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You are LATE!!

 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?

-Ken

Baby Steps…

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.

-Kim

The Journey

I’m so proud of Tammi!  She has had a long time addiction to crack cocaine…somewhere around fifteen years I think.  Like many of the users we see, she has tried over and over again to break the addiction.  It’s an addiction folks!  Don’t kid yourselves….it can be very hard to stop an addiction!!  As much as we would like to say that our friends we serve just make the decision to quit and then stop, never to return to the vice again, that is not really the way it is usually.  Often they stop for a time, days or weeks or sometimes months but then something triggers the addiction again, it’s too strong of a lure and *poof*, back on the substance they tried so hard to stay away from.  Tammi has been like that.  Off the drug and back on again, off and on again, always feeling bad when she’s on, proud when she’s off, but trying, over and over again.  I pray for her.  I pray the day will come when she quits for good.  I pray for the day that she is strong enough to not be enticed by the pull of the drug or the trigger that consumes her thoughts.  But right now, I’m just proud of her.  Today marks her one month anniversary of being clean….again.  Way to go Tammi

-Erin

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

Sasha’s Story: Episode Six, Outreach

Sasha’s Story is an 8 part series running until December 24. To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI radio, click   Episode #6 Outreach

 

(Editor) Sasha has a big heart and has given herself over to helping others: others that you and I could never reach.  With a heart of compassion and careless abandon for her own safety and well being, Sasha does outreach:

 

I remember when I asked for socks and you gave me ONE pair.  I didn’t want ONE pair of socks, I wanted a bag of socks. Three bags!  I took those socks to people under the bridge and along the river that your teams would never get to. 

 

I met a little girl new to the streets, who was sleeping under the bridge.  She was 13 or 14, and guys found her and were sending her out to work the streets for them.  She had just started when I found her.

 

I was under the bridge with her when he came for her.

 

I told him he couldn’t have her. 

 

I stood in front of him between him and the little girl, and said NO. I took a beating, but he left and didn’t take her.  I hid her that night and worked the streets myself to get some money.  The next day, I took her to the bus station, bought her a ticket, gave her all the money, and sent her home. 

 

She’s home now.

 

She was just a kid. I don’t even remember her name.

 

We do not receive on-going government funding for our programs, but instead rely on the generosity of people who care, just like you.  Why not make a special Christmas donation to help us continue our youth street outreach program.  Thanks and Merry Christmas!

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!