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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.

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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.

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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.

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……

God’s hands on a cold night…

This past Wednesday, Ottawa experienced what I hope was the last winter storm of the year (fingers crossed!). It was windy, snowy and wet. Buses were cancelled and everyone was warned to stay off the messy roads.

But that night, I was scheduled to do outreach from 9-midnight. I would love to tell you that I am a really tough/super-amazing outreach worker who is always motivated to walk the streets to do God’s work.-but that’s just not true. Last Wednesday I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around the empty streets of Ottawa in a storm. In fact, I was secretly hoping that Jeff, my outreach partner, would cancel so I could stay in my nice warm apartment. But he didn’t, so I dragged myself to the office to do outreach.

We did our normal outreach route down Elgin and throughout the market. The streets were mostly empty and quiet. (When the weather is really bad our street friends are much harder to find. Not because they are in a safe, warm place, but because they are anywhere that is an escape from the elements)

On our way back to the office, I was dreaming about the hot shower I would have when I got home, when we heard “Hey outreach!” It was Laura and Kelsey, two youth who I have met a few times on outreach.

Neither had jackets. Neither had boots. Both were soaking wet. “Do you guys have any sleeping bags?” they asked.

We didn’t have any with us, but we told them they could come back to the office with us to get some. They walked back with us to the office, and we learned that they had both been kicked out of their places so they had nowhere to go. There was no space in the youth shelter and both refused to go to the adult shelter, saying they were too scared. Instead, they were going to sleep outside.

They warmed up in the office and changed into dry socks. We gave them food and sleeping bags, and they thanked us over and over before leaving to go find a dry place to sleep.

It was easy for me to give myself a pat on the back that night. “Good job Moira! It’s a good thing you braved the elements so you could help those girls.” Then it occurred to me that I was giving myself a whole lot of credit. When really, God has these two girls in his hands and He will take care of them. He may have used me and Jeff that night, but if we had not done outreach God would have taken care of those girls. And this does not make me feel like I am not needed, but rather reassured God will take care of his children.

 

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

Feeling Human

 

I met Ashley last summer. She had just left her parents house and was staying at a downtown shelter. Like many other youth who first come to the streets, she seemed nervous but excited about being out on her own for the first time. She spoke about her life like she was starting a new adventure. But just like other youth, this excitement began to fade as the harsh realities of the street began to set in. Ashley’s hope for the future seemed to fade too….Ashley showed up at the office recently. She was looking thin and exhausted and she had two fresh black eyes. We talked for awhile and she said she was feeling unhealthy, dirty and exhausted. She talked about how badly people were treating her when they passed by her panhandling on the street. Then she looked at me and said “I just don’t feel human anymore.”

It broke my heart to see Ashley losing herself. I spoke with her about the art group and encouraged her to come out to be among people who have experienced similar feelings. Ashley seemed hesitant but she showed up to art group the next week. I showed her around the art room and introduced her to the other youth but she was still looking depressed and exhausted and she sat down to sketch. As the night went on, a beautiful thing happened. Some of the youth sat with Ashley and got to know her. They complimented her art work and helped her find supplies. I was happy to see her making friends. Part way through the night, I noticed that Ashley was gone so I checked the music room. There were some youth and volunteers jamming together on the guitar, piano and drums. To my surprise, Ashley was playing the djembe. She had a huge smile on her face and was completely engaged in the music. At the end of the night, she told me what a great time she had and that she couldn’t wait to come back the following week.

To see the change in Ashley over the course of two hours was amazing. The youth in the art group are so kind and accepting that they make everyone feel welcome. That night, they made Ashley feel human again.

You Take Donations Don’t You?

We came in this morning to find a note from one of the outreach teams that was out last night.  The team had come across a friend in need and they gave him a bottle of water.  He wanted to pay for it, but the team assured him that it wasn’t necessary.  He then asked ‘you take donations don’t you?’  He then passed a loonie to our team as a donation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this among our community.  So many times, people will come into drop-in and need some item of clothing…a new coat for example to replace one that has grown too big or small.  They don’t simply take a new one, but they leave their coat because they know that someone else could use it.  They give back.  One of our friends came in a couple of weeks ago with a kettle to donate because they had been given another and they didn’t need two.  She said ‘your ministry has been good to me when I’ve needed things…I can give back this way.’

Time and time again…those with the least give the most…

-Kim