Navigating the Systems

Blog - Navigating the SystemsSometimes our youth go into crisis. We need to be there for them and help to navigate the systems in place. Sometimes these systems are daunting. When dealing with mental health issues there is a lot of fear that you won’t be heard; that you won’t be taken seriously; that you won’t be respected. We have had both good and bad experiences with these systems. We are always looking for more effective and reliable ways to get our youths’ needs met. There are some great supports in place, but depending on the youth, they may or may not qualify. Our biggest obstacle in finding help for the young people with which we work, is their age range. Because of the age range from 16 up to 32 there are many supports they do not qualify for, especially for those after the age of 21.  While identified as ‘adult’ many have had enough trauma in their lives to stunt their normal emotional and social development. So we continue to look for new avenues of help.  Another obstacle for us, is the factor of addictions. Because there are almost no therapies available for concurrent disorders (i.e., someone with both an addiction and mental health disorder), our young people are told to take care of their addiction issues before they will be seen for their mental/emotional issues. This is very frustrating as you can rarely separate the two. It is our experience that most youth with addictions are actually self-medicating for emotional/mental issues; both of which need to be addressed at the same time.   At the ‘Passion 4 Youth’ art program, we create a safe space for our youth to express themselves while being respected and acknowledged. We continue to do our best to navigate these systems and hope, in the meantime, that our systems will continue to evolve in their responsiveness to the very complex needs of our street-engaged youth.


Youth Outreach Worker

Shane’s Story, Episode 3: On My Own

Shane’s Story is a eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!”

Click the play button to hear a part of her story, then read the rest below:

When I was 16 I left the foster home. For a little bit I went back home, test the waters thinking that maybe, maybe it will be better this time. Maybe they will actually take me seriously, but uh, nope. I ended up getting kicked out.  I guess I kind of exploded after a bit…

Drugs started pretty young, I think 14. Someone asked me if I wanted to smoke some grass. I said don’t be stupid you don’t smoke grass, but then he explained it and that was my first time.

It was really weird the first time, it wasn’t very pleasant. But I kept doing it. It was ok. Then my friends introduced me to a boy – I  kinda ended up dating him for awhile and almost got pregnant. He would steal beer from his Dad because his Dad was an alcoholic, so we all started drinking. He couldn’t even keep track of how many beers he had. He would buy like 3 or 4 two-fours and take 5 out of box and you would never know (laughter). He figured he drank them.

When I was at the foster home, I got into a band and the drummer of the band was into ecstasy and he offered me some. I didn’t know what it was, he explained it to me and I took that.

After that I went crazy.

I started doing Ritalin. I met another boy who I started dating and he had ADHD so he had hard Ritalin. So he would toss me a few of those.  I would get messed up. Then it was uppers, downers, all arounders… it wasn’t until that I started doing dirty street drugs, like the really gross stuff that I saw how much trouble I was in. I’m gonna die! But it was a way to escape, to stop being angry for a while. If I was messed up I could talk more I would make more friends, people start calling me. Who the hell are you? Sure ya I’ll go hang out (laughter).

I started doing Gravol because I could get a lot of it, that’s easy because I could go into the pharmacy that’s easy just take like 5 or 10 of them. Have a good day. Then it was MDMA, mushrooms, acid and then after that I got into ketamine. I never banged needles. I am afraid of the flu shot so why I am gonna stick myself ? I almost did but once it touched the skin I was like no I can’t it’s gonna hurt.  I never did that. But if I could put it up my nose, up my nose it went. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t buy it.

I started getting paranoid thinking I was gonna have a heart attack. I’m gonna fall asleep and my heart will actually slow down and stop and I’ll die. Eventually that got to be too much and you would start getting mad at yourself if did it because you knew it was going to happen. I knew that I would freak out but I did it anyways. Then I started to snap out of it.  Eventually you start saying no or like prolonged periods without. That was pretty cool. I don’t think many people snap themselves out of it.

This was just a couple years ago. When I was living in Quebec I had hit my worse like, 5 speed pills a day.

Worse worse. And I would still like push for more. If I could get a little bit more that day I would get a little bit more.

I had to run away from my boyfriend. He kept wanting to do drugs and I didn’t want to anymore. He keeps getting scary so I packed my bags & I left.

That was the worst time of my life: getting off speed.


Ottawa Home and Garden Show. Why?

OIM has been given a booth at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show, March 20 to 23 at the Ernst and Young Centre.  Why?

A friend of the ministry donated this 10’ x 20’ exhibitor’s space so that people who are thinking about renovating, redoing and re-fixing their own homes might take a moment and consider people who don’t have any home at all.

Our booth will have an area where visitors can see some of the art work that our Passion 4 Youth artists have created; we will be showing the 7 minute OIM DVD and also another shorter DVD featuring interviews from three of the youth from the program; we will have a visual aid of a home (on Bristol board) where visitors can buy a brick for a donation of any amount, and we can collect funds for new space (which we desperately need).

Then we’ll top it off with not one, but two (and maybe three) surprises that you can only discover if you come by and have a visit with us.

The Ottawa Home and Garden people are expecting over 20,000 visitors to the show this year, and it is a privilege to represent OIM there.  We have scheduled volunteers and staff for the entire weekend, and you will want to see how this works!

Please consider this your special invitation: ‘Come on down’ and visit us!

The Small Things Guy…

Following from last week, my friend ‘Jesse’, the ‘small things guy’.

So last week at the drop in, I had to call the police and ask them to remove Jesse as he would not cooperate and leave when I asked him.  The reason?  He was drinking (no surprise) openly (not allowed) and blatantly (not allowed) and was not showing respect to the church where we house our drop in (the biggest offense), neither did he respect the staff and volunteers who make things work.

I was hurt – OK, so I know it’s not about me – but it pained me that my ‘friend’, who in his last letter from jail called me his ‘Best Friend’ walked and stomped all over me (not literally) and our friendship (I thought).

He left the premises last week only when Ottawa’s finest escorted him out – no problem.

So my week goes on and I think about Jesse a lot, and our friendship, and wonder how badly it’s been violated.  Then I’m looking through my shirts and I find one that I think Jesse would like and bring it to the drop in, thinking I would meet him there today.

On the way it struck me that Jesse would not remember even one of the details of our encounter last week.  Nothing.

Staff called to tell me he had arrived at the drop in and I came shortly afterwards.

We connected.  I gave him a shirt.  He liked it. I told him I loved him, and he knew that.  I told him he was not respectful last week and I had to call the police.  What?? he said. Didn’t remember a thing.  Truly.  We hung out for a while and he said he would help me with the memorial service to come later that day.  It was a new day. Fresh start. My Best Friend.  Again.

So what to do?  Life goes on.  Hold things lightly.  Hold others with a firm grasp.  Never let go of hope.  Never give up on people.  Love unconditionally – people need to be loved.

Question: What about the seventy times seven plus one? Does love ever draw the line?

PS (and unrelated): It’s not too late to join our Urban Intervention Training for new volunteers: next session Feb 6. 2014

The Small Things

Someone gave me a gift of money and instructed to help someone. Nothing came to mind immediately so I tucked it away- and took it out again when Jesse called me from jail.  Not a friend in the whole world, although Jesse has been just about everywhere.  Chronically homeless, he finally got a place some months ago, and his place was secure as it was paid immediately through Welfare.

I bought him a pair of jeans, underwear and gathered some other stuff from our donation pile.  I had $15 left, and knowing that Jesse would never have anyone give him any money for tuck, deposited it in his account.  I didn’t have an appointment so we could not visit, so I dropped the stuff off and left.

Then I got the letter.

Here are excerpts:

Hi Ken. Thank you for everything you did.  I was surprize with the cloth and picture… You Didn’t have to leave me money. you. God Bless… Say Hi to everybody for me. Your pray save my life… thank you for Helping me out, when I ask you went out of your way to bring me the thing I needed.  I was so surprize, Happy (Tears) came Rolling down my  Face.  the Guard ask me Jesse you (OK) I say I am in (Heaven)… you are my Best Friend who care you go out of your way and I thank yo. You Best Friend (Jesse)

No big deal for most of us… but these small things, thoughtful gifts, acts of kindness make a lasting and significant impact on the lives of our friends (even Best Friends!).

Question: How has a ‘little kindness’ you’ve done, make a lasting impact?  Briefly, tell me about it…

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 3: Life on the Streets, Shelters and Drugs

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.


Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

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


Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

One guy took me in (and also molested me), let me stay at his house actually burned my hair with Axe hair spray and a lighter.  That’s when I first started wearing a Mohawk.

From there I went to a shelter and then I got a ride to Ottawa.  I stayed at one shelter for maybe a month before I learned that if you lived outside, you didn’t have to listen to anybody. I didn’t like the rules they had there (at the shelter).

Soon after I started living outside, I was smoking and using marijuana.  After living on the streets for about a month, someone asked me if I had ever tried Ecstasy. I lied and said, “Yea, totally.” I started doing hard drugs more and more.  I was addicted to ‘uppers’ or Ecstasy (most of the time) or anything that made me feel happy. It took away the pain.

I was abused all my life. From the outside we lived like a happy family, but behind closed doors it was really bad.  I could never remember a time when I was as happy as I was when I was on that drug: it was like all of your bad feelings go away, and I was doing it every single day for a while.

After about 3 years of sleeping outside, couch surfing, and staying at shelters, but mostly on the street, I went for a visit to my “family”. I’d like to say ‘home’ but it never really was – not at all.  The reason I say it like this, “Family”, is because to this day, I consider the bonds I made with other youth who experienced the pain and heartache as I did, to be stronger, than those of my own blood. While visiting, I ended up seeing my lifelong abuser for the last time, and it was not a happy memory. I remember the very last words he said to me, were “take those stupid things out of your face, and grow some hair, then I’ll respect ya you freak!” I simply replied, “Love you too Dad,” and he drove away. Two days later, at around 3 a.m., the police came to my mother’s door to tell us my father had been in an accident, and did not survive.

I didn’t feel sad that he was gone. I tried to act sad, like everybody, but I didn’t.  I went in and finally was able to say everything that I wanted to say to him. The only thing I’m sad about today, is that I never had a chance to confront him to let him know how I felt as an adult.

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region and beyond.  We need your help to continue our outreach program on the streets.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate Now”.  Thanks for your support!

A Special heARTfelt Thursday: Sneak Peek!

P4Y Art Show Collage 2013-11-191

Texture, colour, pattern, meaning…

OIM is excited to extend an invitation to friends and community members for the up-coming Passion 4 Youth art show.

The Passion 4 Youth artists have been hard at work this Fall to create pieces that explore the idea of violence and social structures. Each artist has created an art piece that represents a major structure in our city that has had a positive or negative influence on their lives. From the perspective of a street-engaged youth, we will be looking at the Children’s Aid Society, the criminal justice system, financial institutions, immigration, the media, health facilities, and many more.

We encourage you to come out. Doors will be open 7:00pm-9:00pm, and there will be a suggested $5 donation at the door. Light refreshments provided.

Tabaret Hall, Room 112, uOttawa–550 Cumberland St. 

heARTfelt Thursdays: Male Figure in Blue

Painting - Acrylic - Male Figure Blue


Claudia grew up in a home with drugs and conflict, prompting her to leave at the age of 17. Claudia ended-up on the streets and using drugs. She joined the P4Y program two years ago and has been a committed member ever since.

Though she had done art prior to joining the art group she had never made space in her life to engage with art as she does today. She is often seen leaving covered in paint, having created some wild and meaningful abstract piece.

This piece of work represents a man in her life who has made a significant impact. It is the first piece in a series she is completing.

heARTfelt Thursdays: remembering Kaylin

On December 21, 2012, Kaylin, a long time member of the art group, passed away suddenly. The art group was devastated to lose a member of its family. Kaylin was a strong leader, a creative artist, an advocate for change and a supportive friend. The past several months have been difficult as the art group adjusts to this loss.

Last week, Kaylin’s mother attended art group and gave each participant and staff a personal item that had belonged to Kaylin. Accompanying each item was a personal letter that described the significance of the item. I was given this small figurine, with the following message:

Kaylin - Sculpture - Published

“Kaylin loved this figurine from the moment she saw it and had to buy it. She said she liked how the figures were all connected and that each one needed its fellow to stay upright. It reminds me of the support that you at OIM give every day. You don’t leave anyone standing alone. Thank you for being there for Kaylin and helping to guide her onto a happier, healthier path in life.” -Kaylin’s Mom

This figurine now has a permanent home on my desk. When I look at it, I will be reminded of Kaylin’s beautiful spirit, and the kind words of encouragement from a grieving mother.


Written by OIM staff member Moira

heARTfelt Thursdays: Sci-Fi Dragon Fly

"Dragon Fly" or "Homesick".

“Dragon Fly” or “Homesick”, Mixed Mediums: acrylic and ink on canvas.


“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” -Leonardo da Vinci

Megan is one of the many incredibly talented youth in the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts program. The piece above is a glimpse into her unique imagination, a creativity that bubbles and glimmers when you meet her.

Now, when you meet Megan, you instantly feel her warmth and energy. Yet, if you were to flashback to last summer, you would have met a very different person.

Last spring Megan joined the art group. By summer time she was unwell and it showed both physically and emotional. She was living on the streets, using drugs, and had no hope for the future. At that time she did not expect to make it to her next birthday.

Megan received acceptance and support from the P4Y program, from its staff, mentors and her peers. After getting the support that she needed, Megan was able to make some positive changes in her life. She now has a stable apartment and a full-time job, but most importantly, Megan has confidence in her own abilities and a positive outlook for her future.

Megan is a wonderful example of the transformational powers of art and community; she is alive, she is working, she is caring, and she is herself. This is exactly what P4Y was meant to be: a flash and a glimmer in the dark, that grows to be so much more.