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“Low Places”

Suzanne comes to the drop-in every week without fail. Her story is similar to many others: she immigrated to Canada several years ago and she continues to struggle to make ends meet. She comes to the drop-in every week to get much needed support and community. She is also attending language classes a few times each week because she is determined to improve her English. She refuses to speak French at all at the drop-in because she wants to practice her English as much as possible.

One day after lunch, Suzanne was staring across the room and she had a look on her face that was so peaceful and joyful that I had to ask her what she was looking at. She pointed at two men who were standing across the room and said “When I looked over at these men I saw Jesus standing in between them, with His hand on their shoulders. Do you think that’s crazy?” I told her I didn’t think it was crazy at all. She started smiling and said “Jesus is here. The politicians, the rich people, they don’t come here. But Jesus does. He comes to where the low places are.”

The low places….those words have really stuck with me. Often we think of God standing up on high places looking down on us. But Suzanne is right, Jesus is right there with us, even at the drop-in.

– Moira

Cold Toes, Warm Hearts!

It was -27 degrees last night! Sweet merciful crud that’s cold! But the Wednesday night Outreach crew, appropriately bundled up, had a warm night regardless. In particular, Edwin and I had a wonderful chat with a new friend, in the fleeting warmth of a local MacDonald’s. Andy has an experience common to many of our street friends: he’s in his mid-twenties, and has been hitch-hiking from major Canadian city to major Canadian city for the past few years: Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Montreal and St. John’s have all been stops – but he spent the New Year here in Ottawa, sitting in front of an exhaust fan. We heard quite a travelogue of a few years of life filled with adventure, crime, sadness, victory, defeat, and love – a truly gripping tale just waiting to be heard at your local downtown heating vent.

So here’s some advice: next time you’re looking for a good story, forget the local bookstore, disregard the internet, put down your video game controller, and strike up a conversation with someone on the street – adventures await!

Jeff

Happy New Year

What a cold start to January!  As the temperature drops I am very thankful for my warm coat, gloves and most of all, a warm place to go at the end of day.  Working amongst the poor and the homeless, I have become aware of just how many don’t have this ‘privilege’.  A place to call home.  So many of us take it for granted.  We have always had one and will likely always have one, but for many others this isn’t the case.  But a home is more than a place to go at the end of the day, it’s a place of refuge…a place of safety and acceptance.  A home is a place where you belong…If I had one wish for this year it would be that you always have this and that our friends who don’t would find it…

Kim

The Red Mitts

Recently I had the privilege of participating in a One Homeless Night activity with OIM staff (go Moira!) and a group of teens from The Meeting House, an Ottawa church. If you’ve never participated in One Homeless Night, it provides a good introduction to the life of our street engaged friends in Ottawa, involving a lot of useful facts and statistics, but also a whole lot of walking, introspection and prayer at key sites in the urban core. In this case it was also a good way for OIM to stock up on some needed supplies, as the teens and adult volunteers were encouraged to fundraise at work, school and church to purchase sturdy winter mitts for donation. Accordingly, several dozen thick, thermal, red mitts were added to the OIM stores.

And speaking of those mitts – our regular weekly street outreach team had two great experiences involving them. The first involved a young man, early twenties, leaning against the side of a building. When he saw our red vests he jumped onto the sidewalk. “Outreach!” he yelled. “Do you guys have any gloves?” When offered some red mitts he was delighted. We chatted a bit more and offered our usual round of food, juice boxes and snacks. “That’s ok,” he said, “you can save those for someone else. I eat plenty, I’m just really cold – these [the mitts] are great.” His mix of honesty (“I eat plenty, I’m just really cold”) and generosity (“save those for someone else”) are a defining experience of our street community.

The second experience was with a middle-aged man huddled in a nook near a downtown bus station, with a cap on the ground for holiday shoppers. I’ve seen him around before, but I don’t know his name because he appears to have a significant speech impediment – he typically communicates with a series of squeaks. I approached him to offer him a snack and he started hopping up and down on his bum, squealing a bit, and rubbing his hands together as if they were cold. I offered him the red mitts. BIG SMILE. Much contented rocking back and forth. On go the mitts. BIG SMILE. I’m not sure who ended up appreciating what they received more: he the mitts, or me the biggest smile I’ve seen in months.

Jeff

Freedom…

This past May, Mark, a long-time member of the art group, was in a terrible accident. He was struck by a car which caused severe head trauma, and he was placed in a medically induced coma. The doctors did not know if he would pull through. The youth in the art group were devastated. Mark is like a brother to them so the thought of losing him was unbearable.

Prior to his accident, Mark had been living on and off the streets for more than 5 years. His addiction was very powerful and controlled most aspects of his life. Despite this, he was a beautiful person and a talented artist. It was so painful to watch addiction control his life.

It was equally painful to see Mark once he woke up from the coma. He was unable to speak or move and the doctors did not know whether these effects would be permanent. Mark stayed in the hospital for several months. But after a lot of work and treatment, Mark has regained most functions. He can now walk and move like normal and his speech has improved immensely. His accident has left him with several deficits but he continues to improve every day. His progress over the past 5 months has been truly miraculous to watch.

Mark’s dad brought him to art group recently to see his old friends. They greeted him with hugs and tears. It’s hard to know how much Mark remembers, as his memory has been affected by the accident. But Mark remembers his old life of using drugs, and he gets really frustrated with himself. He often says “I used to do really bad stuff. I was so stupid.” His peers, who remain controlled by addiction, comforted him by saying “You weren’t stupid man; you were just in a dark place.” Another said “Yeah, and you’re free now! You’re so lucky to be free.”

These youth were looking at Mark longing for the kind of freedom from addiction that he has. In this moment, I saw a glimpse of just how strong the clutches of addiction can be.

-Moira

Thanksgiving Dinner at OIM!

As I looked around the room as lunch was in full-swing yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel very blessed to be surrounded by great 39 amazing volunteers as they bustled around the room preparing lunch, setting tables, rolling napkins, making coffee and doing many other of the critical tasks related to hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for over 200 people.  Over the weekend many more hands cooked turkeys, mashed potatoes, made stuffing and boiled up delicious gravy to be served to our street friends. It all came together in a beautiful way as we served 2 sittings of turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Dominion Chalmers United Church.  We were blessed with enough food that everyone had a full plate!  The food received rave reviews from those present and the warm fellowship was the ‘icing on the cake’ as one of our friends put it.  What could be better than good food with good friends?

Special dinners at OIM are…well…special indeed.

Kudos!

So last week the Wednesday night group got SOAKED (during that big rainstorm) on our evening walk-around. I mean drenched. I’ve seriously been less wet in the shower than I was out on the street last week. “Oh well!” I thought to myself “At least we’ll have a pretty quick tour, most people will have found shelter somewhere.”

 

Sadly, I was reminded that many of our friends don’t have the means to acquire shelter (even in a downpour), or are denied welcome at places where they could huddle, out of the storm.

 

In the midst of this sopping-wet mess of humanity, however, a ray of hope! For the sake of his modesty I won’t report on his name, but one of our volunteers was a real trooper, sacrificing both his umbrella and a big chunk of his time to escort our good friend John home from the market. It probably took an hour, working down the sidewalk at John’s rather sedate pace, bumping hips against his wheel-chair, but they made it, with John more-or-less dry.

 

Kudos to anonymous volunteer! Your efforts refresh my faith!

A clip and a prayer

Leo is one of the ’rounders’ at OIM (‘been around a long time) and comes weekly to catch up and connect with our people.  Life was very difficult for him as he was growing up (the details are really too messy to go into-seriously) and he has been trying to cope with life ever since.

Today, he is sitting in the barber’s chair and our hairstylist is doingone of those remarkable, “I can’t believe that combination of shaved and long hair’ type of hairstyles.  Well, that’s Leo all over again-a non-conformist to the core, standing out in any crowd, but he’s really just a guy who wants someone to love him.

The hair cut is over now, and the stylist stands beside Leo as he sits in the chair.  Her lips are moving and he looks up into her face again, and returns his gaze elsewhere.  Three times.

Oh, she must be praying for him.  Yes, that’s it.

She finishes, he thanks her and he’s off on an adventure with a very stylish, trendy hair ‘composition’.

I spoke with her, and told her how much I appreciate her prayer for Leo.  She told me she prays for just about everyone that comes to her chair, that Rudy, the former hair cutter, had made this easy for her to dollow, as he did the same thing.

“Talking with Leo,” she said, “I found out he was facing some challenges.  When I asked if I could pray for him, he welcomed the offer.  he said, ‘Yea, I really could use some prayer now.’.”

“That is what OIM is all about,” I encouraged her, “Prayer provides an opportunity to go places and connect with people that it is not possible to do otherwise.  Good one!”

And, isn’t it true?  Think of how many people pray for you – right here and right now, and care – right here and right now.  I’m guessing there’s not too many.  Probably even less with our street friend, but OIM is here in the ‘right here and right now’.

 

-Ken

It’s not about the food…

OIM hosted our annual Easter Dinner this week.  Over 40 volunteers  served 150 dinners to our street community.  As I stood back and watched the first sitting being served I couldn’t help but smile.  The room was filled with smiles and laughter all around as our volunteers and street community simply enjoyed each other’s company.  We serve a pretty fantastic meal at our special dinners and we are known for our generous portions (thanks to EVERYONE who provided the meal), but more than that we offer friendship.  We offer the good news of God’s love through our service and fellowship. It’s not about the food…not really.  It’s about the desire to belong.  In this place, and in this need, there is no difference between those serving and those receiving because in this interaction…we all find belonging…

-Kim

It’s not really about the jacket

One of the most amazing privileges of working with people is the opportunities we have to build relationships. Over the past years there is one guy with whom I have struck a very interesting and (even cool) connection.
I see my friend John every week, usually about three times. I have watched him progress from hard-core crack cocaine usage to today when he is clean from crack. His background is so traumatic and dark, his family story and childhood so very dark, I often marvel that he is even alive today.
John has taken a particular liking to my jacket: it has a grey-haired, bearded ‘Silverado’ on a red motorcycle. He wants me to give it to him. He wants to buy it. He’s even be willing to ‘share it’ with me. (I’m not sure how that would work out).
On a weekly basis (several times), he ribs me about when he is going to get the jacket. As it stands now, it looks like I’ll be leaving the jacket to him in my will.
It’s not about a jacket really, it’s about a relationship. A point of contact that provides a bit of humour in a difficult world, some light in a world of darkness. An opportunity to develop friendship, to talk and be a friend.