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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!

A clip and a prayer

Leo is one of the ’rounders’ at OIM (‘been around a long time) and comes weekly to catch up and connect with our people.  Life was very difficult for him as he was growing up (the details are really too messy to go into-seriously) and he has been trying to cope with life ever since.

Today, he is sitting in the barber’s chair and our hairstylist is doingone of those remarkable, “I can’t believe that combination of shaved and long hair’ type of hairstyles.  Well, that’s Leo all over again-a non-conformist to the core, standing out in any crowd, but he’s really just a guy who wants someone to love him.

The hair cut is over now, and the stylist stands beside Leo as he sits in the chair.  Her lips are moving and he looks up into her face again, and returns his gaze elsewhere.  Three times.

Oh, she must be praying for him.  Yes, that’s it.

She finishes, he thanks her and he’s off on an adventure with a very stylish, trendy hair ‘composition’.

I spoke with her, and told her how much I appreciate her prayer for Leo.  She told me she prays for just about everyone that comes to her chair, that Rudy, the former hair cutter, had made this easy for her to dollow, as he did the same thing.

“Talking with Leo,” she said, “I found out he was facing some challenges.  When I asked if I could pray for him, he welcomed the offer.  he said, ‘Yea, I really could use some prayer now.’.”

“That is what OIM is all about,” I encouraged her, “Prayer provides an opportunity to go places and connect with people that it is not possible to do otherwise.  Good one!”

And, isn’t it true?  Think of how many people pray for you – right here and right now, and care – right here and right now.  I’m guessing there’s not too many.  Probably even less with our street friend, but OIM is here in the ‘right here and right now’.

 

-Ken

It’s not about the food…

OIM hosted our annual Easter Dinner this week.  Over 40 volunteers  served 150 dinners to our street community.  As I stood back and watched the first sitting being served I couldn’t help but smile.  The room was filled with smiles and laughter all around as our volunteers and street community simply enjoyed each other’s company.  We serve a pretty fantastic meal at our special dinners and we are known for our generous portions (thanks to EVERYONE who provided the meal), but more than that we offer friendship.  We offer the good news of God’s love through our service and fellowship. It’s not about the food…not really.  It’s about the desire to belong.  In this place, and in this need, there is no difference between those serving and those receiving because in this interaction…we all find belonging…

-Kim

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

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

Street Outreach: An Encounter!

The Street Outreach team met Bess and Ken near Confederation Park near the first of September.  They came up to us asking for sleeping bags because they were sleeping outside.   Since we were on the way back to the office anyhow, we asked them if they would like to come and we could help them.  The tent they had was stolen the night before and for various reasons, they were having difficulty accessing resources.  They were from southern Ontario and moved to Ottawa with hopes of finding work and an apartment.  Before they left, we invited them to keep in touch.

The next week we met them on outreach again, and first saw Bess panhandling with a sign that said, “Need $ for a ticket to Owen Sound”. A quick glance around saw Ken across the street keeping an eye on her. We sat and chatted. The sleeping bags were working out great, they were both doing well and did not need any outreach items. We said goodbye and then went across the street and chatted with Ken. He mentioned that they were still having trouble finding a place because rent was much more expensive than they had anticipated. He told us that Bess had been pan handling with a sign asking for money for first and last month’s rent, but that it had not made very much money. He said that he was feeling guilty about the new sign because it is dishonest, but that it is making them much more money. We told him that the important thing was that the money was going to be spent on something positive, like an apartment. After a brief conversation we offered outreach items and then said goodbye.

We were well on our way back to the OIM office about ten minutes later when I heard someone calling for us. It was Bess and Ken.  They were running to catch up with us. Bess handed me something and asked me to return it to Karen, one of our outreach workers. Opening the envelope we saw five twenty dollar bills. Bess explained that she had met Karen the night before on outreach. Karen returned the next day and gave Bess the money and a sandwich.  Bess and Ken were feeling very guilty that Karen had given the money thinking that it was going towards a ticket to Owen Sound. Ken added that he felt that Karen might  get discouraged if she found out that they had been lying on their sign.

We were speechless!  We promised that we would return the money to Karen so that she could decide what to do with it. They seemed relieved. My fellow outreach worker told them “God will bless you for your honesty”. Ken replied “We already feel so blessed. He’s already blessed us so much.”

Bringing you up to date:  Bess and Ken have become our friends.  They have entrusted us with $1,000 to hold for them so they can pay their first and last month’s rent.  Last Friday, September 16th, they got their place!!  Now that they are set up, Ken is actively looking for work, and Bess is planning to finish her high school. She is sixteen.

Any Second Chances?

I spoke with Walter on the street outside our drop in and listened as he shared his frustration with the current state of affairs with housing in Ottawa – specifically how he has been unable to secure a place to live off the streets.  He is also pretty peeved about his inability to access meals in the downtown core, because of his past behavior.

He does not have any kind of track record of ability of keeping an apartment, and therefore does not have any references.  And, when he tells prospective landlords that he is able to pay because he is a recipient of ODSP (Ontario Disability Service Plan), it serves as a final nail in his coffin.  It appears that Landlords are not interested in housing people who are on disability, probably because they have experienced difficulties with others in the same situation.

But Walter is not the same person who was barred for three lifetimes from one of the service agencies downtown.  (Yup, you read correctly, three lifetimes!!!  What’s that?  I don’t know.)

The stigma that is associated with Walter stems from his past involvement with alcohol, addictions and violence.  But the thing is, Walter has not touched alcohol or drugs now for over a year!  Nothing.

Still, he is refused housing because he is on ODSP and does not have a reference from any landlord because he has lived only on the streets; and he is refused services because of events that happened six years ago. 

What kind of any chance do people like Walter have?  How can the stigma be broken?  Who will do some advocacy on Walter’s behalf?  Some people ‘turn over a new leaf’ in order to get what they need and then turn the leaf right back over, but this is not the case with Walter.  Is there any kind of ‘second chance’ today, when people can have a fresh start?

Walter’s determination to remain clean and sober, is an demonstration of courage and determination far above what I could imagine for anyone else in the same situation. 

What motivation or reason is there for Walter to sustain the significant life changes that he has demonstrated?  His journey over the past twelve months is inspiring!!

Long story short, Walter is going to drop by the office tomorrow.  Maybe he’ll find someone who will believe his story and do a bit of advocacy on his part: make a few calls, give some affirmation of Walter’s character and sobriety.  Then maybe someone will believe him.

If you would like to send some encouraging words to Walter through responding to this blog, I will make sure that he gets your note.  Maybe, just maybe, he will be encouraged through your words and our actions.  Cheers!

Christmas on the Streets

Christmas on the street is not a happy time.  In fact, it is a period of time in the street community that weighs heavily on our street friends.  Memories of what once was but will never be; images of turkey dinners replaced with plastic utensils and Styrofoam plates: good memories belong only to Christmas past, for some it’s reliving the nightmare of drunkenness and abuse.

It should have come as no surprise to me when this week I asked different friends at the drop in to tell me of what a ‘best Christmas’ might look like.  I was gathering information for upcoming promotional materials, hoping to let my readers gain a better picture of how it really is on the streets.

Some would not participate: memories too difficult to recollect;  sounds unlike Christmas bells fill their minds and hearts; many commenting that they didn’t believe in Christmas – the hype, the rush, the crowds – but mostly not wanting to articulate the loneliness and emptiness that so many feel so deeply.

Some did respond. Greg said his best Christmas was last year.  Why?  “Because I was breathing.” What would make up his ‘best Christmas’? “This one, if I am breathing.”  Anything to look forward to in the New Year?  “Yes,” he responded, “breathing.”  It’s really more than a trite same answer to my questions, but an acknowledgement that folks on the street really do live one moment to the next.  Nothing is certain for the future, no guarantees from anyone, any expectations long dashed on the rocks of reality, and hope has long vanished into the silent night.

I think that people have thought and felt this way before.  Many have just given up, and live one day – no, one moment to the next.

This is how many people who call the streets their home feel and think.  It’s a dark world.  We have the privilege and opportunity to enter this world, when invited, and bring another message.

I think it may have been like this so many years ago, when a voice resounded in the heavens, “Hey, unto you a son has been given.”