She is Not Unknown

 

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 

Thank you from Danielle

Hi my name is Danielle.

I just want to say thanks for letting me tell my story here on family radio CHRI.  Telling my story and having people listen is really a great step.  I like that it can help people who really need it right now.

Maybe my story would touch your heart and help you decide to help someone close to you.

Sometimes the person you least expect could use your help.

When I think of OIM, I think of faith, unconditional friendship, support, resources, food and a  community of really good hearted Christians trying to do their best.

They made such a difference in my life, and the lives of so many youth in our City!

I hope you will be able to help them continue to do their good work, by making a donation of  any amount.

Every dollar counts, and your prayers and encouragements mean so much.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and blessed New Year!

A Volunteer’s Reflection

Lots of people tell me that they think I’m doing so much when they hear that I do street outreach with OIM. I go out each week to hand out sandwiches, socks and a kind word hoping to share the love of God and encourage people.

bicycle-against-wall-1563544But yesterday I ran into Sue who OIM has been helping for many years. Many people dismiss Sue without knowing how sweet she really is.  Sue knows that I ride my bike all winter and the first thing she asked me was whether I had ridden my bike yesterday.  When I said “Yes”, she immediately took my hand and began to pray for me:

“Dear heavenly Father, please protect Rick with your love and mercy and keep him safe”.

In that moment, Sue gave me more than I had ever given her and she changed ME.

 

By Rick – Rick is an OIM outreach and drop-in volunteer who has been volunteering for several years. 

 

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.

 

 

Get Me Out of Here…

outreach-workerMy outreach team was downtown recently when we saw a large group of street friends ahead of us. There were about 10 men – they were drinking, yelling, listening to the loud music that was blasting from a stereo. We approached and started giving out outreach supplies. I noticed that in the center of the group was one woman who was closely surrounded by the men.

I couldn’t tell for sure if she needed help so I tried to make eye contact with.

She approached me and looked into my outreach bag, pretending to ask for outreach supplies. Instead she said “Can you get me out of here?”

I took her arm and started walking purposefully away. She was very intoxicated and had to lean on me for support. As we walked away she started crying, saying that some of the men were pressuring her to take them home with her.

She asked us to walk her to her friend’s place where she knew she’d be safe. We walked with her and listened to her as she cried. When we got to her friend she hugged us goodbye and thanked us for keeping her safe.

I’m so thankful that when she saw us in our red outreach vests she recognized us as safe people who could help her.

 

– Moira, Youth Outreach Worker 

An Offering

 

RoseI met Rose about 3 years ago when I was doing outreach. What I noticed about her right away (and what I think everyone notices about her) was her energetic and bubbly personality. Her big smile and loud laugh are contagious!

But her life hasn’t been all smiles….she had a rough life that led her to homelessness and addiction. But despite this, she has never lost her optimism for life.

She started coming to our drop-in out of a need for community and support. Over the years, she has made positive changes in her life, including securing a safe apartment and becoming sober. But the more you get to know Rose, the more you see that helping people is central to her life. Even though she is on social assistance and does not have much money, she will always give to those in need. She has a heart for helping youth and often befriends them on the street and refers them to resources that can help them.

When she heard about out Passion 4 Youth Fine Art Program, she wanted to help. We mentioned that we could use help preparing food, so she offered her baking skills. Twice each week, Rose bakes homemade desserts and brings them to our art program. She loves to make sweets that she knows will be a treat for the youth.

We feel blessed to know Rose and we are so thankful for her offering.

 

 

If you want to help cook for the art program, please contact Moira at moira_oim@rogers.com or Dana at dana_oim@rogers.com 

 

 

A Presence on the Streets

Not long ago, one of our outreach teams was doing late night outreach. It was about 10:30pm when they entered the market area. Across the street they saw a man sitting in his sleeping bag, with a few men standing around him. It looked like a group of friends hanging out, and so the outreach team hesitated to interrupt. But, they decided to see if the men needed anything. The men grabbed some supplies from the team and then quickly walked away – leaving the one man who had been sitting in his sleeping bag. The man said “You got here just in time – they were going to beat me up again.” The man was old and frail, and said he is often beat up and robbed.

Another time on outreach, our team was walking towards a woman who was sitting in an alley way. Two men walked by her, and poured something on her hear. We ran up to her, and could tell it was urine they had poured on her.

It is understandable that often our outreach teams return from their walk of the streets and feel disheartened and helpless. But we remind them that despite the awful things they witnessed, they were there. They were the reason the man was not assaulted…they were there to clean the urine off the woman. The streets can be a scary and awful place to be. But our outreach teams, if nothing else, provide a safe and trusting presence on the streets.

And that’s pretty amazing.

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To be a presence on the streets, join our volunteer team by taking our volunteer training. CLICK HERE

 

– Moira, Youth Outreach Worker 

What a difference a year makes….

outreach workerSeptember 27, 2013 was a very special day for Eva: it was the day she moved off of the streets into her own place. It was a small room, but it was hers. And it was the first time in years that she had a place to call her own.

Eva left home in her early teens. Eventually, she became homeless and addicted to drugs. As a young woman on the streets, she was quite vulnerable. But she learned how to take care of herself and when I met her on outreach several years ago, I quickly discovered that she was one of the strongest young women I had ever met. Despite having to be in “survival mode” on the streets, she still had a loving and generous spirit.  She would often point out others who needed help, or tell me places to go where she knew I would find more people needing outreach. She often joked that she should do outreach, because she knew how to find people.

I soon learned that Eva was artist, and in fact, she was one of the first youth to join the art group. One time at art group I remember talking with her about her future, about getting sober and going back to school. She told me that she would never stop using drugs. When I asked why, she told me that last time she tried to get sober she became suicidal. Using drugs was her way of coping, and she was scared to take away that coping mechanism.

But a year ago something changed. She started making small changes in her life, which led to big changes like stopping her drug use, reconnecting with friends and family, and starting to think more about her future and what it could be.

This September marked some big landmarks for her: not only did she celebrate one year of living in her apartment, but she also re-enrolled in high school for the first time in years.

September 25th marked another incredible moment: it was her first night doing outreach as an OIM volunteer. Together, Eva and I walked the streets of Ottawa handing out sandwiches, socks and drinks. Most of the people we met on the street had to look twice at Eva, often saying “Hey it’s you!” or “I knew you looked familiar!” before congratulating her on becoming an outreach volunteer.

They were so proud of her.

And we are too.

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Eva.

Her new outlook on her future? She plans on becoming an addictions worker.

Volunteer Perspective: Why I Love Outreach

I love street outreach. I don’t go out because of a sense of obligation, or because it’s what ‘good Christians’ do to get on God’s nice list. I really love going out on the streets every week with a bag or two stuffed with things that I can bless our street friends with.

Before I began street outreach I hated the feeling I got in my stomach whenever I saw somebody on the street asking for change. I never knew what to do. I thought, “what if I give them change and they spend it on drugs or booze?”  I felt terrible, mumbling excuses about not having change, just walking by not making eye contact.

One freezing day while downtown during Winterlude (a big winter festival in Ottawa) with my family, God showed me a better way. As we were passing by a young man asking for change below the underpass, I remembered the granola bars and hand warmers we had tucked under my toddler’s stroller. When we offered them to our new street friend he gratefully accepted. A light went on in my head! It was so easy to be a blessing, and each of us received something out of it.

I contacted Ottawa Innercity Ministries and started their Urban Intervention Training, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the streets and start outreach. Shortly after I started going out on outreach our family had taken some major blows. It has been emotionally exhausting at times, but as Joyce Meyers says “When you’re feeling down, go out and do something good for someone else! Be a blessing and you will feel better.” She is so right. It’s impossible to stay in the ‘sorry for myself rut’ when I’m focused on someone else rather than on myself.

Last night our street outreach team met a street friend who asked for prayers for his dad who is dying of cancer. We took turns praying for his dad right there with him on the street. I was shocked and humbled by our street friend’s words when he started to pray. Instead of asking for housing for himself, and provisions of any kind, instead of asking for food, or even healing for his dying dad, he just thanked God over and over for so many things. He thanked God for the privilege of having known so great a man as his father, for friends, for the blessing of knowing what it is to be homeless and to be able to reach out in kindness to his fellow street friends. Wow. How many times have I come to God with a list of requests as long as my arm and tacked on a quick ‘thank you’ at end? I was deeply humbled by this beautiful prayer by such a sweet man.

I love outreach, because since I started I have begun to look at the world differently. I see people in my city differently, I see myself differently, and I see God differently. Thanks be to Him.

Blessings,

Jen

 

If you are interested in learning more about Street Outreach or our Urban Intervention Training (winter program starting Jan. 30th) contact our office at 613-237-6031, or email us at ottawainnercity@rogers.com. 

“Tessa’s Home” (postcript): The Future

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series that ran from November 28 to December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounders and accompanying blogs, click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.  Here is Tessa vision for her future.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa talks about the future…

Now, I’m starting to transition.  I’ve taken the Urban Intervention Training and I’m starting to transition and be more than just one of the youth.  I want to be the one that helps. I want to try and do what they (OIM) did for me, to somebody else. There’s nothing that I would rather do.

More often than not, when a youth goes up to someone in leadership and tells them their problems, they (the youth) will say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like.  You have no idea what it’s like (ie. to live on the streets)’.  More often than not, the response is, ‘Yea, you’re right. I really don’t know what it’s like.’

I want to be the one to say, ‘I do know what its like. I’ve been exactly where you’ve been and if I didn’t get help from places like this, I wouldn’t be where I am trying to help you now.’  I want to do that.

What a journey! Thanks to all who have made a donation of any size!  Every dollar counts, and every dollar goes to help us continue outreach on the streets of our Nation’s Capital.  If you have appreciated Tessa’s story and want to help us continue reaching out to street engaged youth, please click ‘Donate Now’.   Thanks for your support!