

Random Act of Kindness Multiplies Itself BIG time!

The Backgrounder:  OIM sponsors the 8:00 am and 5:00 pm news on a local radio station, CHRI 99.1 fm.  For one of our 60 second spots, I interviewed a young lady (we’ll call her Rachel) from our Passion for Youth art program.  In this interview, she commented on how much she enjoyed participating in the program, so much so that she says that she dosen’t even think of drugs while she is  involved in the program.  This is quite remarkable, really!

The Story:  So Rachel came to our office to get some stuff and stays a moment for a visit.  She told me this story:

Part 1:  She was panhandling on the street when a kind lady offered to buy her some supper.  She agreed and the two of them had an enjoyable time together.  She felt special because a.) she was noticed, b.) the time over a meal brought a sense of dignity, and c.) somebody actually cared.

Part 2: Two days later, this same lady comes by and Rachel is at the same spot, panhandling.  She stops and chats, one of the first questions she asked was: “Was that you that I heard on the radio?  I recognize your voice.  That was great!”

Rachel’s face beamed with joy as she answered in the affirmative. Imagine, someone recognized her!!

This is huge!  We might get a kick of being on the radio, but for Rachel, this is so much bigger.  In her part in this little story, she was recognized not just a panhandler, or even as a person who might be ‘down and out’ for the time being.  She was someone who was recognized for making a larger, positive contribution to a good cause!  Mabye even informing and influencing the way that radio listeners think about people caught in the web of poverty and homelessness.

She was radiant as she recounted this story.

It might be hard to imagine just how much of an impact this would be for someone who calls the streets their home.  Think of it for a moment:  24/7 you are struggling to survive, just trying to make it to the next day; the past continually comes before your mind: harsh words (“You are such a loser! You’ll never amount to anything!  You are worthless trash!); every imaginable form of abuse (from abusive parents and relatives, residential school system, etc); multiple foster homes; struggling to survive, and well… you fill in the gaps.

THEN someone comes up to you in the midst of your despair and darkened world and brings a burning magnesium light of hope and glory, and says, “Hey, was that you I heard on the radio?  I recognized your voice.  That was great!”

You never can know the full impact of such positive words and affirmation.  It just might be enough to change someone’s life!