“Tessa’s Home” Episode 5: The Birth of Hope

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder on CHRI radio, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

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


Tessa continues her story…

I got into housing right after, but my place wasn’t that great. It was my ‘place’, but it wasn’t my home – I’d been in and out of ‘places’ of several kinds, but it was never home.   It was between two drug dealers; one sold cocaine and guns, and the other marijuana and cocaine.  That wasn’t the place I wanted my kid, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there, so I gave up my son to CAS and I went back to the streets. It was the hardest thing I ever did.

I remember being really distraught, and I was downtown in front of McDonalds on Rideau, and Outreach was there.  Two outreach workers from OIM came by and I was drawing in a little sketch book.  “You like to do art?” “Yea, I love to do art.” “We just started up an art group two weeks ago.” “Oh really?”

In the weeks to come, the same outreach worker was always bugging me about coming, but I never did. I guess when somebody tells you about something, you get this picture inside your head of what it’s like, and it wasn’t like that at all. 

So one day he came by ( and I don’t even think it was an outreach night) and said, “You coming? It’s tonight.”  I said, “OK, fine! I’ll come.” And he came and met me and I went.

I loved it.

After they introduced me to what it was, and told me about the mentoring and said they could help me with goals that I had, I thought maybe this could be helpful (and in my mind, thinking, ‘for now’). 

So like, I’ve been going there for three years, and I have missed like, four nights.

Getting this positive reaction for something I did, was not something I often got… Going through school, I had this art teacher that told me that I just didn’t have it (to be an artist). 

In the Passion 4 Youth art group I made goals to do stuff, and it eventually led me to getting my son back.  I set goals with Malley (my mentor) and she would ask me, ‘What are we working on this week?’ and ‘How’s the fight for your son going?’ and ‘What are your goals towards that?’  After working on that for a pretty long time, I got my son back, and brought him to the art room.  Everyone was really happy about that.

As Christmas approaches, please consider making a donation to help us with our Street Outreach Program.  Please click ‘Donate Now’.  Merry Christmas and thank you.


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 Thursday: All in the Detail


Acrylic - White Tree on Black

This piece is called “Topsy-Turvy”, and has a very unique quality to it. Try imagine that you are looking at it upside down, or even try and move your head to the side and see it for yourself. Once the piece has been flipped and viewed upside down the imagine of the bare branches becomes a robust tree! Cara loves very detailed work, and uses a variety of small brushes to produce pieces such as the one above. One of the best gifts Cara received was a pair of magnifying glasses someone donated to P4Y so that she could really focus in on the delicate work she loves. Cara also paints a lot of darker pieces, she mixes her darker colours with reds and pinks but always seem to let these delicate rays of white shine brightly in her work. It is hard to look at Cara’s work and not imagine the interesting story behind it all.

heARTfelt Thursdays: I Just Need Somebody to Lean On

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” -Albert Schweitzer

Collage - Woman                   Collage - Wedding Couple

Grace is a very bright person, you can see it as soon as you meet her; it is in her smile, her abundant laughter, and especially her kindness. Now, Grace is not technically a street youth, to our knowledge she has never lived on the streets, but she is at risk of homelessness. Struggling during her adolescence, Grace felt lost and dropped-out of high school. She found friendship among her street-engaged peers. Another P4Y participant brought her to the group and she immediately connect with what P4Y is all about. With that extra support, mentorship and care, Grace has continued to grow into herself. Now employed, with a good relationship with her family, and back in school, Grace is a great example of what personal support can do for someone. Grace didn’t start coming to P4Y for the art, though what you see above are two wonderful collages, she has always said she wasn’t very artistic and has been hesitant when creating. She came for the community, and it is evident how much it has done for her.

heARTfelt Thursdays: Mufasa

“Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life.” -Goethe

Below is a piece entitled “Mufasa” by a member of our Passion 4 Youth program.

 On a typical Thursday night the art room can be a little loud, and more often than not it is just plain chaotic. Twenty-or-so youth are busy creating art pieces, playing music and catching up with friends – so it’s bound to be lively. Among this chaos, James can be found sitting quietly and works on a painting, or floating around the room peering over other’s shoulders. He doesn’t speak much and often responds to questions with a simple one word answer. It would be easy to miss such a quiet boy among the chaos that can happen in the art room.

James is an example of Ottawa’s invisible homeless youth population. He is often “couch hopping”, or staying in some sort of “insecure housing”. James is not homeless in the stereotypical sense, in that he is not sleeping on a sidewalk or under a bridge. But he, like many youth in Ottawa, does not have a secure place to call home. Staying at someone’s home, or in a flop-house, is no safer than staying on the streets; there is a transient and unstable quality to it.

Despite his introverted personality, James is always creating vibrant art pieces. As soon as he touched a pen to paper, we were able to see his creative spirit bursting forth. He is an incredible artist who is able to put his wild imagination into his art.

In many ways James is the kind of person who gets overlooked, as a shy introvert, and as a member of Ottawa’s hidden homeless population. Seeing him with his peers and among the P4Y mentors we have had a chance to see what a positive impact being noticed can bring. Though he is slowly appearing from his shell, we appreciate all the little glimpses of his personality we see through his art.

heARTfelt Thursdays: relearning creativity

“The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

Muhammed Ali

Below is a ink on paper art piece done by one of our Passion 4 Youth art group participants and along with it his incredible story of rediscovering his creativity.

Eric has always been a talented artist, since he was a child people would comment on his obvious artistic skills. But, after years of drug abuse, Eric began to lose his creativity. He would sit down at art group with the other participants unable to imagine and create the way he used to. He would stare at his paper and begin to get upset because the creative juices were not flowing.
Then, in May 2012, Eric was in a serious accident. He was in a coma for several days and for awhile no one was sure if he would survive. When he came out of the coma, he had severe brain damage. Eric was unable to speak or move, but as time progressed so did Eric. Slowly he began to speak again and regain movement. As soon as Eric was able to move his hands he began drawing again. This piece was the first drawing Eric did after his accident.

Eric is not the same as he was before the accident and continues to struggle with his recovery. What happened to him is very sad, there is no question of that. We are so thankful he is alive, and even more thankful that though he has been given a very hard lot he has proceeded to flourish in it. Eric has had the opportunity to reclaim things he has lost through drug-abuse. Being able to access our gifts gives us life, and being able to use them to create is when we really begin to reflect the image of God. Our creator gave us his two greatest gifts: to love and to create. But when we see someone unable to do either of these things we see someone who is hurting. However, we are part of a redemptive story and God is fully intending to reconcile his creation and reteaching us to both love and create. Eric had a small glimpse of this, and he is changed because of it.

heARTfelt Thursdays: alone and searching

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow…”

-Kurt Vonnegut

We here at Ottawa Innercity Ministries are going to be trying something a little different with our blog posts.

Ottawa Innercity Ministries’ Passion 4 Youth program (P4Y) focuses on working with those between the ages of 16-25 who are considered at-risk. The P4Y program’s goal is to create a supportive environment which nurtures creativity, strengthens self-esteem and empowers homeless and at-risk youth to put an end to the cycle of poverty and about our the Passion 4 Youth fine arts homelessness.If you haven’t already hear program, than let me give you a little back story.

Each Thursday we will be featuring stories and art work from our different participants. We hope these brief glimpses into the creative minds of the P4Y program will help our community better understand both street culture and the youth who are experiencing it.

Last Easter, the P4Y art group did a workshop on Ukrainian Egg. When Tara arrived that night she was quiet and looked melancholy. The staff and volunteers knew something was wrong but she was closed off and refused to talk to anyone. She listened as the workshop facilitator showed the youth how to decorate real eggs using wax and dye, barely speaking all night. At closing she presented her finished egg.

Art is a powerful thing. Sometimes it’s impossible to verbalize the inner pain and stress you are experiencing. When you are lost for words art can be a powerful tool.

Unexpectedly – my day completely turned for the BEST!!

Sitting in a coffee shop in Hintonburg last week with  all my attention focused on the completion of a report for an upcoming meeting, my deadline is today and I am thinking and writing furiously, when my attention is diverted to a very pleasant voice of the barista chatting up one of the customers.

In my experience, most baristas are rather pleasant – maybe it’s part of the job description, or maybe pleasant people want to serve delicious drinks to people and it’s natural thing, I’m not sure.

Anyway, this is beyond the ‘usual’ niceness– a college girl, super pleasant, she seems so genuinely caring in dealing with all the customers.

So now, I am struggling to concentrate and write my report, all the while half-listening to the barista  fulfil the customer’s order, talk to him about his day, wishing him the best day ever, and I am losing my focus on my work. As I finish the sentence in my report, hey, I think ‘that voice sounds familiar, could it be?’

I look up from my report and YES IT IS – one of the graduates from our Passion 4 Youth art program!! No kidding! I haven’t seen her for two years!!

In a flash it all comes back to me. How she heard about our program, called us to see if she could be a part of our program (although she didn’t think she was very good at art), then joined our work skills program, then graduated, and next year will graduate Algonquin College with a diploma in animation .

I walked to the counter and she passed me a chocolate coffee drink (without looking up) and in a cheery voice, ‘This must be your drink?’  ‘No, I think it’s hers’, and she looked at me, looked again, quickly gave the drink to the lady beside me, and ran around the counter as fast as she could, threw her arms wide open, and gave me a great big hug, “Ken, I can’t believe it’s you.”


We caught up with news and so on, and tried to figure out how long since she had been involved in P4Y.

“You guys really helped me get through that time.  Those were hard days. Really hard. You helped me so much.”  We talked as much as we could (she had just come to fill in for a shift – her first time at that coffee shop) we exchanged contact information and she is going to come by the office, and we’re all going to go for lunch!

In that moment, in that encounter, it was as if all the world stopped, all troubles ceased, nothing else existed or mattered, and life was so worth it all – and it was good.

Real good!

Question: A coffee shop I frequent rarely; her first time filling in a shift for another employee; the timing for both of us; me sitting close enough to hear and recognize her voice; What do you think? Coincidence or divine encounter? Think God arranges these kind of re-connections?

I lost a piece of my heart…

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  That’s what I feel when I meet someone who just makes me want to weep.

Today I met Constantine….a proud man with a proud name.  He tells me he is seventy years young.  He tells me he is a descendant of Constantine the Great.  He is Romanian he says and has been here for many years, fleeing persecution in his native land.  He says his family left behind is better off without him, he must leave so they can be safe.  He tells me he has been here for many years but has only been on the streets a few months.  He says that mold was discovered in his apartment, that it was making him sick but no one did anything about it.  He tells me he suffered a small stroke and that scared him.  He left his apartment, for good.  Now he’s on the streets.  He has trouble finding food that he can eat because he can’t cook on the streets and his doctor has told him to not eat salt as it’s making him sick.  His legs are swollen from water retention.  He prays.  He thanks God he says every morning when he wakes up.  Thanks Him that he made it through another night.  He’s cold.  He’s wearing three jackets and three scarves today but he is still cold.  He says he has lost about fifty pounds since September, since he’s been on the streets.  He says he has hope though.  He’s pretty sure he’ll be getting another place in a couple of weeks.  He prays it is mold free.  I pray it is too Constantine.

There is something wrong with this world when we allow a seventy year old man with multiple health issues to sleep on the street.

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  I think maybe God did too……