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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

Turkey time!

The aroma of turkey and all the traditional trimmings wafted from the kitchen at drop-in this week.  Nothing says ‘come, sit and enjoy’ like a great turkey dinner! The temperature outside dipped to the lowest it has in 10 years, but inside the windows were steamed up and hearts were warm as we hosted our annual Christmas Dinner.  Close to 200 plates of hot savory goodness were served by 40 volunteers to our guests.  Each one served with a bonus smile. Thanks to everyone who provided the food items and the hands that served it.

Our special dinners are always a favourite for those who attend.  It’s an opportunity for our guests to enjoy a holiday meal and it’s a chance for those who don’t normally volunteer with us to come out and see what it’s all about.  You don’t need to be a regular volunteer to join us these days.  Easter’s coming…are you  in?

 

-Kim

Perfect timing…

Molly’s worker called the office late yesterday afternoon.  Molly is one of our many individuals living in Ottawa that struggle to survive off a meager disability cheque as she is in no position to work due to her mental health issues.  Once her rent and utilities are paid, she makes do with less than $200 for the month….for clothing, food, transportation, entertainment, everything!!   Imagine…not even $200 in your pocket to live off of for the next 30 days!

Molly has been wearing the same winter jacket for the past ten years.  She liked it will enough.  It was a wool blend and warm but alas, even wool blend jackets wear out eventually.  And now her worker is looking for an organization to donate a coat so that Molly can stay warm over the winter.

God is so good!  Just this week, a thoughtful donor had brought in a beautiful, down filled, almost new, mid-length woman’s jacket in you guessed it….Molly’s exact size!  To the donor of the jacket, Molly wants you to know how thankful she is.

-Erin

It’s the kind thing to do…

Often times when people hear that I work with the homeless, they like to engage in a conversation about whether or not our society should be responsible for taking care of the homeless. This conversation is generally very predictable…

People talk about the waste of money that goes into social programs. Some complain about supporting people on welfare. Others say that it is up to the individual to pick themselves up by their bootstraps to get off the streets.

 

I try my best to share my insight but the truth is, most adults have already made up their minds about the homeless.

 

Last year, I was asked to speak to a Grade Three class. I was nervous because I wanted to be honest about homelessness but I didn’t want to scare the kids. I tried my best to answer the kids questions without traumatizing them. At the end of my talk I asked the class “Why should we help the homeless? Why shouldn’t we just focus on ourselves and not people we see on the streets?” Immediately a little girl raised her hand and confidently stated “Because it’s the kind thing to do.” As she said this, her peers nodded in agreement.

 

This third grader got it right.

-Moira

 

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

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

“Low Places”

Suzanne comes to the drop-in every week without fail. Her story is similar to many others: she immigrated to Canada several years ago and she continues to struggle to make ends meet. She comes to the drop-in every week to get much needed support and community. She is also attending language classes a few times each week because she is determined to improve her English. She refuses to speak French at all at the drop-in because she wants to practice her English as much as possible.

One day after lunch, Suzanne was staring across the room and she had a look on her face that was so peaceful and joyful that I had to ask her what she was looking at. She pointed at two men who were standing across the room and said “When I looked over at these men I saw Jesus standing in between them, with His hand on their shoulders. Do you think that’s crazy?” I told her I didn’t think it was crazy at all. She started smiling and said “Jesus is here. The politicians, the rich people, they don’t come here. But Jesus does. He comes to where the low places are.”

The low places….those words have really stuck with me. Often we think of God standing up on high places looking down on us. But Suzanne is right, Jesus is right there with us, even at the drop-in.

– Moira

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.

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

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.