I will always remember that night out on Street Outreach when I decided to bring a used pair of off-white slip-on shoes that someone donated at the office. These shoes were from a well known brand (I don’t remember which one, maybe Tommy Hilfiger). Even though they were a bit dirty, I thought: Who knows? Maybe someone may recognize the brand and be happy to receive it.
The whole night went by and we handed out the usual: sandwiches, socks, juice boxes. Finally, as we were ending our shift, one of the last persons we saw that night (if not THE last) asked if we had a pair of shoes. I said: “Yes! Here you go,” showing him the famous shoes. To my surprise, not only did he recognise the brand right away, but he was so happy that he couldn’t stop jumping with joy and thanking us, again and again. Even though these “new-ish” shoes were a bit dirty and a bit too big for him, he was full of joy. (I noticed that his current pair was too small for him and the laces were missing).
It struck me, in that moment, how some of the things that we take for granted can mean so much to someone in need.
– Sophie, Street Outreach Volunteer
30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary
This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.
Thanks and God Bless You.
Why do you volunteer at OIM?
It’s a question that I have been asking our volunteers lately. The answers that have come back have had one thing in common: a big passion for serving.
Working with OIM volunteers has been a privilege for me. It’s encouraging to meet people that find the time to share a part of their busy lives with our guests with the only objective being to give love and support to the most needed here in downtown Ottawa.
Let me tell you about a few of our wonderful volunteers:
Beth comes every Wednesday all the way from the outskirts of Ottawa to the downtown core, where she has been volunteering at the Office “Stop In” for 7 years. Our guests can always expect her to be here each week where she greets people with a ready smile, a cup of coffee, and a chat.
Sacha is a busy university student, but she comes every Thursday to the Office “Stop In.” She’s always ready to play a game of “spit” with Harold or learn from the guys how to play bridge.
Kirk and Hamish go on Street Outreach every Wednesday morning. Kirk comes early to get coffee going and when Hamish comes with special sandwiches that he made especially for the regulars they see that morning, they hit the roads ready to serve!
Our volunteers are loving, passionate servers with big compassionate hearts. It’s amazing to see a community that really cares about one another.
In spite of all the difficulties that individuals struggle with all around us, I am so encouraged by the people I know who are out there really trying to make a difference.
Gaby, OIM Staff
Every time I do street outreach in downtown Ottawa, I can’t help but notice the constants. Like the difference between those who are blessed with “enough” and those who aren’t.
I see it each Sunday night in the stylish clothes some people wear or the cars others don’t have. It’s visible in their health or sickness. It’s in their expectant or distant gaze.
Affluence in Ottawa abounds. We work hard and from a “world” perspective, deserve this. It is apparent in the streetscapes of the neighbourhoods we visit in the downtown core. Walking purposefully north from the office on Bank Street to Sparks Street, over to the Market and then back along Elgin we see the imposing, manmade landmarks; great buildings old and new. Our parks are pleasant places to rest and take in the abundant fresh air. In the evenings at least, the streets are quiet and clean. Ottawa is a world class city. It abounds with hope and a prosperity.
But from a spiritual perspective, things are not always so positive.
There is much strife on our streets and we see it every week. It, too, is world class…
In spite of this, I love going downtown in the fall. We start before the sun sets and end after dark. The vibe doesn’t change; just the ratio of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ alter as the night marches on.
The trendy restaurants are full during the dinner hour but afterwards, while the bright lights still shine throughout the downtown core, people begin to flee open air events like the light shows and canal cruises. Stores close and tired workers escape to the relief of their homes.
But the homeless have no home other than the streets we find them in. Our street community is diverse and reflect a variety of circumstances. There are two happy and informed 62 year olds who I have come to know separately, who never complain and are joyful in our conversations. We frequently meet youth on Rideau Street who are similarly outgoing, but often in various states of sobriety. Then there are the despondent who can’t seem to grasp the severity of their situation nor seek adjustment to it. The more difficult ones are those who suffer from the unkind effects of psychological disorders. They share a common home and often a similar future.
Last Sunday night my young colleague and I sat down beside a woman seated on a curb in an Elgin Street parking lot. She was obviously in a saddened state, bent over crying. She had two plastic bags on the ground beside her, stuffed with clothes that she may have had to rescue in an attempt to escape an unfortunate social situation.
We spoke to her compassionately, telling her we were “outreach”, asking how we could help but to no avail. She wouldn’t lift her head from within her cupped hands nor acknowledge our extended hearts. All we could do was leave her a sandwich and a bottle of water with the good news that “Jesus loves you”.
My accomplice and I are both blessed with happy, healthy homes to go back to at the end of our short shift on the streets. But as we hang up our red vests we are easily reminded that our friends are not as fortunate.
However, we believe that, through our small effort, we leave them in the love of Jesus Christ and continue in the hope that there be a positive change in their lives.
Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer
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
Recently, a few of us were talking about people we had met through the drop in and where they were. I talked about John, a man that I had met over 15 years ago when we ran our drop in out of another location downtown. John was a homeless man who had his challenges being homeless with mental illness issues. He was a flamboyant individual, colourful, always had an opinion and was willing to discuss any current topic and extremely political. (If he could have found a way to control his mental illness, I do believe he would have made an attempt to become a politician. But that is another story.)
John’s colourful dress reflected his mood and his outlook. I had once told him he reminded me of a peacock because he always had feathers in his hat and he was brightly dressed. I didn’t mean it as an insult and he didn’t take it that way. It sparked a friendship that has lasted many years…
During Christmas of 2005 my father died, predeceased by mother in 1994 and both in the month of December which makes the period of Christmas hard for me.
In May 2006 I am outside the drop in and in a real depressed mood. We had just put dad in the ground and I am dealing with a lot of emotions; guilt, everything associated with the loss of your last parent. With no close family nearby to talk to I am isolated, with my only siblings in British Columbia. John comes up to me pushing his grocery cart filled with his worldly possessions and sees that I am depressed and asks me what is wrong and I tell him. No one else has picked up on this, or if they have they haven’t asked.
He leans over and very quietly says to me, “I have been there brother. I know exactly what you are going through. I am here for you if you need to talk.” He reaches out, squeezes my shoulder, looks me in the eye and something passes between us that can’t be expressed in words. Tears flow and I mumble ‘thanks.’
Every week I give up my time for the homeless, the marginalized, to support them. And, here, it took a homeless man to recognize my pain and hurt and to provide me the one thing I needed: unconditional love. I was humbled, I was loved and I learned a lesson that I have never forgotten.
Love comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. We just need to learn to recognize it and accept it.
Ken B, Volunteer
We all look for opportunities to share our love with those around us, to reach out and make a difference, to make a conscious effort to touch someone’s life in a special way that will make a lasting impact. We look for the big things, the major events that will change, have a profound effect on someone’s life and many times we miss the little things, the simple events because they are mundane, unimportant, and not glamorous.
But it is the mundane, the everyday events, that can have the biggest impact.
My role at the drop-in is that of a greeter. Some say it is a waste of time; others look forward to talking to me every Tuesday when they come in. It is a role I enjoy and I have met many interesting people, built relationships that have developed into more than casual friendships.
One of those relationships has developed into a closer bond with a gentleman who has had a hard life. His past is filled with ghosts that haunt him, that threaten to overtake and destroy him. He stands alone pushing everyone away, yet a couple of weeks ago a simple act of kindness became a common thread, a common bond, caused him to breakdown and hug me. We talked, he shared some of his past for over half an hour and I gained a better insight into his struggles. I can’t explain what happened, other than by following the Lord’s prompting He opened the doors and for a brief moment “Paul” found someone who truly cared for him. We hugged, we wept as God blessed both of us. It went beyond anything either of us expected.
We are His messengers, we carry His Gospel to those who have been abused, used and trod upon. They have heard it all. If we want to reach them we need to live what we believe, not just preach it. They are not invisible, they are important and not only do we need to repeatedly tell them they are important we need to show them.
Do you have the courage to ask God to use you?
Ken B, Volunteer
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.
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Ottawa Innercity Ministries
384 Bank Street, Suite 300