My first encounter with Ottawa Innercity Ministries was in 1989 as a young 25 year-old, shortly after Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward had started this new ministry reaching out to their street friends in the downtown Ottawa core. I was invited to an in-house drop-in near the Byward Market where Susan and Katrine did their magic attending to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their street friends. Someone else shared a short devotional in the dimly-lit living room. And, oh yes, there were snacks and coffee!
At the drop-in, I tried to make conversation with people who I didn't know and who didn't necessarily want to talk to me, but a conversation with a street friend named James (not his real name) left an impact on me that has lasted all these years. James was a heavy-set, middle-aged street friend. I was a naïve young church person with zero street experience. You would have thought that the two of us had nothing to talk about, but slowly his story started to emerge. If you understand street culture, you know that our street-engaged friends don't open up very easily to strangers; so this was indeed a gift - a greatly prized possession - his story.
As a young person, James discovered high school football. It provided him with camaraderie, a focus and a sense of purpose. When he talked about his football-playing days, his entire face lit up and there was a new energy to his voice. It was clear that he was a good player and that he was very proud of his accomplishments. But this all came crashing down with an injury, after which depression and alcohol took over, eventually finding him entangled in street life and all that it entails. In spite of the twist in James' story plot, from happiness to struggle, it was a very positive interaction for both of us. He seemed thankful for a caring ear to listen to him and I was grateful that he had shared with me the precious gift of his story. I have thought about James many times since that day, remembering his joy as he reminisced about happier days.
Fourteen years after that drop-in in 1989, I started volunteering at OIM and a year and a half ago I joined the staff. The organization has changed tremendously, but we continue to strive, showing love, respect and a caring ear to our street friends, as reflected in our Vision Statement:
"We are a community working towards building a just society where people are valued, shown dignity and respect and are given opportunity to attain a higher quality of life."
~Kevin, Youth Internship Coordinator