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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

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.

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 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.

Who’s really asleep here?

As I write this, you should know that I am really, really angry!  I am angry as I witnessed and was even an unwilling participant of inflicting yet another injustice on one of our less fortunate.  Less fortunate, yes.  Less fortunate because he becomes so easy to pick on, to blame, to push out of the way, hide somewhere where we, the general public, don’t have to see him.  Hide him somewhere where we don’t have to see his poverty, smell the stench of his pain and suffering so that we can walk by, not knowing, not caring.

Harry was just sleeping.  Of course I knew that he shouldn’t be sleeping outside of OIM’s office door.  I knew that it might upset someone, someone who might prefer not to see him there, might feel that it would be better if he slept somewhere hidden, but really, who was he hurting?  He wasn’t hurting anyone and it’s not like he can go home to sleep.  Home to sleep behind the garbage cans in the back of the office building or in some store’s doorway somewhere.  So, he slept, next to our office door, waiting for our drop in to open.  He wasn’t hurting anyone but he bothered someone and I got the call to wake him up please as he’s bothering me, him sleeping outside your office door.

Harry didn’t like to be woken up and he was angry, angry at the injustice of it all but he left his “comfy” sleeping spot, groggy from lack of sleep and went outside, away from eyes that really did not want to see him, did not want to acknowledge his poverty and pain.  Instead, he went outside and promptly fell asleep outside our building door, on the sidewalk, amid the cigarette butts and spit but not out of sight of the general public and the injustice of it all.

So, instead of sleeping inside, he slept outside – still in view, still in need, and still a commentary on our inability to look after the most vulnerable.  Maybe it’s time that WE woke up.

Rachel’s Gift, Episode Four, The spiral downwards continues…

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  Go to www.chri.ca for the audio backgrounders to Rachel’s stories. 

This time when I got out of jail I couldn’t go to Ottawa – I was banned from Ottawa.  You know, I wasn’t supposed to be in Ottawa, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go. So, I got caught in Ottawa in a rooming house because I was taking a shower there and was arrested for a breach of probation.  I went back to jail for one month and then they released me in Ottawa (laughter).  I couldn’t go to my mom’s house because her husband at the time was totally against me living there.  I could see why.

I got out of jail and started doing the same things that I usually do.  I was staying in a heated stairwell at Nepean and Bank – it was public property so they couldn’t arrest you, just tell you to get along.  When you are in drugs, people only want you at your house when you had something for them, they say, ‘I would never see you out on the street.’ But when you were in need and you didn’t have any drugs, they would say, like, ‘We can’t have people staying at our house’.

There are some places to stay when you live on the streets, but you have to be careful.  Staying in a shelter was much worse – in my eyes it was like the bottom… as long as I don’t have to go to a shelter, I hadn’t hit rock bottom.

I didn’t have a place anymore, and I found a website where you could and used that to meet guys for a date…  So, I stayed on the streets or maybe in hotels sometimes.  I don’t know, it just became a way of life, survival.

I basically sick and tired of doing drugs, like heroin… I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I ended up in a crack house downtown: people coming and going all the time; drugs in and out like crazy, and I was still using.  I had started the methadone program, but was still using street drugs.  Anytime I used anything other than opiates, it screwed up my methadone and I would get even sicker. 

I guess I just hit rock bottom then.  Doing things I would never do and being somebody that I totally never was.  People totally lost respect for me.  I would overhear people talking about me, and think, ‘Is that what they really think about me?’

I just took a look around one day. I was introduced to Jesus a few years ago.  When I was in jail I accepted Jesus but I was doing my own thing.  Then one day, looked around and said, “Oh God, I know that this is not what you have planned for me, I just know it isn’t.”

I walked out of that place and got a place with some girls, and it was a safe place.

Next Week:    The story takes a significant turn for the better.  Stay connected, you don’t want to miss this!

Rachel’s Gift, Episode Three, “My first line, and move to Ottawa”

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder, click:  Rachel’s Gift episode 3 If you missed episodes go to ‘Recent Posts’ (right hand column).

So I was at a party and I saw my mom doing a line of coke and I was shocked.   “Wuh?  What are you doing?” and lost my mind and I started to party real hard.  I was confused and concerned and kinda wondering all at the same time.

 I really started to think.  My mom was using a lot, and using more and drinking and using coke and I was wondering why this was so much better than your children, than loving your children – using coke that is.

 I love my mom a lot, and I still do.  Whatever it was about coke, it must be good. That’s what my thinking was.  I did my first line of coke shortly after that.  I was seventeen.

 I had been living on my own, but one of the things that happened when I discovered coke was, I couldn’t pay my rent anymore.  I moved in with my boyfriend and his mom.  I worked a couple of places, but I was always going in hung over.  I had to get out of that small town.

 I moved to Ottawa and I moved in with my dad. I had nowhere else to go.  I ended up meeting this guy that my dad introduced me to, which ended up being his crack dealer, and I started dating him. My Dad was doing a lot of crack then and I ended up paying the rent – or trying at least.  I was working a bit, but I was partying hard at the same time.  I don’t know why, but my dad really got mad at me.  I mean, he was using all the time then, not working, making deals, and I guess he looked at me and couldn’t stand to see me doing what I was doing – with the drugs and all that.

 I lasted three months and then got my eviction notice – signed by the mayor. They (the authorities) basically brought boxes, packed my stuff and moved me out.  My brother was in jail, but his girlfriend had an extra room and I moved in with her.

By this time I was selling drugs big time with the guy that I met through my dad.  Every day was the same – using more and more, all the time.  I got busted and went to jail for a while.

  When I got out of jail I had nowhere to go, I was just like floating around.

 Next week:  Rachel really does ‘hit the bottom’.  More drugs, living on the streets, the crack house… the cycle continues with no apparent escape.  What will happen next?

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the good will donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region.  We need your help to continue our youth outreach program.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate” at the top of this page.  Thanks!

Rachel’s Gift: Episode Two, The early years: ages 9 to 16

Rachel’s Gift is an 8 part series until December 23.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI radio, click:   Rachel’s Gift episode 2

“We moved a lot, especially from the time I was nine until sixteen.  I counted, and we moved thirty-eight times in those seven years.  Just one step ahead of eviction some of the times, mostly we got the eviction itself.  It was hard to live like that. 

I didn’t do well at school.  Even though we moved, there always was a party at our house.  And drugs.  Lots of drugs.  Drug dealers, users and all kinds.  Cocaine, heroin and mixtures of drugs I didn’t even know.

I know I missed a lot of school, ‘cause my mom was always hung over.  We moved a lot and with the partying, we never seemed to have any money.  I used to always wonder why we were always broke, and didn’t really find out until later in life.  The pattern was always the same: somehow scratch up the first and last month’s rent, take one month for the eviction to take place and we were on the move again. 

I left school when I was sixteen, no actually before that, ‘cause I never really went to high school it was just the way it was.  There was a guy that lived with us, tried to raise us or whatever – he used to beat my mom up a lot.  We ended going out to Calgary, but the pattern kept with us – we were only there for three months.  Life at home was pretty hard, but I made it through.  Whatever. 

When my mom went back to Ontario for grandma’s birthday, she met someone new and decided on the spot to marry him. 

I was 15 at the time.  We moved back east, and into this guy’s house.  It wasn’t long before I was kicked out of the house.  I can’t really remember where I stayed then, when I first got kicked out.  I eventually moved back in with them – it was a disaster.  There was more partying and the guy ended up cheating on my mom.  The guy was charged with assault and he had to leave.  More partying and then more – it got to a point where I couldn’t handle It anymore.  I had a boyfriend at the time, so I moved out.”

Next Week: The first time I used Crack Cocaine, evicted again, dealing drugs and then jail.