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Sasha’s Story: Episode One, First Meeting

Sasha’s Story is an 8 part series running until December 24.To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI Family Radio , click:  Episode #1 The First Meeting

 

I was working the streets in Ottawa, prostituting.  I had dates all night,  from early evening until late, late – and no place to sleep.  I was shooting up then too.

I was diagnosed with AIDS in 2004.

I did have a lot of respect for you. I never used drugs when I was there, in the office.  I had respect when it came to that. I really did. I didn’t agree with it, I didn’t agree with needles on me. I didn’t agree with the drugs on me or… I remember I got mad at the secretary too. I woke up and there was not a soul in there [the office} (laughter) and I flipped right out.  I can still see that poor secretary’s eyes.  She goes like, she had to leave, and then I knew that I could trust you. I knew that everything was fine. I knew that everything wasn’t going anywhere.  I said you should have woke me up! (laughter)  I was out like a light. I was sleeping hard that day, I guess. So I must have been really using the day before, because I was pretty drained.

Ken: So how much drugs were you using then?

Probably about $300 a night.

I remember a few times I was waiting to get into the office, and there was a guy there and I said, ‘You know, I’m going to sleep here,’ and he just looked at me and said, ‘Put your head down girl. Don’t worry, I’ll leave my door open. If I hear anybody, they’re not going to bother you.’  I kept saying to him, “Oh no, please don’t call the cops. I don’t have anything on me or anything like that. I’m not that type of person.’ Sure enough, I sat there. When we went in, I went right to the back office. And I didn’t see daylight until four o’clock in the afternoon when they closed it.’

 

Next Week:    Early life and hard beginnings in the Maritimes.  (Content not suited to young readers)

 A special thank you to CHRI Family Radio!

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

God knows what we need..

I can’t help but feel a profound sense of sadness and tragedy some nights during outreach.  But, once in a while you stumble upon an individual who truly inspires and humbles you in the face of such “despair”.  One such individual I have seen on a rather consistent basis in the past month, and he never ceases to inspire and reaffirm the greatness of God.  “On one hand,” he tells me emphatically, “On one hand I can count the number of times, in the last five years, when I have been hungry.” Amazed, I am pretty speechless at this point in the conversation.  This fellow then goes on to give all the glory to God, Who he says (correctly I might add) will provide to those who ask with a sincere heart.  A rather jolly fellow, I always look forward to chatting with him; I have since come to realize that God is most certainly among our street friends, giving them all that they need.  “The difference,” he goes on “is that we may not always know what we need, but God does.”  Leading a simple yet humble life, this street friend demonstrates how little we need to be faithful and reverent – two qualities God very much adores.

Kevin

The bright shining key

Well, it wasn’t exactly bright and shining.  It was more like a dull and well-worn silver key, but the glow that came off the face of our friend Danny made it shine like the my grandmothers newly polished silver.  Danny has been trying to find housing he could afford for a very long time.  The week before at stop-in, he was waiting for news about an apartment that looked very promising.  He was just waiting for the landlord to give the final approval.  He was pacing in the office, he simply couldn’t sit still because he was so anxious and excited.  We prayed with him that the answer would be positive and that he would be able to stop sleeping on the streets.  When the doors opened at drop-in last Tuesday, he bounded up to me waving his key all the way down the hall.  “I GOT IT!!!!” he said.  He was wearing his key around his neck and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the pictures I’ve seen of athletes when they wear their medals around their necks.  I joined in his excitement and asked him what he needed now to set his place up.  He could have said ‘everything’, but he only mentioned one thing.  He wanted a clock.  He said that when he wanted to know what time it was he had to go outside and find someone with a watch.  How incredibly simple…he just wanted to feel home…

-Kim

Love and Respect

Some of the most down to earth and insightful exchanges I have are during outreach with OIM.  Week after week I stop with my fellow OIM volunteers to chat with people with diverse backgrounds and histories.  To us it doesn’t matter where they came from, or where they may be headed; the point is to be there for them in whatever way they desire.  If they want to chat, we lend an ear; if they need something to eat, we give them some food; if they don’t want anything, we move on.  At OIM we aren’t there to judge, but to do what God has called us to do, and that is to love others as we would ourselves.  We are there to give a little bit of respect to people who perhaps deserve it more than people think.  Day in day out they are scrounging, facing judgment, being humiliated, ignored, and sometimes flat out disrespected.  Once you get to know our street friends, you might see that they deserve a little more than what they get.  Being blessed, God gives us the privilege to go and deliver the love and respect that He so readily offers to everyone.  And of course without fail, I see God forge true friendships between volunteers and street friends time and time again – not surprisingly.  Praise God!

Kevin

What did your morning look like?

Going to work this morning, I came down the same hill at the same time and saw the same bus going up the other side.  I got on my usual bus with the same driver and saw the same people going about their routines too.  Before that, I got up, checked my email…watched the morning news as I had my coffee and said goodbye to my family as I do every morning.

 

Routine…predictability…we might be tempted to see it as boring…but it’s actually healthy!  Of course we like to shake it up every now and then to keep it interesting, but mental health experts say that routine and knowing what tomorrow will bring is a key factor in your overall health.  The stress of not knowing what tomorrow will look like can be seen first in a lowered  immune system leading to frequent illness, and chronic stress leads to changes in the very biochemistry of one’s body leading to conditions such as depression.

 

What did your morning look like?  Many of the people we see at OIM woke up not knowing where they will eat today, or where they will sleep tonight.  Many don’t know where they will be tomorrow, let alone in a week.

 

Routine…predictability…doesn’t sound so bad does it?