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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

Taking time to remember

Yesterday, we held our annual memorial service at drop-in to remember those in our street community who passed away in 2012.  Often times we don’t know the legal names of our friends, but as we paused and lit a candle for those 32 people on our list, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was someone that I knew.  It was a sober thought that the candle I was lighting for a name I didn’t know, could be for someone I have been wondering where they had disappeared to…

In those quiet, candle-lit moments, we didn’t need to put a face to the name.  That would be nice, but more important was that we take a moment to recognize that each life is treasured by God and has value.  God knows each face and each name and it was our privilege to take time to remember…

-Kim

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!

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.