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Ottawa Home and Garden Show. Why?

OIM has been given a booth at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show, March 20 to 23 at the Ernst and Young Centre.  Why?

A friend of the ministry donated this 10’ x 20’ exhibitor’s space so that people who are thinking about renovating, redoing and re-fixing their own homes might take a moment and consider people who don’t have any home at all.

Our booth will have an area where visitors can see some of the art work that our Passion 4 Youth artists have created; we will be showing the 7 minute OIM DVD and also another shorter DVD featuring interviews from three of the youth from the program; we will have a visual aid of a home (on Bristol board) where visitors can buy a brick for a donation of any amount, and we can collect funds for new space (which we desperately need).

Then we’ll top it off with not one, but two (and maybe three) surprises that you can only discover if you come by and have a visit with us.

The Ottawa Home and Garden people are expecting over 20,000 visitors to the show this year, and it is a privilege to represent OIM there.  We have scheduled volunteers and staff for the entire weekend, and you will want to see how this works!

Please consider this your special invitation: ‘Come on down’ and visit us!

Caring – Even When it Hurts

This past week, Moira, our youth outreach worker got the flu – the bad kind.  After a few days away she thought she could return to work and attend a seminar, but at noon I told her we needed to go.  She did not look well.  She tried to take some chicken soup, but that did not go well.  She rested at the office, but it wasn’t enough.  We had to cancel Passion4Youth art program and I told her I would drive her home.

On the way home, Moira took it upon herself to personally contact each of the kids in the art group, to let them know of the cancellation, that she would be OK, and that if they needed a food hamper that they should to come to the office.

I was deeply moved by her interactions with the youth, and equally by the caring responses by the kids.

From what I heard (by accident) the kids were very sorry she was not well, yes they would be fine, and how could they help? One offered to bring tea to her apartment. Others suggested a hot bath, plenty of rest and drinking lots of water.  All good advice, but even more so when we realize that these kids hardly looked after themselves.

The caring responses by Moira perfectly completed each scenerio.   Concerned more for the kids than herself,  Moira consistently and skillfully redirected each conversation back to the kids themselves.  “Are you going to be all right?” “What happened then?” “Wow, what do you think will come of it?” and many more questions of concern were made came as we travelled to her home.

No wonder our youth group has done so well! That kind of care and attention to people is not something that just happens every day. It is a beautiful thing.

(The following is an observation, and is not meant to reflect pride (although I am very proud of the people who come alongside us to be a blessing)).

Multiply that by almost one hundred volunteers, and it is not hard to see why our street friends and youth hold OIM in such high regard.

Question:  Think of the times when someone reached out to you – at a cost to themselves.  Remember how much that meant to you? If you were alone and lonely (like many of our friends who call the streets their home) can you imagine that the impact would be that much greater?

Behind the Story…

I noticed ‘Cal’ on several occasions at the drop in, but I never took opportunity to have a conversation with him until this week.

He was a large man with a hint of European blood in his heritage, often coming to complain about some kind of unjust or unfair thing that he noticed others doing at the drop in.  We always took the time to courteously address his concerns, but I’m not sure that any of us have ever taken time to get to know him.

I approached the table where he sat alone, as he always did, and asked if I might join him for a while.  He agreed and we spent the next hour in a meaningful conversation about his life, where he had been, what he had done and what was going on right now.

As had happened so many countless times before when I have taken the time to visit with one of our street friends, I was amazed at how resilient and strong the human spirit can be.  I heard Cal’s story with great interest,  and listened beyond the details to hear another story running parallel with the one he articulated.

The outward story was about his violent home, his unfaithful wife, his distant mother and his hardened and calloused brother.  Injustice, greed, exclusion, partiality and rejection were the dominant themes outwardly, but inwardly there was even more. He had become embittered, jealous, and resentful: his anger was fueled by the traumatic childhood memories, and constant reminders of his failures from his brother.

I asked about his father, the one figure conspicuous by its absence. The response was immediate: a white collar professional that lived a double life.  He had beaten and abused the two boys from their very first memories and earlier – until the sons became big enough to fight back and put a stop to it.  The adjectives he used to describe his dad(apart from the beatings): hideous, unthinkable, sick, perverted, twisted – it broke my heart.

I hear these kinds of stories from most of my street friends frequently.  The details are different but the themes are the same – all the time.  From earliest memories and before, the effects of abuse, neglect and pain now manifest themselves in a broken man or woman at a table at a downtown drop in. Living with this pain all their lives, lacking needed support without even a friend to talk to, they come to us and share.

And us?  We are privileged to hear the stories, listen intently and for some, for the first time ever, demonstrate the love and care of God.

For the remainder of the day, Cal watched me. Constantly. His eyes were on my every move as I visited from table to table and friend to friend. Every time I looked over to him, he was already looking at me.  It takes a great deal of courage to share your life story with another person, and you might imagine what thoughts might be racing through his mind.

Question: Over 7,300 different people stayed in one of our Ottawa shelter systems last year.  How many carry stories like this?  How can we expect people with this kind of background and no support from family or friends to function properly (“Get up and get a job!”) How many times have we offered a ‘quick fix’ to a complex problem?

The Small Things Guy…

Following from last week, my friend ‘Jesse’, the ‘small things guy’.

So last week at the drop in, I had to call the police and ask them to remove Jesse as he would not cooperate and leave when I asked him.  The reason?  He was drinking (no surprise) openly (not allowed) and blatantly (not allowed) and was not showing respect to the church where we house our drop in (the biggest offense), neither did he respect the staff and volunteers who make things work.

I was hurt – OK, so I know it’s not about me – but it pained me that my ‘friend’, who in his last letter from jail called me his ‘Best Friend’ walked and stomped all over me (not literally) and our friendship (I thought).

He left the premises last week only when Ottawa’s finest escorted him out – no problem.

So my week goes on and I think about Jesse a lot, and our friendship, and wonder how badly it’s been violated.  Then I’m looking through my shirts and I find one that I think Jesse would like and bring it to the drop in, thinking I would meet him there today.

On the way it struck me that Jesse would not remember even one of the details of our encounter last week.  Nothing.

Staff called to tell me he had arrived at the drop in and I came shortly afterwards.

We connected.  I gave him a shirt.  He liked it. I told him I loved him, and he knew that.  I told him he was not respectful last week and I had to call the police.  What?? he said. Didn’t remember a thing.  Truly.  We hung out for a while and he said he would help me with the memorial service to come later that day.  It was a new day. Fresh start. My Best Friend.  Again.

So what to do?  Life goes on.  Hold things lightly.  Hold others with a firm grasp.  Never let go of hope.  Never give up on people.  Love unconditionally – people need to be loved.

Question: What about the seventy times seven plus one? Does love ever draw the line?

PS (and unrelated): It’s not too late to join our Urban Intervention Training for new volunteers: next session Feb 6. 2014

The Small Things

Someone gave me a gift of money and instructed to help someone. Nothing came to mind immediately so I tucked it away- and took it out again when Jesse called me from jail.  Not a friend in the whole world, although Jesse has been just about everywhere.  Chronically homeless, he finally got a place some months ago, and his place was secure as it was paid immediately through Welfare.

I bought him a pair of jeans, underwear and gathered some other stuff from our donation pile.  I had $15 left, and knowing that Jesse would never have anyone give him any money for tuck, deposited it in his account.  I didn’t have an appointment so we could not visit, so I dropped the stuff off and left.

Then I got the letter.

Here are excerpts:

Hi Ken. Thank you for everything you did.  I was surprize with the cloth and picture… You Didn’t have to leave me money. you. God Bless… Say Hi to everybody for me. Your pray save my life… thank you for Helping me out, when I ask you went out of your way to bring me the thing I needed.  I was so surprize, Happy (Tears) came Rolling down my  Face.  the Guard ask me Jesse you (OK) I say I am in (Heaven)… you are my Best Friend who care you go out of your way and I thank yo. You Best Friend (Jesse)

No big deal for most of us… but these small things, thoughtful gifts, acts of kindness make a lasting and significant impact on the lives of our friends (even Best Friends!).

Question: How has a ‘little kindness’ you’ve done, make a lasting impact?  Briefly, tell me about it…

When Can I Take This Off?

I was talking with someone recently who had obtained housing. They have been on the street since their early teens—both sleeping on the street and in flop houses. They haven’t seen stable housing in years and have a weathered look about them. It is impossible to tell if someone is homeless simply by looking at them, but this individual carries the stereotype, and most on lookers would assume that they were homeless.

We were walking down a street the other night, with condos and old houses on either side, talking about the new place. They had been there for about a week. There was excitement in their tone, as they told me about the new wood floors, the paint, and the windows. The conversation continued casually until they said “a homeless person like me”.

I stopped walking and looked at them: torn pants, rugged hair cut, and rebellious attitude. And, I said “But you’re not homeless? Not anymore.”

“No, not exactly.”

It struck me that this individual walked around with a big sign duct-taped to their back: HOMELESS. Even when they had a home, a place that was their own, where they could sleep indoors, safe and tucked away from Ottawa’s nightlife, they still saw themselves as homeless. Even when they had a key, and a door, and a lock that only they could unlock, they saw themselves as homeless.

I thought about a story I was told recently, where a street-friend who had been on the street for 13 years had found housing. After a year he had to leave that situation and went back on the street. He was discouraged about the situation but a staff member congratulated him.

“You’ve lived on the street for 13 years, and then you lived in doors for a year! That’s a big deal.”

Many of our street-friends seem to be used to the transient life style of moving around, sleeping in doors for a few nights and being outside the next. Shelters, flop houses, couch surfing…there are ways to make your way inside but you will still carry that label.

My question is, when do they get to take it off? What could finally change so that they don’t feel like it is the core of their identity? What can I do to stop allowing this to happen? Being ‘homeless’ doesn’t seem to go away when you find housing. Many of our street-friends have housing, be it through ODSP, OW or their own means. The problem seems to have very little to do with the home.

So, what are we really saying when we use that term? Or, what scares me more, is what do those we label hear when we say it?

Yet, a better question may be this: What will that person have once they remove that label? Who will be their community, and with whom will they share their culture?

What if this label has become a shelter, an identity and a safety-net? I think of the street-friends who lost his housing after a year; isn’t it easier to leave the label on then being forced to put it back on? It is like saying, with no expectations I can have no disappointment.

I pray these two individuals can both see themselves and be seen as so much more than their labels. Where they sleep should not define who they are, and I continue to ask myself where my place is in that. Though I cannot change how they see themselves I can try and show them how I perceive them.

Taking things for granted???

Ken Pic

She walked into the drop in with her head held high, her long strawberry blonde hair (it had seen better days) swirled around her head like flames of fire looking to devour anything in its path. Our eyes meet when she entered the room, and I said ‘Hi,’ but she ignored me and quickly moved through the room. I don’t remember meeting her before.

She was both street wise and street tough – a survivor by anyone’s standard. I guessed she was in her mid 20’s, but she looked older.

I tried to connect with her about 1/2 hour later but was ignored – again. Oh well, sometimes it happens…

Today is an unannounced BBQ lunch and now I’m outside in the garden at Dominion Chalmers with my apron and tongs, cooking up a storm. 125 burgers and I’m almost 1/2 done.

Who comes out into the garden but ‘Firestorm’.  She quickly glances around, assesses the situation, comes directly over to me and asks, ‘Can I flip some burgers?’

‘Sure,’I replied, ‘But you’ll need a hair net,’ and pulled the gray net up from around my eye brows.

She quickly wrapped her flowing locks in a double hair bun with an elastic, and ran inside for a net.

She ran back, grabbed the tongs, we cooked burgers together and chatted.

As she turned burgers on the BBQ, we watched the flames from the fire circle, twist and coil all around the grill, she said, “When you’re homeless, you never get to cook.  I love cooking.  Thanks so much for letting me help.”

Question: What other ‘regular’ things do we take for granted?

 

 

 

 

Stories from the Street:

This story comes from a street-friend who was reflecting on a situation that impacted his life greatly. This story was shared during one of our weekly Stop-In times, where street-friends, volunteers and staff share coffee and conversation.

When I first lived on the streets, at 18 years-old in Vancouver, there was a situation that really changed my life.

At the time, I was young, cold and starving but had nowhere to go and nothing to eat. It happened at 4am in the morning when I heard someone coming down the street. I looked up to see there was this little old lady (who was probably not even five feet tall) driving down the road. She was coming towards me in a golf cart and I could see she had sandwiches, juice, water and granola bars with her. After giving me something to eat she began to tell me about Covenant House that was in the city (a shelter and housing NPO for street youth). Since I had nowhere to go I decided that this would be a good place to go.

Covenant House was only for youth, they offered multiple programs and a bed to those in need. When I was there I realized that people actually cared about someone like me, and that there was, in fact, a place for me to go. My time there gave me a chance to get off the streets and the staff offered me the support that I needed most. My experience with Covenant House has prompted me to want to open a similar house, and I continue to hope for this dream to be fulfilled one day.

We appreciate that the work of OIM and organizations like it can bring hope to individuals, like this street-friend, who may not feel valued or cared for. It is stories like this one that motivate us to continue our work and the work of our greater community.

Story collected by OIM staff member  Samara, and edited by Selina

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……

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