Recently Moira sent me something that she knew would intrigue me. It is a picture of a piece of pottery that was broken and then repaired with gold or silver laquer. It is an art called Kintsukuroi . When a piece of pottery is broken, what is our first impulse? To throw it out of course! To us it’s a useless piece of hard clay now, no longer good for its intended use. But this art is about taking something broken and making it repairing it ‘understanding that is more beautiful for being broken’.
Have you heard the story about the little boy who shared his lunch with a homeless man? The little boy had found the older man in a park and was so enthralled with this man’s beautiful smile that the boy apparently had no fear of him, sat next to him for an extended period of time and shared his bologna sandwich and cookies. Later, when his mother had asked the little boy what he had done that day, the little boy answered, “Today, I shared my lunch with Jesus!”
Now, this is NOT a real story….I don’t think….but yet there is something so interesting in it that I’ve taken it a bit to heart. It has made me think about the face of homelessness from Jesus’ perspective. You know, when you think of it, Jesus was homeless through much of his life. Oh sure, he sounds as if he had a home growing up but once he went into ministry, he was effectively homeless. Nowhere in scripture does it say that after a busy day of healing the sick and lame and preaching the good news to the masses, Jesus went HOME and spent a lovely evening in front of the fireplace, with his newspaper and hot tea. Nope, not our Savior. He “couched surfed”, much like the guys we serve here at OIM. He spent time in the homes of people who could put him up for a night, or two. Or, he laid his precious head down where he could….under a large tree maybe? Or in a garden perhaps? Maybe next to a city wall or other structure somewhere?
It makes me wonder a little…..what if Jesus came today? Where would he sleep? Shoved uncomfortably into a store doorway maybe? A dark, smelly, dangerous alley perhaps? Or, maybe a dirty recycling bin typically made for cardboard? Would a little boy share his lunch with HIM? Would you? Would I? Kind of makes you think a little, doesn’t it? It should…..
Volunteering with OIM has introduced me to many new experiences, some sad, but most of them great! One defies categorization, however. That is, the desire to NOT see a dear friend. I mean, this is something that lots of people experience fairly regularly, if you’re having a fight with a spouse, or feeling guilty about what you said to a friend, you may try to avoid them, or hope not to see them for a few days, or something.
But say everything is going really well in a relationship – usually you want to see that person! And look forward to it! But some days, especially REALLY COLD days (of which we’ve been having a fair number recently) I find myself thinking: “Oh, I hope I don’t see Bob tonight.” Not because I don’t like Bob, but precisely because I do! But I want Bob to be someplace warm and safe, not out on the street. Sometimes, as an Outreach team, we find ourselves praying together before going out: “Dear Lord, I hope we don’t see any of our street friends tonight. I hope our sandwiches go completely wasted. I hope we’re the only ones with cold toes tonight. Amen.”
This is a small thing, but one more example of how poverty twists relationships: we shouldn’t be in situations where we find ourselves praying that we DON’T get the chance to spend time with someone we love.
…for some of our street friends at least: from December 20 or 23 to the end of January. It’s the longest time of the year to make your BIG $531 welfare cheque last – PLUS whatever you might spend at Christmas. Right at this time of the year and this day of the month it is most difficult. You could almost taste the stress and anxiety at the drop in today. Tempers flared several times, and one of our guests refused to leave when asked.
I hate when that happens. There is so much ‘stuff’ happening in our friends’ lives that they certainly do not need any additional woes: they are cold, wearing soaking wet running shoes, inadequate clothing for the weather, they have no one to talk to really, and no one to care for them. They have no-where to go. They really are just trying to manage themselves to get through another day. No money. Some have on-going health issues. No home, for many.
Then there is a flair up with someone across the table – an altercation – with someone who is also experiencing all of those same troubles and with a short temper, and both parties get to take the ‘day off’. ‘Day off’ means you can’t stay here today: I have to send you out into the cold, the wet, the loneliness and the cold concrete jungle of the city. What? Won’t go? Well if not, we have no choice but to call the police to escort you out – just for today sure, but that doesn’t mean much when ‘today’ is all you really have.
I know it has to be done – keeping peace within the drop in, showing respect for others, respect for what we’re doing, and on and on and on … I know.
It still sucks.
The aroma of turkey and all the traditional trimmings wafted from the kitchen at drop-in this week. Nothing says ‘come, sit and enjoy’ like a great turkey dinner! The temperature outside dipped to the lowest it has in 10 years, but inside the windows were steamed up and hearts were warm as we hosted our annual Christmas Dinner. Close to 200 plates of hot savory goodness were served by 40 volunteers to our guests. Each one served with a bonus smile. Thanks to everyone who provided the food items and the hands that served it.
Our special dinners are always a favourite for those who attend. It’s an opportunity for our guests to enjoy a holiday meal and it’s a chance for those who don’t normally volunteer with us to come out and see what it’s all about. You don’t need to be a regular volunteer to join us these days. Easter’s coming…are you in?
Molly’s worker called the office late yesterday afternoon. Molly is one of our many individuals living in Ottawa that struggle to survive off a meager disability cheque as she is in no position to work due to her mental health issues. Once her rent and utilities are paid, she makes do with less than $200 for the month….for clothing, food, transportation, entertainment, everything!! Imagine…not even $200 in your pocket to live off of for the next 30 days!
Molly has been wearing the same winter jacket for the past ten years. She liked it will enough. It was a wool blend and warm but alas, even wool blend jackets wear out eventually. And now her worker is looking for an organization to donate a coat so that Molly can stay warm over the winter.
God is so good! Just this week, a thoughtful donor had brought in a beautiful, down filled, almost new, mid-length woman’s jacket in you guessed it….Molly’s exact size! To the donor of the jacket, Molly wants you to know how thankful she is.
Often times when people hear that I work with the homeless, they like to engage in a conversation about whether or not our society should be responsible for taking care of the homeless. This conversation is generally very predictable…
People talk about the waste of money that goes into social programs. Some complain about supporting people on welfare. Others say that it is up to the individual to pick themselves up by their bootstraps to get off the streets.
I try my best to share my insight but the truth is, most adults have already made up their minds about the homeless.
Last year, I was asked to speak to a Grade Three class. I was nervous because I wanted to be honest about homelessness but I didn’t want to scare the kids. I tried my best to answer the kids questions without traumatizing them. At the end of my talk I asked the class “Why should we help the homeless? Why shouldn’t we just focus on ourselves and not people we see on the streets?” Immediately a little girl raised her hand and confidently stated “Because it’s the kind thing to do.” As she said this, her peers nodded in agreement.
This third grader got it right.
Yesterday, we held our annual memorial service at drop-in to remember those in our street community who passed away in 2012. Often times we don’t know the legal names of our friends, but as we paused and lit a candle for those 32 people on our list, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was someone that I knew. It was a sober thought that the candle I was lighting for a name I didn’t know, could be for someone I have been wondering where they had disappeared to…
In those quiet, candle-lit moments, we didn’t need to put a face to the name. That would be nice, but more important was that we take a moment to recognize that each life is treasured by God and has value. God knows each face and each name and it was our privilege to take time to remember…
Four weeks after Christmas and you are late!
Yes, we are, with good intention, for several reasons: right around the time of Christmas, there can be as many as 18 (yes, eighteen!) dinners and then January comes and basically everyone disappears. I don’t think folks forget about the homeless necessarily, but holiday fatigue (exhaustion for most) sets in as our bodies recover from our own Christmases and we try to dig ourselves out of the snow – hopefully in time for Easter. Then there’s the ‘winter blues’ when some of us who are in survival mode, are just try to make it through to spring.
Yet, the third week of January is a GREAT time for a dinner and celebration, for the same reasons mentioned above. Additionally, street-engaged folk receive their cheques on December 23rd – in time for Christmas, but it’s a long time before the next cheque at the end of January! Just about that time of the year, with five weeks (and counting) since the December cheque and one more week to go until the January’s, a special dinner is a real treat!
The responses to the January Christmas dinner have always been exceptional! People soooo appreciate the great meal, the warm smiles of a virtual army of volunteers serving and helping, children volunteering alongside their parents, and a sense of something special just for them… it’s heartwarming and encouraging!
There is something very special about the “Thank you’s” we receive from our guests who have nothing to give in return, who habitually feel like a ‘zero without the rim”, and who have limited or no resources. These “Thank you’s” are sincere, heartfelt and are to be listened with attentiveness and careful thought. Receiving such words of gratitude move us deeply and quickly to our own thankfulness for the blessings that we ourselves have received, from God and also from our friends.
Looking for a noble thing to do to ‘break out’ from the winter blues, post Christmas fatigue and the January doldrums? Donate a cooked turkey. Come serve a meal. Get ready to ask, “Apple pie or pumpkin?” Then get ready for the most sincere ‘Thank you’s’ that you have ever received.
Question: Ever had this kind of experience before? What was it like for you?
There’s been no shortage of bad news about homelessness in our city. Ottawa did very poorly on the last Alliance to End Homelessness Annual Report Card with two ‘F’s’ and a ‘D+’. We did achieve one A in the area of new affordable housing units. It was our first ever ‘A’ since the report first started. I heard some very good news yesterday though and I wanted to pass along this encouragement. We are making a difference. I was at a meeting yesterday of outreach agencies to the homeless in Ottawa, and as we went around the table doing updates, we started to see something that we haven’t in a long time. The outreach teams are seeing less people on the street and the shelters actually have empty beds. Not a lot of beds mind you, but a few. The representative from the city confirmed what we are seeing by telling us that they are seeing a slow but steady decrease in the number of people in shelters. There is a team around the table who works to find housing for difficult cases of homelessness, and they are almost out of clients and are shifting to managing their considerable caseload. They were careful to state that homelessness is not ‘cured’ in our city, but we are slowly making a dent.
So…in the midst of discouraging news…some good news. We ARE making a difference.