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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

It’s not really about the jacket

One of the most amazing privileges of working with people is the opportunities we have to build relationships. Over the past years there is one guy with whom I have struck a very interesting and (even cool) connection.
I see my friend John every week, usually about three times. I have watched him progress from hard-core crack cocaine usage to today when he is clean from crack. His background is so traumatic and dark, his family story and childhood so very dark, I often marvel that he is even alive today.
John has taken a particular liking to my jacket: it has a grey-haired, bearded ‘Silverado’ on a red motorcycle. He wants me to give it to him. He wants to buy it. He’s even be willing to ‘share it’ with me. (I’m not sure how that would work out).
On a weekly basis (several times), he ribs me about when he is going to get the jacket. As it stands now, it looks like I’ll be leaving the jacket to him in my will.
It’s not about a jacket really, it’s about a relationship. A point of contact that provides a bit of humour in a difficult world, some light in a world of darkness. An opportunity to develop friendship, to talk and be a friend.

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 youth work: What’s that? Really?

Very different indeed.  A bit hard to process for some, so let’s paint a picture of the reality of kids on the street.  Many issues certainly, here are a few:

Physical Abuse: most kids are fleeing domestic violence.  Hard as street life is, it’s viewed as better than ‘home’.

Substance Abuse: if it hasn’t already started, it comes into the picture big time when the kids hit the streets.  It begins as self-medication to try to deal with pain of whatever they are facing. Then it turns into a physiological thing and then the kids need to maintain so as not to go into withdrawal.

All alone:  Even though they hang out in larger groups for safety, each of these ‘tough kids’ is just a kid, like the kid across the street from you, who has HAD to put on an image in order to survive. It is a mask, necessary for survival. No support, no one to help, none.  None.

Violence: is a part of it all, along with ‘survival tactics’ that are less than pretty: prostitution, drug use with needles and prescriptions and whatever else comes to hand, even running drugs for the ‘boss’ man.

We deal with these issues, portrayed through kids who mostly never had a fair chance because of their background.  So we love on them, encourage them in the smallest things you can imagine, build self-esteem whenever we can, and really, just try to hang on to them.

Statistics report that there are a few levels of socio-economic backgrounds of kids on the streets, but guess what?  The pimps, dealers and other exploiters, really do NOT care.  They see a source of income, a piece of meat to ‘sell’, a means to their own selfish ends.

They come to us.  They come every week.  They have no other place to go that is positive, encouraging and supportive.

Yea, it’s hard work, and it really hurts sometimes, but we believe in these kids with all of our hearts.

 

 

No Where to Go

We were eating lunch when about twelve taps at the door came, softly, rhythmically and then stopped. We looked at each other and guessed it was the one of our guys that always came when we were closed.  “Pete, for sure,” and we  agreed.

We opened the door to find Rachel, a twenty something native Canadian with a three inch gash over her  right temple, blood not fresh, but not old either. “I had no where to go.  I couldn’t find anybody.  I didn’t know what to do, so I came here.”

We ushered her in, sat her down and started to tend to her wound.  There was more: a bicycle pedal imprint over her right knee where she had been thrown, sore ribs and bruises on her body where she had been kicked and punched.

“I don’t know why I get guys that beat me up,” she said softly, between tears.  “I left my last boyfriend for this very reason.  I just found out I am a month pregnant.  What am I going to do?”

“You did the right thing to come to us,” we comforted her.

We cleaned the wound and bandaged it – thankfully it didn’t need stitches – this time.  She spoke so softly, as if her every word, let alone her presence with us was, as she thought, was such an intrusion.

“I couldn’t find Benny or Smitty or Lally, or anybody.  I had nowhere else to go.  I didn’t know what to do,” she said again, and then broke into muffled sobs.

As I watched, Erin put down the towel, and wrapped her arms around Rachel, and held her.  The sobs turned to a moaning and deep sobbing from areas of pain deep within.  She melted into Erin’s embrace, now just a little girl, all alone, with some pretty big problems. 

“There, there,” Erin whispered, “You’re Ok with us.  You are safe here.”  And she held her.

That’s it.  That’s what OIM is all about – somewhere and someone to whom you can run when the bottom falls out of life.  A safe place where someone who cares will hold you when the whole world is crashing around you.  Where you have a name.  Where you can share your pain, and know that another human being really does care.   Where, for not-enough-minutes-at-a-time, you can have a family again.

Moments of time etched on our minds, some of which will not be soon forgotten.  When something we do seems to make a whole lot of sense, in a world which doesn’t make sense at all.  If we never did another single, solitary thing for the rest of forever, we were there – and we are here – for Rachel.

BIG day at the Drop In

We receive many donations of clothing at the drop in and we invite folks to help themselves to whatever they need.  From time to time we are presented with genuine needs that go far beyond any donation.

Jimmy takes a size 15 boot and has difficulties finding this size anywhere in the city.  Bill has a rather large circumference and has the same problem.

I approached Bill and told him we could help.  If he would like, we could go to a big box store and he could get a couple pair of pants.  He declined, saying that his sweat pants were serving their purpose quite well, and that there was no need – perhaps I could find someone who was really poor and who needed it.  After some further conversation, he hesitantly admitted, well, he might be able to use some 52” waist trousers given that his other pair of pants were shorts (and he had been wearing them this winter!!)  He was too shy to come with me, but if I went to the box store, he would need 52” a (not 50”) waist.  I asked if we should do a measurement just in case, but we couldn’t find a measuring tape.

Final words, “Fifty-two.”

“No problem”, I replied, “You wait right here.”

South on Bank Street, and my two BIG questions (nice pun!) at the box store, “Do you have 52” waist pants and size 15 warm winter boots?” was answered in the affirmative.  Back to the drop in.

I discretely passed Bill the inside out bag with two pairs of pants and suspenders, and encouraged him to go try them on for size.  “Are they 52?” he asked. 

“Yes, they are.” 

“Then they will be fine, thank you very much.   Fifty-two’s will be just fine.  Thank you very much.”

“It might be good to try them, just in case.  Sometimes store measurements can be a bit off,” I proposed, and, after receiving a somewhat hesitant affirmation, I went off to find Jimmy.  Word got out that I had been looking for him, and he was waiting when I returned.  Before I told him about the new boots he mentioned that his feet were wet and cold from the snow, and size 15 were not common.  I told him that was just what I wanted to talk to him about.  He welcomed the news and we went to the car, and he tried on the boots right there. 

“Are these size 14?” he asked.

“No, these are size 15 – hey, here’s the tag,” and showed him the big ‘15’ on the box.

“Hmmm, nice.”

I passed him one of the boots and he asked for the other.  “My left foot is bigger,” he explained.

Long story short, the left foot was a bit tight, but the right fit perfectly.  He was very pleased and thanked me profusely.

Back downstairs to see how Bill made out. When I was only just in sight, he yelled, “Good one Ken!  Thanks to Lord too,” and explained how the pants did not fit properly – maybe an inch and a half too short of buttoning up. 

“Maybe get a 54 or 55 would be good.  Don’t be shy.  Sorry for the trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” I replied, “Better to find out now and make the exchange.”

South on Bank Street, and now just one BIG question, “Do you have 54” and Matt promptly searched for the right numbers.  “Do you have 55?” I inquired, “that might be better.” 

“If it’s just 1 ½ inch, then a 54 will fit just fine.”

Back again to the drop in – it was almost deserted by this time – and no Bill.  Anybody seen Bill?  He was upstairs getting his hair cut, so all was well.

“Got the 54’s,” I said, “No problem at all.”

“That will be great,” he replied.  “Thanks so much.  I am so sorry for your trouble.  Thank you.”

“Maybe you should just try these on to be sure,” I offered, confident that I had achieved my goal.

“As soon as I’m done.”

Twenty minutes later he came out of the washroom with a concerned look on his face.  “Ken, they only just fit.  Will they shrink?  What if I just hung them to dry?  What if the woman that sometimes helps with my laundry forgets, and puts them in the dryer?  They just barely fit now. And they’re 54’s (sigh).”

“That’s not so bad.  One of our volunteers has a cousin that takes a 60.”  He raised his eyebrows.  I’ll take them back and get the next size up.  Come to the office at noon tomorrow, and we’ll get the right size.”

“I’m so sorry about all this,” he said sadly, ”It is so much trouble.”

“Tomorrow you will have pants that fit properly. You will enjoy them for a long time to come.  It’s worth it to do this right. “

“Around noon then.  Thank you Ken.  Thank you.”

Youth Art Show II

The evening the kids have been preparing for had finally arrived.  It was time for the ‘Passion for Youth’ art show at Dominion Chalmers.  There was sufficient space for each artist to choose five pieces of their work to show, and it was a challenge for some to decide.  Hustle, bustle, the staging of sofas and tables from the art room on the second floor, the preparation of the interactive art table where guests could be creative, coffee, tea and snacks set near the entrance all combined to accelerate the excitement and anticipation.

In the end, all was readied.  The stage was set, the players were ready, last minute adjustments to the easels were complete, the live entertainment arrived ( Max and August), and the mood was  set. 

Guests enjoyed the ambiance, the artists and the art work.  Ahh, the art work.  For some of our guests, the time had finally come when the art work that was ‘for display only’ at our auction, was finally available for bidding.  There were pieces of art work that captured hours and hours of devotion, had become a  labour of love, and were now revealed to the public.

But there was something here far greater than what initially captured the senses.  There was a clear demonstration of a Master Artist at work with figures of moving clay.

The real demonstration of art was that of the artists themselves.

Initially, many of these youth never had any idea that they could create anything beautiful at all.  The images of childhood that are so familiar to us were either non-existent or so overshadowed with such painful memories that it would have been better not to have had them at all.  Years of repeated abuse served to reinforce their belief and image they would never amount to anything.  They were told as young children that they were losers, worthless  and discarded and treated as less than animals.  They had eaten from the garbage bins, slept in the bins or wherever they could, experienced cold and discomfort that are beyond description.  They were survivors, despite it all.

Tonight was different.  People they didn’t even know told them over and over again, that they had created something beautiful.  So beautiful in fact that they would like to buy the items and remember the artists.  The youth were the ones encouraging the younger guests and showing them how to hold a paint brush, how to mix the colors, how to ‘let themselves go’ and be creative.  Photos were taken.  The young artists were congratulated for work well done, praised for their choices of color or texture, and one small bit at a time, I believe some changes began to occur.

Maybe the voices of the past were wrong.  Maybe I’m not useless, after all, someone likes what I have created.  Maybe there is something good about me.  Maybe this is not the end.  Maybe, just maybe, I can do something good.  Maybe there is something good about me.

That was the real exhibition of art.  It wasn’t the paint on the canvas, or the music that filled the air: it was living, breathing, young people experiencing hope and a promise for the future.  And, maybe, just maybe, that might be enough to change a life.

Passion for Youth ART SHOW

Thirteen street youth will be presenting their art work for show and silent auction on Monday, November 15, 2010 from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at Dominion Chalmers United Church in Ottawa.

The kids have been preparing for this show for several months and will demonstrate techniques and applications in the course of the evening.

It’s all a part of building self-esteem and self worth into lives that have experienced only abuse and trauma.  Passion for Youth, means our passion for youth, but also identifying things that the youth are passionate about, working with those in a proactive, positive way.  Our mission statement:  Empowering street youth by engaging their passions though ABCD (Assets Based Community Development).  It seems to be working just fine.

“It’s amazing to see the difference a bit of encouragement and hope will do with these youth,” says Jason Pino, OIM’s  Youth Outreach Worker.  “In just a few months, we have seen kids get housing, get jobs, finish high school and begin to think about rebuilding their lives.”

Volunteer mentors spend time with the youth discovering, setting and working towards the realization of their goals.  In just two months of the program, four of the young people have reached their goal of reducing their drug use, and two of these have found jobs.

Come out Monday night, check out the artwork and meet the kids.  See you there!

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.”