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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……

God’s hands on a cold night…

This past Wednesday, Ottawa experienced what I hope was the last winter storm of the year (fingers crossed!). It was windy, snowy and wet. Buses were cancelled and everyone was warned to stay off the messy roads.

But that night, I was scheduled to do outreach from 9-midnight. I would love to tell you that I am a really tough/super-amazing outreach worker who is always motivated to walk the streets to do God’s work.-but that’s just not true. Last Wednesday I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around the empty streets of Ottawa in a storm. In fact, I was secretly hoping that Jeff, my outreach partner, would cancel so I could stay in my nice warm apartment. But he didn’t, so I dragged myself to the office to do outreach.

We did our normal outreach route down Elgin and throughout the market. The streets were mostly empty and quiet. (When the weather is really bad our street friends are much harder to find. Not because they are in a safe, warm place, but because they are anywhere that is an escape from the elements)

On our way back to the office, I was dreaming about the hot shower I would have when I got home, when we heard “Hey outreach!” It was Laura and Kelsey, two youth who I have met a few times on outreach.

Neither had jackets. Neither had boots. Both were soaking wet. “Do you guys have any sleeping bags?” they asked.

We didn’t have any with us, but we told them they could come back to the office with us to get some. They walked back with us to the office, and we learned that they had both been kicked out of their places so they had nowhere to go. There was no space in the youth shelter and both refused to go to the adult shelter, saying they were too scared. Instead, they were going to sleep outside.

They warmed up in the office and changed into dry socks. We gave them food and sleeping bags, and they thanked us over and over before leaving to go find a dry place to sleep.

It was easy for me to give myself a pat on the back that night. “Good job Moira! It’s a good thing you braved the elements so you could help those girls.” Then it occurred to me that I was giving myself a whole lot of credit. When really, God has these two girls in his hands and He will take care of them. He may have used me and Jeff that night, but if we had not done outreach God would have taken care of those girls. And this does not make me feel like I am not needed, but rather reassured God will take care of his children.

 

OIM goes to the Oscars!

Ok…OIM didn’t actually GO to the Oscars…but the film that won ‘Best Documentary Short’ is the story of Inocente Izucar, a street-artist who was living on the streets of San Deigo at the age of 15.  This documentary features a young woman who uses brilliant colours and unique art pieces to rise out of the challenging life on the streets to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional painter.  After watching the trailer, I am anxious to watch the full feature….a story of hope and redemption.  Perhaps you will add it to your movie list too.

Our Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program has many talented young people who are experiencing this story of hope and redemption.  It is a place for street-engaged youth to experience their true value…to feel the power that comes from knowing that you have a part to play in this world.  If you aren’t familiar with this exciting program, look on our website in the lower right-hand corner.  Some of these amazing youth are featured in our Faces Of  OIM.  See what hope looks like…

-Kim

Feeling Human

 

I met Ashley last summer. She had just left her parents house and was staying at a downtown shelter. Like many other youth who first come to the streets, she seemed nervous but excited about being out on her own for the first time. She spoke about her life like she was starting a new adventure. But just like other youth, this excitement began to fade as the harsh realities of the street began to set in. Ashley’s hope for the future seemed to fade too….Ashley showed up at the office recently. She was looking thin and exhausted and she had two fresh black eyes. We talked for awhile and she said she was feeling unhealthy, dirty and exhausted. She talked about how badly people were treating her when they passed by her panhandling on the street. Then she looked at me and said “I just don’t feel human anymore.”

It broke my heart to see Ashley losing herself. I spoke with her about the art group and encouraged her to come out to be among people who have experienced similar feelings. Ashley seemed hesitant but she showed up to art group the next week. I showed her around the art room and introduced her to the other youth but she was still looking depressed and exhausted and she sat down to sketch. As the night went on, a beautiful thing happened. Some of the youth sat with Ashley and got to know her. They complimented her art work and helped her find supplies. I was happy to see her making friends. Part way through the night, I noticed that Ashley was gone so I checked the music room. There were some youth and volunteers jamming together on the guitar, piano and drums. To my surprise, Ashley was playing the djembe. She had a huge smile on her face and was completely engaged in the music. At the end of the night, she told me what a great time she had and that she couldn’t wait to come back the following week.

To see the change in Ashley over the course of two hours was amazing. The youth in the art group are so kind and accepting that they make everyone feel welcome. That night, they made Ashley feel human again.

You Take Donations Don’t You?

We came in this morning to find a note from one of the outreach teams that was out last night.  The team had come across a friend in need and they gave him a bottle of water.  He wanted to pay for it, but the team assured him that it wasn’t necessary.  He then asked ‘you take donations don’t you?’  He then passed a loonie to our team as a donation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this among our community.  So many times, people will come into drop-in and need some item of clothing…a new coat for example to replace one that has grown too big or small.  They don’t simply take a new one, but they leave their coat because they know that someone else could use it.  They give back.  One of our friends came in a couple of weeks ago with a kettle to donate because they had been given another and they didn’t need two.  She said ‘your ministry has been good to me when I’ve needed things…I can give back this way.’

Time and time again…those with the least give the most…

-Kim

Hard to believe, but 2013 marks our 25th Anniversary!

So much has transpired since Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward filled  a couple of knapsacks with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking boxes, and walked the streets seeking to come alongside those who were neglected, abused and in need.  Now, after 25 years we affirm  the faithfulness of God and His care and concern for people experiencing poverty and homelessness!

Here’s what happened last year: 5,000+ visits to our drop in program; 7,600+ connections on the streets; 2,700+ contacts with street-engaged youth; and with five full-time and two part-time staff we leverage our resources with over 100 current, active volunteers on the streets, at our day programs, and behind the scenes.  PLUS an additional 50 volunteers that help on us on an ad hock basis.  What an amazing God – that He would enable us to accomplish so much for His Kingdom!

From humble beginnings we now lead the City in the number of street outreach teams and are well-known for being the people that ‘touch the homeless’ with care and compassion: foot care, chiropractic care, touch care and volunteers caring and interacting with sincerity and love.  Amazing!

STAY TUNED for upcoming events to celebrate our 25th year!!

More beautiful for having been broken…

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’.

We are all broken people and then God puts His gold repair on us and makes us more beautiful in our brokenness.  No need to pontificate…the picture says it all…

Where did He call home?

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…..

-Erin

“I hope we’re the only ones with cold toes tonight”

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.

-Jeff

The Longest Wait…

…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.

It sucks.

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.

-Ken