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A Homeless Vet’s Journey: The Saga Continues…

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – The Saga Continues…, click the play button below:

Week 12, and the only word about Kurk’s Baptismal Certificate is, “It’s ‘in the mail’.”

Kurk has not been back to the drop in – totally understandable. He did stop by the office and paid us back the $30 for his Verification of Status inquiry.

This battle of bureaucracy is not yet complete: we need the Certificate of Baptism (Birth Certificate) and then start the process of application for ‘Verification of Status’ and proof of Canadian citizenship. Then we need confirmation of Citizenship, and then after these pieces of identification, we can begin the process of application for Old Age Pension and Superannuation.

  • Week 20 – after calling <Europe> several times, we discover the Certificate of Baptism was received by the Embassy in Ottawa. As soon as we found out, I drove Kurk downtown and we were able to pick up his official Baptism Certificate.
  • Week 29 we received Kurk’s ‘Verification of Status’ which is a critical piece of identification. Waiting now for Confirmation of Citizenship.
  • A request for confirmation of CPP and OAS on received on Week 31
  • We are now in Week 40 (Christmas week) and are still waiting for Kurk’s Citizenship document.
  • AFTER we get this final document, THEN we can apply for both Kurk’s backlog of eleven months each of Old Age Pension and superannuation. Then we’ll change his address to his new apartment, and pray that he does not have to go through this ‘Identity Maze’ again.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Interact:  How do you think you would cope after 40 weeks (and then some) of waiting for your citizenship documentation? How would you cope, homeless, alone and with no family supports?

Hear Kurk in His Own Words Here:  A Homeless Vet’s Journey – In His Own Words – episode 8

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 8

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 8, click on the play button below:

The letter with updated information for Kurk’s account for CPP was faxed by Catherine McKenna’s (MP Ottawa Centre) office on Week 6 and two weeks later, with no mail, and no news on his CPP, I called McKenna’s office to follow up.

I was becoming quite frustrated with this process by now, the bureaucracy and all the red tape, and I wondered how I would hold up in this process if it was MY CPP cheque that was not forthcoming.

Kurk told me in fact, that he had given up. He was done waiting. He was in a depressed state, and in serious trouble. On several occasions by now, Kurk had spoken to me about taking his life, considering himself not worth the effort. This was very disturbing to me, because I sensed he meant it.

Here is the response from McKenna’s office on Week 8:  “I just called CPP about the case, they had a mix up on their end and had changed the address but did not send out the cheque. They have now corrected that and are sending it out now. He will receive the retroactive amount plus the most recent payment. This month’s payment will come at the end of this month. I am sorry about this, it is very strange as I have called several times on this file to make sure things were moving.”

Kurk made seven trips (over several months) to Service Canada before we took up his case with Catherine McKenna’s office.

The Time Line: the date of the initial fax from McKenna’s office to Service Canada took place on Week 5; the second inquiry on Week 8.

I received a letter from the Government of Canada and delivered it to Kurk on Week 9.

We sat in my car and Kurk cried when he opened the letter. Through tears of joy he said, “I would never, never have this unless you helped me. Thank you. Thank you.”

The contents? A cheque for several months of back pay from Canada Pension Plan.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Interact:  Finally, a breakthrough for our friend Kurk! Imagine if you were Kurk, homeless and finally seeing that small silver lining – after 2 long months of waiting! What feelings would you be experiencing in that moment? How would this impact you?  

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 7)

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 6

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 6, click the play button below:

When we spoke with Monica at Catherine McKenna’s office, she realized that there were some pieces of the puzzle where even she needed help. (!)  She asked us to accompany her next door to Yasir Naqvi’s office, Member of Provincial Parliament for Ottawa Centre.

Kurk and I did so, and met Jessica who was most helpful. Fortunately Kurk had memorized his OHIP number and relayed this information to Jessica. She agreed to look into Kurk’s case and see what she could discover.

Our visit was on Week 4, and on Week 6, she sent an email with an attachment of a temporary, but valid, OHIP document. This is THE FIRST PIECE OF I.D., and it’s good news! (There is no photo, so it is limited, but it works for health care!)

A note was attached to this document, “Mr. Kurk cannot convert to a photo health card until he has an original citizenship document.”  This means we can use this with the immigration application in place of one of the pieces of ID (in theory at least).

Also, on Week 6  I received an email from Cathering McKenna’s office that reads as follows: “Service Canada has received the change of address letter and the cheque for a retroactive amount of CPP is due to be reissued and sent out shortly”.

Finally, some good news!

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Please leave a Comment: It seem to be one thing after another for our friends on the streets. Imagine how difficult this would be – entitled to money that is rightfully yours, and then wandering homeless, wondering when, if ever, there will be some action taken on your behalf. Have you ever experienced this kind of long-term bureaucracy? Would you consider making a special Christmas gift to help us continue our outreach in the downtown core? Thanks for your support!

 

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 6)

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 2

To hear the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey – Week 2, click play below:

Taking Kurk aside, I asked him about the money that the government owed him. He told me that he was owed money from Canada Pension, Old Age Pension and Superannuation.  He said that they had frozen his bank account and he was not receiving any money, and in fact, had not received any money for over two months.

I was not sure how to proceed with this, so I picked up my phone and called my friend, Ron Petersen from McMillan LLP, and passed the phone to Kurk. After 40 minutes Kurk returned the phone to me, and Ron told me that Kurk did not need a lawyer, but suggested he might get some help from Catherine McKenna, Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre. I phoned McKenna’s office immediately.

Monica, from Catherine McKenna’s office was more than helpful as she listened to Kurk’s story and offered to help. We set up an appointment and started the process of Kurk’s claim.

Kurk had lost all of his identification in a fire in 2013. All of it!  He never had the where-with-all to have it replaced, for any number of reasons: capacity, money (it costs to replace identity), and support.

He was staying at the Salvation Army shelter. His bank account, where once he had been receiving direct deposits from Canada Pension Plan had been frozen. I eventually found out why: Kurk had tried to access his account on a number of occasions from different ATMs to see if his money had been deposited. Each inquiry cost $3.  So, because he had a negative balance of $21 ( seven inquiries at $3 each), his account was suspended/frozen, and the deposits stopped.

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

Imagine if this had happened to you, what do you think you would do?

What would you do if your were in Kurk’s position? A homeless veteran with absolutely no support, and no resources.

Please leave us a comment below. 

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 3)

 

 

A Homeless Vet’s Journey: Week 1

For the audio introduction to A Homeless Vet’s Journey click play below:

Kurk had served several tours of duty in the armed forces, serving his country, and some time ago we learned that  he had also been a mercenary. He suffers from what happened in war, and suffers now from Post Tramautic Stress Disorder. When he needed help there was none – no counselling or support to help him recover. He carries this pain and his suffering.

You can easily tell when Kurk is at the drop in. His big booming voice announces that he has arrived – no doubt about that!

He had become more irritable in the past several weeks: he spoke loudly about the injustices of the ‘system’ and how people just were not treated right, and how he really should not ‘be here’ as the government owed him a significant amount of money.

One  drop in day, Kurk was so upset that he was yelling at someone who cut in front of him in line, and yelled that you can’t expect anything more from ‘these people’. It may have been the contents of the food hamper that day, or someone had actually cut in front of him in line, or maybe just that he really didn’t belong here with all these other people. Usually it doesn’t take too long for complaints about the government to arise: the government was withholding money from him that was rightfully his!  They had even ‘frozen’ his bank account!

His voice had risen beyond the level of disruption, and I watched as Jelica walked over to Kurk to calm him down. There was a brief interaction, and Kurk finally settled down. In the midst of their conversation, he said something like, “… AND I HAVE BRAIN CANCER AGAIN…”

I later spoke to him in the hallway, alone. He told me that he had been through two previous episodes of cancer, and this third recurrence caused him serious concern. His eyes welled up with tears and he cried when he told me that his cancer had returned. He continued to cry as I offered a prayer to God for help.

Note: Today there is help for those who return from war and suffer from PTSD. This has not always been available to our veterans and they suffer terribly. ADD to that the challenges of not having a place of your own, and it’s not too difficult to imagine that life will look pretty gloomy, to say the least.

Interact: How might you cope under similiar circumstances? Where would you go? Who would you talk to? How could you manage?

Ken MacLaren, Executive Director

(Kurk’s Journey is a 10-Part Series.  Stay tuned for Part 2)

 

Shane’s Story, Episode 5: My Own Place

Shane’s Story is a eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!”

Listen to a part of her story by clicking the ‘play’ button below, then read the rest of her story in this post:

I got my place last spring.

housing 2

The door of Shane’s room the day she moved in. Notice the hole where the door handle should be.

I met this kid panhandling and he lived in the building. I told him I really needed a place. I told him I had a dog and really need somewhere safe and warm to keep him. He told me there was a room available in his rooming house. It was beside his room, and the place was really disgusting.  It was really gross. It’s a building full of bachelors, of addicts and dealers but that’s what you get. There were spiders, cockroaches, bedbugs – but there’s no house centipedes though, and I’m pretty happy about that. None! The room though was an absolute pigsty. There was grime to the point that I had to scrape it off with a knife. There was something that kept coming up off the tile that was really gooey and sticky. Really sticky. You had to scrub it off with hot water.  I don’t know what I was cleaning up there, but it was pretty bad. Once I got it tolerable, I put my stuff in there. It took like two weeks to get it at least decent. That’s like without cleaning the walls or without cleaning the window, or checking under the bed box to see what garbage is under there. I still don’t know. It’s a secret (laughter). The underneath of my bed – I don’t want to know. (laughter)

It’s weird sharing a shower and a toilet with like 20 other people. They pee all over the floor. I have to wear my shoes into the toilet, you have to take toilet paper with you and bring it back with you.

housing1

The floor of Shane’s room.

I’m paying $470 for a tiny little infested room that’s not even up to code. Like one of my windows is not really a window – it’s a board with a nail holding it in place. I had to make my own ‘fixes’ – they wouldn’t put caulking under the box for my bed and the bugs were crawling in and out of there. ‘No, don’t do that to me. I don’t want bugs near my bed’, so I finally got some white duct tape and taped it. They (landlords) don’t really do much.

Bedbugs? Oh yea. Landlord only sprays one room at a time, so each time the landlord sprays one room, the bedbugs that survive just over to the next person’s room. He sprays that room and they crawl upstairs to where it’s safe. They just keep going. We just push them around really. I’m waiting for the time they push them back into my room, ‘cause I’m highly allergic. My face will swell and it’s bad. I had to go to the doctor a couple of times, and get hard core allergy medication.

They’re not in my room now. I had to go out and buy powder that’s safe for animals. I put that on the floor around my bed, and if they come in, they’re dead.

You brush it into the baseboards, and if they try to get in there and hide, they die. It’s pretty bug proof.  Cockroaches though, I don’t know how to get rid of them. They just keep comin’. From my dresser too- I don’t know why ‘cause in there there’s only clean clothes. They’re not in my pantry though. Not even a nuclear bomb will kill them.

bed bugs

A swollen bed bug bite on Shane’s arm.

One Thing in Common

Cal’s story (‘Behind the Story’ see history on right) is common in that he is one of many on the streets who has suffered violence and abuse in his childhood and still lives with the pain.  I asked him how old he was when it all started. He stared at me and said, ‘Always. Since before I can remember. Me and my brother too.’

How do you deal with something like that?  How can you expect anything from a man who has suffered that kind of hellish childhood? And this from his father!

Honestly, I am at a loss to know what to say to this man who has told me about the deepest pain that anyone could endure, and I look at him and listen.  I can’t fix this. He has lived for fifty some years and is a survivor, but his torment never stops – ever.  It’s not something that you can just pack away somewhere and ‘get on with life’.

This week I was in and out of the drop in ‘on the fly’ but took a moment to sit and visit with Cal.  I can only imagine the courage it took to tell me his story and I was humbled that he allowed me to share in it. I sat down and he started immediately to pick up the story line. His brother calls him weekly and brings queries from his mother, and the festering wound never heals.

After some time I asked Cal if he would consider thinking about something.  Just think about it.  One word. We don’t even have to talk about it now, just think about it.  And then I said the word.  Forgiveness.

His response was quick and immediate.  ‘Oh yea, forgiveness.  I’ve done that,’ and then in the next breath, ‘No, I haven’t… I can’t.’

We’re going there – if Cal wants to. Seriously, I’m not sure it’s humanly possible to forgive someone for the kind of wrongs that Cal has experienced.

I couldn’t. But that’s where God comes in and helps us do what we could never do.  It isn’t easy and it isn’t quick and it’s not some magical trick.

But I know it can happen.  I’ve seen it happen to many people over the years and it’s happened to me.  God works in and through me and does what I cannot.

This is my hope and prayer  for Cal.

Question: Where do you think human and divine forgiveness meet?  Has this been a part of your life experience?

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?

Stories from the Street: Caged

Greg arrived at the Tuesday Drop-In looking tired and angry. He had a rough look to go with a tough demeanor. I hadn’t seen him before, and picked him out of the crowd right away.

I sat with him and introduced myself. He seemed happy to talk, and told me he recently got out of jail. Greg had been sentenced as a young adult and since has served 30 years with some of Canada’s most notorious criminals. He talked a lot about jail and what it was like inside.

I assumed he was excited to be out of jail, but he said he didn’t feel that way at all.

“That place killed all of the joy that was inside of me. I died in there.” Greg said, “I feel like I was crucified in jail—like I was nailed to the wall. Now I need to heal. I need to pull out those nails and let them heal.” It is a painful image, and a reflection of the struggles of a young man caged for most of his life.

I asked him if there is anything, even something small that brings him joy.

He said “Nothing. Well, except the zoo. I’d like to go to the zoo. I love animals. I’m done with people, but I love animals. I’d like to work with them and take care of them.”

It is nice to see a glimmer of hope in this man. I know that jail can be difficult on a person, and it really changes you, so it was inspiring to see even a little spark in the darkness.

 

~Moira

OIM Staff

A System Built for Some

The Ottawa Police have had a heavy presence this summer.

I see them patrolling the streets, walking down Bank or Elgin in pairs, or biking through the streets. You and I probably feel pretty good seeing them out and about during this bustling season. Does it make you feel safer? I like knowing someone is close by. I have a deep respect for individuals who go into policing, it is a tough and scary business. Our communities need to have trained people committed to protecting the vulnerable. Yet, sometimes we create laws that seem to do the opposite. Sometimes, from lack of understanding we create laws built for ourselves but not for vulnerable individuals.

When I am walking down the street, since joining OIM, I see a little more than just the hustle and bustle I would normally be aware of. I see faces who are blending into the walls and door ways, people I used to ignore or walk quickly by. I have even had the opportunity to befriend and connect with some of these men and women, and see their interactions with passerbys and the officers who are on patrol. Since, these are often the people that the officers are keeping an eye out for. Ottawa is a tourist destination as well as a large city, and the community struggles with the percent of its population experiencing homelessness. One of these officer’s responsibilities is to issue tickets to individuals ‘soliciting’ or ‘loitering’.

A good idea in theory, right? Ottawa is home to people struggling to make ends meet, to find work, to find affordable housing, to curb their addictions, to get healthy or get their medication under control. Some of these individuals have found themselves on the street, often with little money, and ,any consider pan-handling their daily work. Often public opinion is not in favour of the man or woman sitting cross-legged outside of the store, and every community wants to see their politicians and helping professionals ‘dealing’ with the problem. Now, I am making no moral judgement on whether soliciting money is OK or not, instead I have a story from a street-friend to share.

I used to stay with a bunch of guys who lived under the Laurier Bridge; they lived there for years. They would pan-handle everyday downtown, and they got tickets regularly. Whenever the cops asked one of us for our address we would say “Laurier Bridge,” so that’s what they always had to write on the ticket.

To issue a ticket a police officer needs your name and address. Now, I don’t suppose if you refuse to pay your ticket the City of Ottawa will be sending the mailman down under Laurier Bridge to deliver a notice. And, though many of our street-friends do work to see their tickets paid-off it is often hard to imagine the importance of that ticket when you don’t have housing, or a good sleeping bag, or a decent pair of shoes. And, if the tickets keep piling-up the likelihood of them getting paid gets much smaller.

The law we refer to when discussing pan-handling is Safe Streets Act of Ontario (1999). This acts has some very good intentions, to protect the public from coercion, but in reality it also allows cities to visibly ‘manage’ its disenfranchised population. Many of us feel safer seeing the police on the streets, but it is not the same for everyone. I have seen first-hand the look of disappointment when a street-friend is caught-up talking to a street outreach worker and doesn’t see the cop coming up behind them. This law, though well-intended is vague, it does very little to deal with the root issues of homelessness, and instead attacks the ‘symptoms’ to very little effect.

Someone with no money will struggle trying to understand how their community expects them to pay a fine. Someone with no address may not flinch when asked what their home address is, but it is another reminder that the system we live in was not built with them in mind. This is what I find most frustrating about my work with OIM; trying to work within a system of governance that is disconnected with some of its neediest citizens. I don’t think the Ottawa Police, the men and women walking the beat, are in the wrong. In fact, they are great men and women trying to do good work to the best of their abilities. It is irony that they are asked to enforce a system of policies and laws that don’t fit with the individuals they meet each day. I want safe streets as much as the next person, but I want safer streets for all of us. I am not sure what the solution is right now, but I know what I see isn’t working, and if you need more proof then you can ask any of our street-friends whether they feel like the system was build with them in mind.

What we need is to re-imagine these laws, keeping every party in mind, asking what works for ‘us’ not for ‘some’.

 

Written by Selina, OIM Staff.