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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.

The Mundane Is Extraordinary..

“Do you have room for one more?”

It was the end of the day at our drop-in and I was getting ready to clean up the foot care station. I was tired. I had been there for four hours cleaning and massaging feet of all sizes, shapes, and conditions. And yet I was drawn to this disheveled, but gentle old man. “Of course I have room,” I replied. His eyes sparkled with gratitude. I proceeded to fill the foot basin with water, Epsom salts, and soap. He carefully removed his worn shoes and dirty socks. He looked ashamed as he revealed his soiled, foul-smelling feet. I pretended not to notice.

Then he soaked his feet and we began to talk.

I do not recall that our conversation was particularly meaningful or deeply personal. We exchanged pleasantries, mainly. We shared a few stories about our lives. We talked about the weather (how typically Canadian!). We discussed our mutual love of animals, too. After about twenty minutes or so – after his feet had been cleaned, massaged, and clad with a fresh pair of socks – I thanked him for coming. As he got up to leave, he slowly turned to me and said, “y’know, I was not having a very good day, but I just wanted you to know that you have turned my day right around!” I smiled and told him that I, too, had enjoyed our conversation. It was not until I arrived home later that afternoon, however, that I allowed myself to receive this simple, yet powerful gift of gratitude.

I have yet to understand, fully, why this interaction has stayed with me these past five years. And while I have learned much at OIM, one thing stands out above the rest: God seems to delight in using the most ordinary, routine, even mundane, acts of service to do some extraordinary work.

 

Jelica

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

Where everybody knows your name

Community: We all crave it. From adults to children, men and women, CEOs to stay-at-home moms, we all want to belong or at least find a place ‘where everybody knows your name.’

And yet for all our desire to create community, our society is becoming increasingly fragmented. We resemble less a community than a collection of individuals consumed with blazing our own trails, not bothering to see who or what we’ve left behind.

There is an unlikely group of people, however, that are real role-models in reversing this trend: our homeless and street-engaged friends. Marginalized, ignored, forgotten, they are society’s original ‘displaced persons.’  And yet, their communal deprivation from the mainstream has been the very thing that has propelled them to prioritize community while living in the margins.

“We are not here for the food,” John explained to me one day at our drop-in. “We are here for the friendship.” It was our first day at our new drop-in location and we were running 10 minutes behind schedule for lunch. I made the announcement to our guests, apologizing profusely for the delay. After informing our guests, John approached to reassure me. Looking out into the crowd, several others looked my way, smiling encouragingly and confirming John’s words. These were the same individuals who scarcely got by on the meager resources they had; the same people who sifted through our donated clothing each week searching for that one item that may just fit; the same ones who desperately needed one of the free chiropractic, touch and foot care services we offered each week. John cocked his head at me that day, looking at me inquisitively, as if to say, “Did you not know?”

Friendship, not food: This is how community begins. This is where God’s love reigns supreme.

Jelica

Eddy turns himself in!

Our youth outreach worker recounted this story of last Monday’s events, and I thought you would be interested.

Eddy was one of the first members of our Passion 4 youth art program. He enjoyed coming every week and worked on building model cars and also a model of a mountain with a stream running from the side. After the first art show he and his girlfriend Sue stopped coming to the group. I caught up with him a few times on outreach and he told me that he was selling too much crack now and could not afford to take a night off. So we just kept telling him that we loved him and that he was welcome to come back whenever he wanted to. Then we stopped hearing from him all together for a few months. At one point his girlfriend Sue contacted me and told me that he had been arrested for selling drugs. A few more months went by and I got a facebook message from Eddy. He told me that he had served 7 months in Jail and then was released to serve the rest of his sentence at a rehab facility in Quebec. He was allowed to go home for a weekend and while at home he used heroin again. When he came back to rehab and failed a drug test and was dismissed from the facility.

At his next court appearance Eddy was informed that he would have to serve a few more months in jail because he failed the drug test. He asked if he could go and call his mother. When he left the room, Eddy got scared and decided to run from the court room. He later called his lawyer who told him that he needed to turn himself in to the authorities. He knew that he should do the right thing but he was very scared to turn himself in.

Eddy asked me what I thought he should do and I told him that he needed to listen to his lawyer. He said that he has never willingly put himself in Jail. It was just too crazy to think about. So over the next few weeks Eddy would contact me and tell me that he was going to turn himself in. But the next day he would not follow through. He called me again and said that he was thinking about turning himself over to authorities in the morning. I told him that if he wanted I would meet him I would meet with him at the Rideau center in the morning and we could go together. That way he could have a friend with him in case he got scared and wanted to run away again. Eddy said that he would like that so we arranged a time to meet. When I arrived at our meeting spot he was already there waiting for me. We hugged and I told him that I was proud of him. I got him some breakfast and sat and talked for a while. I asked him why he felt that he was ready now. He told me that he had just found out that our mutual friend Roni had died of a drug overdose last week. Roni was a good friend to him and her death had a profound effect on him. He decided that if he didn’t want to end up the same way he needed to make some changes in his life. We talked about how this was an opportunity for him to face some of the things that he has been running from. We walked over to the court house together. Along the way Eddy noticed a man sitting on the Mackenzie King Bridge pan handling. Eddy walked over and gave him all but 4 of the cigarettes from his pack, as well as all of the money in his pocket. We went into the court and called his lawyer. The lawyer agreed to meet him there. When the lawyer came we approached one of the police officers stationed at the court house and told him that Eddy was turning himself in. He filled out some paper work gave up his wallet and shoe laces. He looked very scared and started to cry. The officer told him that he was going to process the paper work and be back in about fifteen minutes. In the mean time Eddy was allowed to go outside and have one last smoke.

We walked out to the patio in the back and he lit his cigarette. At this point I reminded him of all the times we had talked about the difference that Jesus could make in his life. We talked about how God’s love for him is unconditional, and that he was going to need Gods strength to overcome the things that were controlling his life. Usually an agnostic, Eddy told me that this time he really believed that what I was saying was true. So I asked if he would like to ask the Lord to be his Savior and give his life to Christ he said that he did. I sat next to him and we prayed together.  When we were done praying we looked up and the police officer was waiting in front of us to take him to the cells. We stood up and walked together with the officer to the elevator.

The officer agreed not to handcuff him until they were downstairs so as not to embarrass him in front of the public. Eddy teared up again and then gave me a hug. I left him my number so that he can continue to call me while he is in jail. He thanked me for staying with him and then asked if I would call his dad and let him know what happened. As I left the court I thought about how proud of Eddy I was. This was very hard for him but he did it anyway. I thanked God for taking what the devil would want to use for harm and turning it into an opportunity to bring my friend into a relationship with him.

It’s a new beginning for Eddy, a fresh start.  Let’s pray that he continues to make good decisions and plans for his future.

 

Drop In to our Drop In, New Year’s 2011

A sunny bright first week of January and many greetings of “Happy New Year” were offered from our friends at the drop in.  New Years is just so much better than Christmas.

In addition to the beautiful day, some of our folks were only just receiving their cheques from December (some glitch in the matrix of ODSP/OW) on this day, so it was doubly beautiful (maybe more).

Our numbers are down a bit because of the cheque thing (a typical first of the month pattern), but we have given up trying to estimate our effectiveness through the number of people served a meal.  Instead we count the number of positive interactions our volunteers have with our street friends – more than ‘the Big three’ of news, weather and sports. 

Downstairs, there’s a couple of euchre games on the go, people visiting with each other, relaxed, informal – a nice place to hang out. 

Let’s ‘drop in’ on a few of my encounters with our friends:

I met Bill who is 19 years old and his sister Chaucery (or so I thought, until Bill told me it was his mom), and we chatted.  Two years ago he ran from a fight only to have a severe stab wound in the skull: “See the mark?” he says as he points to the top of his head.  We talked of a few things, but he told me he didn’t want to talk about his father, one time Chaucery’s partner.  Then, after about twenty minutes,   he brought up the topic of his father, and how he had been so severely mistreated.  Usually, among people who have been mistreated as children it is their fathers who have been the primary causes of abuse.  He didn’t want to talk about it, but then he did.  He had been diagnosed with some condition of mental illness (before the knife wound and somehow associated with his father), he explained, and lives with his mom.  Their hydro had been cut off, and it was a good thing I wasn’t part of the blanket-blank agency, or they would have some choice words for me.  They were going to make it, the mom said, because hydro was not their heat source, and their landlord had allowed them to have an extension cord running to a power outlet in the hall.  “We have lots to be thankful for,” Bill reminded his mom.

On the way to the coffee urn, Wayne came in and asked if he could have a hamper to take home with him (before the appointed time for hampers) because the service technician was coming to his new place to hook up a phone that afternoon.  Wayne has undergone a remarkable recovery from alcohol, drugs and the street scene.  He has been clean for over a year now, and has every intention of continuing to improve his life.  After many, many attempts to obtain housing, he now has a place of his own.  I marvel at what he has accomplished against overwhelming odds, as well at his determination to keep on the ‘straight and narrow’.

 Jelica, our managing director, put together a few groceries, while Wayne showed us pictures of his two daughters and grandchildren.  “Wow”, I said, admiring the photographs and smiling, “You don’t look it, but you truly are a rich man.”  He quickly nodded assent and told a condensed version of the powerful reconciliation he recently had with one of his daughters – after being estranged from her for many, many years.

“Thank you so very much for the food,” he said, and put the pictures carefully in the front part of his knapsack, and the groceries in the back.  “I’m off to catch the 12:10 bus.”

As he climbed the stairs out of the building, my eyes met Jelicas’, and there was a simultaneous sigh of gratitude and wonder at this example of a transformed life.  More than words are needed to grasp the deep significance of what was happening all around us. 

It’s all a gift from God, and gifts of God.

These kinds of encounters happen all the time, each one purposefully and intrinsically orchestrated by our Heavenly Father:  each one a display of His splendor .  Mother Theresa coined it well when she said, “We see Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

You should find out how you could be a part of this somehow.  Happy New Years!

Gary – a story about Resiliency (and more)

Gary came down the stairs at the drop in, saw me and said, “I haven’t got your money yet. I know it’s been three years.  I’m working on it.”  Gary has been involved in a court case where his landlord stole things from his apartment before kicking him out.  Gary really likes what we do at OIM, so much so that he has committed some of the money from the settlement to helping the poor.  My protests that this is not necessary do not make any difference. 

We sat down and talked for quite some time.  He told me that the first time his father gave him a black eye he was six years old.  He never could measure up to his father’s expectations, and would expect a beating when he brought home a less than perfect report card.  He wet the bed every night, and every morning he would pay for it.

He ran away from home twelve times before he actually succeeded in making a breakaway when he was fifteen years old.  He never went back.

Odd jobs in many different places over his sixty-two years, but he never settled down for a long time in any one place.  He stopped drinking a year ago. No programs, he just quit.  

He said his father was a very successful man from all appearances.  No-one knew how he treated his family, and in those days, it was a well guarded secret.  A leader in his labour union and in the community, he was well respected and seen as a pillar in the community.

Gary told me he spoke with his father before his dad died.  He did what he could to make things right.  In one conversation, his father wondered why his children didn’t call him.  “Well dad, you need to remember that you beat them almost every day,” Gary replied, “You can’t really expect much after doing that for so many years.  Plus, we all remember how mom was beat.”

It’s remarkable how my friend has survived these many years.  He holds no ill will towards his dad, he has forgiven him.  Now, instead he helps other street friends when he can and is well respected.  In fact, one of our street friends came over while we were talking and asked for some advice.  In his own gentle way, Gary turned his attention to his friend’s inquiry and did his best to help. 

It was time for him to go to an appointment, and we bid each other farewell.

This story is unique to Gary, but not uncommon in the street community.  Young children suffer all manner of abuse at home, are forced to leave – fearing for their lives, descend into the pit of addictions and find themselves on the street.

Thankfully Gary found a way out before it consumed him, and now has chosen to give back. And, in his current maltreatment by his landlord, is standing up for his rights and justice.

I marvel at Gary’s and others’ fortitude, resiliency and determination. I’m not sure I would fare so well.

Bedbugs or Brutality?

I walked past Jim sleeping outside the convenience store on my way to the bank.  He was OK, probably tired from a late night.  The doorway of the building he was laying across was vacant, and he was ‘out of the way’ at least, from pedestrians and cars.  No danger.  No alarm.

This is Jim’s ‘area’, I guess you could say.  He would pan outside the supermarket, play his guitar for donations (or not), and generally was easy to get along with.  He knew how to do his ‘work’ and got by – as best a person could get by, homeless style.

I have wakened Jim on occasion to see if he was OK, or needed something, or if I had something for him.  Today everything looked good, so I let him sleep.

He comes to the office regularly, and we have gone out of the way to help him with recording some of his songs, created CD’s for him to market and so on.  He appreciates the help, but he is pretty entrenched in his lifestyle for any radical change – at least for now.  So, we do what we can, and wait for the day when he wants to make a change.

Back to the street.

On the way back from the bank, one of Ottawa’s finest has pulled the black and white over the curb just in front of Jim’s spot.  A young constable, mid twenties, has the task of ‘moving Jim “along”.  ( I have yet to discover where ‘along’ is.  For sure it’s not here and not now).

It doesn’t look pretty.  Jim is shaken up from his peaceful sleep, rushing to gather his things to the tune of “Hurry up.  You need to move – NOW!” and other such pleasantries.  Jim slips his foot out of his oversized running shoe and shows the peace officer his feet – black and blue and cut.  “I can’t move fast – look at my feet”, Jim shouts at the policeman, who by now is donning his black leather gloves. 

I stay and watch as a witness, in case something goes awry, but it gets cleared up.  “Cleared up”.  Sounds good, clean, and neat, but it’s far from anything even remotely connected with clean or clear.  It’s messy.

I am grieved whenever I see this happen, and it happens all the time. Some business owner, or not – maybe it’s just time for a ‘sweep’ of our streets from city hall – whatever… it’s dehumanizing, degrading, condescending and sometimes brutal.  It’s about the wielding of power and the power of injustice.

Jim has tried to get housing, but it’s not an easy option for him.  He had to leave his last place because of the bedbugs.  Lots of them – hungry too! 

At the very least, there aren’t any bedbugs on the streets – just the police.

What’s worse?