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The Mundane Is Extraordinary..

“Do you have room for one more?”

It was the end of the day at our drop-in and I was getting ready to clean up the foot care station. I was tired. I had been there for four hours cleaning and massaging feet of all sizes, shapes, and conditions. And yet I was drawn to this disheveled, but gentle old man. “Of course I have room,” I replied. His eyes sparkled with gratitude. I proceeded to fill the foot basin with water, Epsom salts, and soap. He carefully removed his worn shoes and dirty socks. He looked ashamed as he revealed his soiled, foul-smelling feet. I pretended not to notice.

Then he soaked his feet and we began to talk.

I do not recall that our conversation was particularly meaningful or deeply personal. We exchanged pleasantries, mainly. We shared a few stories about our lives. We talked about the weather (how typically Canadian!). We discussed our mutual love of animals, too. After about twenty minutes or so – after his feet had been cleaned, massaged, and clad with a fresh pair of socks – I thanked him for coming. As he got up to leave, he slowly turned to me and said, “y’know, I was not having a very good day, but I just wanted you to know that you have turned my day right around!” I smiled and told him that I, too, had enjoyed our conversation. It was not until I arrived home later that afternoon, however, that I allowed myself to receive this simple, yet powerful gift of gratitude.

I have yet to understand, fully, why this interaction has stayed with me these past five years. And while I have learned much at OIM, one thing stands out above the rest: God seems to delight in using the most ordinary, routine, even mundane, acts of service to do some extraordinary work.

 

Jelica

Love and Respect

Some of the most down to earth and insightful exchanges I have are during outreach with OIM.  Week after week I stop with my fellow OIM volunteers to chat with people with diverse backgrounds and histories.  To us it doesn’t matter where they came from, or where they may be headed; the point is to be there for them in whatever way they desire.  If they want to chat, we lend an ear; if they need something to eat, we give them some food; if they don’t want anything, we move on.  At OIM we aren’t there to judge, but to do what God has called us to do, and that is to love others as we would ourselves.  We are there to give a little bit of respect to people who perhaps deserve it more than people think.  Day in day out they are scrounging, facing judgment, being humiliated, ignored, and sometimes flat out disrespected.  Once you get to know our street friends, you might see that they deserve a little more than what they get.  Being blessed, God gives us the privilege to go and deliver the love and respect that He so readily offers to everyone.  And of course without fail, I see God forge true friendships between volunteers and street friends time and time again – not surprisingly.  Praise God!

Kevin

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!

Eddy turns himself in!

Our youth outreach worker recounted this story of last Monday’s events, and I thought you would be interested.

Eddy was one of the first members of our Passion 4 youth art program. He enjoyed coming every week and worked on building model cars and also a model of a mountain with a stream running from the side. After the first art show he and his girlfriend Sue stopped coming to the group. I caught up with him a few times on outreach and he told me that he was selling too much crack now and could not afford to take a night off. So we just kept telling him that we loved him and that he was welcome to come back whenever he wanted to. Then we stopped hearing from him all together for a few months. At one point his girlfriend Sue contacted me and told me that he had been arrested for selling drugs. A few more months went by and I got a facebook message from Eddy. He told me that he had served 7 months in Jail and then was released to serve the rest of his sentence at a rehab facility in Quebec. He was allowed to go home for a weekend and while at home he used heroin again. When he came back to rehab and failed a drug test and was dismissed from the facility.

At his next court appearance Eddy was informed that he would have to serve a few more months in jail because he failed the drug test. He asked if he could go and call his mother. When he left the room, Eddy got scared and decided to run from the court room. He later called his lawyer who told him that he needed to turn himself in to the authorities. He knew that he should do the right thing but he was very scared to turn himself in.

Eddy asked me what I thought he should do and I told him that he needed to listen to his lawyer. He said that he has never willingly put himself in Jail. It was just too crazy to think about. So over the next few weeks Eddy would contact me and tell me that he was going to turn himself in. But the next day he would not follow through. He called me again and said that he was thinking about turning himself over to authorities in the morning. I told him that if he wanted I would meet him I would meet with him at the Rideau center in the morning and we could go together. That way he could have a friend with him in case he got scared and wanted to run away again. Eddy said that he would like that so we arranged a time to meet. When I arrived at our meeting spot he was already there waiting for me. We hugged and I told him that I was proud of him. I got him some breakfast and sat and talked for a while. I asked him why he felt that he was ready now. He told me that he had just found out that our mutual friend Roni had died of a drug overdose last week. Roni was a good friend to him and her death had a profound effect on him. He decided that if he didn’t want to end up the same way he needed to make some changes in his life. We talked about how this was an opportunity for him to face some of the things that he has been running from. We walked over to the court house together. Along the way Eddy noticed a man sitting on the Mackenzie King Bridge pan handling. Eddy walked over and gave him all but 4 of the cigarettes from his pack, as well as all of the money in his pocket. We went into the court and called his lawyer. The lawyer agreed to meet him there. When the lawyer came we approached one of the police officers stationed at the court house and told him that Eddy was turning himself in. He filled out some paper work gave up his wallet and shoe laces. He looked very scared and started to cry. The officer told him that he was going to process the paper work and be back in about fifteen minutes. In the mean time Eddy was allowed to go outside and have one last smoke.

We walked out to the patio in the back and he lit his cigarette. At this point I reminded him of all the times we had talked about the difference that Jesus could make in his life. We talked about how God’s love for him is unconditional, and that he was going to need Gods strength to overcome the things that were controlling his life. Usually an agnostic, Eddy told me that this time he really believed that what I was saying was true. So I asked if he would like to ask the Lord to be his Savior and give his life to Christ he said that he did. I sat next to him and we prayed together.  When we were done praying we looked up and the police officer was waiting in front of us to take him to the cells. We stood up and walked together with the officer to the elevator.

The officer agreed not to handcuff him until they were downstairs so as not to embarrass him in front of the public. Eddy teared up again and then gave me a hug. I left him my number so that he can continue to call me while he is in jail. He thanked me for staying with him and then asked if I would call his dad and let him know what happened. As I left the court I thought about how proud of Eddy I was. This was very hard for him but he did it anyway. I thanked God for taking what the devil would want to use for harm and turning it into an opportunity to bring my friend into a relationship with him.

It’s a new beginning for Eddy, a fresh start.  Let’s pray that he continues to make good decisions and plans for his future.

 

Any Second Chances?

I spoke with Walter on the street outside our drop in and listened as he shared his frustration with the current state of affairs with housing in Ottawa – specifically how he has been unable to secure a place to live off the streets.  He is also pretty peeved about his inability to access meals in the downtown core, because of his past behavior.

He does not have any kind of track record of ability of keeping an apartment, and therefore does not have any references.  And, when he tells prospective landlords that he is able to pay because he is a recipient of ODSP (Ontario Disability Service Plan), it serves as a final nail in his coffin.  It appears that Landlords are not interested in housing people who are on disability, probably because they have experienced difficulties with others in the same situation.

But Walter is not the same person who was barred for three lifetimes from one of the service agencies downtown.  (Yup, you read correctly, three lifetimes!!!  What’s that?  I don’t know.)

The stigma that is associated with Walter stems from his past involvement with alcohol, addictions and violence.  But the thing is, Walter has not touched alcohol or drugs now for over a year!  Nothing.

Still, he is refused housing because he is on ODSP and does not have a reference from any landlord because he has lived only on the streets; and he is refused services because of events that happened six years ago. 

What kind of any chance do people like Walter have?  How can the stigma be broken?  Who will do some advocacy on Walter’s behalf?  Some people ‘turn over a new leaf’ in order to get what they need and then turn the leaf right back over, but this is not the case with Walter.  Is there any kind of ‘second chance’ today, when people can have a fresh start?

Walter’s determination to remain clean and sober, is an demonstration of courage and determination far above what I could imagine for anyone else in the same situation. 

What motivation or reason is there for Walter to sustain the significant life changes that he has demonstrated?  His journey over the past twelve months is inspiring!!

Long story short, Walter is going to drop by the office tomorrow.  Maybe he’ll find someone who will believe his story and do a bit of advocacy on his part: make a few calls, give some affirmation of Walter’s character and sobriety.  Then maybe someone will believe him.

If you would like to send some encouraging words to Walter through responding to this blog, I will make sure that he gets your note.  Maybe, just maybe, he will be encouraged through your words and our actions.  Cheers!

Tom is back!

Tom is back, and is doing well.

He came to see me last Friday and has been ‘in and out’ of the office all week.  He has hit the ground running and has made some great steps since getting out of jail: he has located a nice apartment in a good area, currently furnishing it, bus pass, happy to be alive and, since Tuesday, free from parole, the system and his past mistakes.

He is thinking about going back to school.  He is considering what kind of job he might get – although he is quick to tell us that he will be back volunteering with us next week.

At the drop in yesterday, Erin (our work skills coordinator) invited him to come to the office when he had a chance to talk.  Well, at 8:03 this morning, he was here.  He sat in the chair and said something like, “I know there’s a lot of work to do here. I’ll come by next week and straighten out all the mess of shelves that happened since I left and I’ll clean it all up.  Don’t worry about it.”

Erin quickly told him that wasn’t the reason for her request.

“Oh?  What?”

“Well, I want to be sure that you come by here next Tuesday, because that’s your birthday.  We are going to get a cake to celebrate with you, but we want to make sure that you are here.  That’s what I wanted to talk about.”

There were moments of silence as Tom stared from under a furled brow as he thought about this.  “Thank you,” he said.

“We’re so happy you are out of jail, and connected with us again.  We love you, and want the best for you.  Plus, we don’t want to eat your cake without you,” Erin replied softly.

So, there you go.   Oh,  just one more thing.  When Tom first came back, and talked with me in my office, he said something that stuck with me.

We talked about how it sucked to be in jail for no good reason, guilty until proven innocent (or rather released because they simply could not detain him any longer), and he said: “Well you know, maybe the Lord had me in jail to keep me from getting into trouble somehow on the streets.  You never know….”

That’s pretty good.

Wish I had thought of that.

Tom Called

Tom Called (see previous blogs re. Injustice)

While I was away in Vancouver I received the following email from our front line receptionist at OIM:

Tom called! 

He is at Fenbrook Institution in Gravenhurst. 

We were only able to talk a brief time as he was in a room with his prison assigned PO (that’s what he called her) and was on an office phone. 

 He said that he had been trying to reach you for awhile but that for some reason was unable to call through.  He had requested that your name/number go on his call out list but it never seemed to work for him.  I’m not really clear as to why and it was difficult to get a lot of information as someone was listening at his end so I did not want to press for info. 

Bottom line, he sounds really good!  He says he’s due to be released in two weeks and will make his way back to Ottawa asap.

I’d say that’s good news. 

Interesting isn’t it that ‘it never seemed to work for him’ to get my (OIM’s) number on his call list (!).

Last week his total world belongings were picked up by our staff and we were able to find a place to store them.  His place of residence was kind enough to allow us to hold them for him, although they could not hold his room.  Fortunately he doesn’t have to ‘start all over’ when he comes back.

I’ll keep you posted.

His parole is finished next week, so we’ll be sure to keep you updated, as he will be a free man after all this time (and able to talk freely, and come to the ‘forbidden’ OIM office).

Thanks for all your thoughts, prayers and kind words!  It’s good to know you are not alone.

Injustice IV – Stonewalled

A heavy heart is mine as I write what will probably be the last blog about Tom until he is released.  There are several reasons for this, some (but not all) of which I will detail.

I had an appointment to meet with Tom on Monday, April 12 at 9:30 am.  On the Thursday or Friday before, he was transferred to the penitentiary in Kingston.  It would take me 4 – 6 weeks to be cleared for a ‘professional visit’ at that institution, or 1 – 1 ½ weeks to have ‘visitor’ status. I started the process immediately.  That was Monday.

On Tuesday, I was informed (through my own sources, not CSC) that he was moved to ‘another location’ (unknown).  On Wednesday I got a lead on another jail where he might be.  I am waiting for a contact there to confirm this.

The Parole Office will not meet with me, although I requested this several times.  I asked to meet with her and her Director, but was denied.  They have discovered that I have been blogging about this and are ‘consulting legal’ to see what implications there are for our meeting.  Stonewalled.   I have written permission from Tom, signed by him in jail before he was taken to Kingston, to release the information of his file to me.  It was witnessed by a prison chaplain at the jail who watched Tom sign (without duress or cohersion).   They are investigating whether it is enough for them.  So far, and into the foreseeable future, the answer seems to be a resounding no.

They suggested I speak to their Media Response person, and I did so finally after several days and voice messages.  We spoke and I was informed of the process, the rules and regulations involved in a very general sense.  When I mentioned that Tom’s conditional parole was completed on May 4th, there was some surprise and a quick investigation into his case.  Affirmed.  Oh, in that case, he will walk on May 4th.

I am not a quitter, and if this is an example of injustice and wrongful accusation/detaining, then it should not be.  I have been advised by a lawyer (who is my friend) and an official from Corrections Services Canada that it might not be a good idea to continue to pursue this matter.

I asked my lawyer friend about possible ramifications if I continued to blog about Tom’s cause.  He replied that nothing would happen as I am only presenting Tom’s side of the story (with Tom’s permission).  He did mention however, that if I pursue it, it might be difficult for Tom.

The CSC official told me that it often does not go well with the individual involved (Tom in this case) after they have their story made available to the general public (!), and that I might consider ceasing to blog about this.

For Tom’s sake, I am stopping- but only because of my lawyer friend’s advice.  I will bring you an update when he is released May 4th – sooner if something significant occurs.

A final note to you at Corrections Services Canada whom I understand are following this blog:  I understand protocol, process and procedure, but please remember that you are dealing with a real person, with real feelings, who yesterday (April 14th) celebrated SEVEN (7) years of total sobriety.  Here at the OIM office, we were planning a big party to celebrate – cake and all – but Tom was alone in his cell.  Couldn’t even reach him by phone.  Don’t even know where he is right now.

But one day when he is released, we will celebrate together.  I would like to invite you to the party!

Injustice upon injustice II

A miserable week – especially if you are incarcerated.  Here’s an update about my buddy ‘Tom’. ‘Tom’ is not his real name, but there may come a point in this story that we reveal his name.  He has given me permission to share his story with you.

Tom is a recovering alcoholic.  He admits he cannot handle the effects of alcohol.  He becomes violent.  This has been manifested from time to time in his life, and has spent just over six years doing federal time to pay for his mistakes.  He dosen’t drink.  Won’t drink in fact, because he knows how dangerous it would be for him to do so.  In two weeks he will have seven years of sobriety under his belt.  Good one buddy!

His parole is completed on May 4, 2010 and he will be a free man: no conditions, no parole office, no restrictions – he has been looking forward to his freedom for a while now.  But right now, now now, he is in 23 hour lockdown in jail with no rights and no freedom.  I went to visit him. He has not been sleeping or eating well.  He is depressed and discouraged.  He hasn’t been taking the meds offered to him because he is afraid.  Unshaven and unkempt, his orange overalls provide a constant reminder that he is a ‘prisoner’, an ‘offender’, a ‘public threat.’  It’s a stigma that hangs on, not just because of where he is or what he’s wearing, but what he is being told.  The constand reinforcing of the negative things, the failures and mistakes in his life are an albatros around his neck.

I contacted Corrections Services Canada: I waited seven business days for Tom’s parole officer to return the several  messages left both on her cell phone and her work number.  It was only after I contaced the Director of CSC that the P.O. called me – and I waited five business days for the Director’s return call.  I’m not the best at returning calls sometimes, but well, I don’t know, I would say that someone rotting in jail is a priority.

I have written and witnessed permission from Tom for disclosure of his file.  To date, the CSC is ‘not sure’ they will be able to release this to me.  We’ll see about that.  I have asked for an appointment to discuss Tom’s case, when I return to the office on the 12th.  I have requested an appointment for that morning.

For now Tom is ‘inside’.  There is undoubtedly more to the story, there always is.  My lawyer and the investigator agent who was kind enough to look into this case, have both told me how the process works: the P.O. has 30 days in which to investigate the accusations against Tom and deliver a review; then the Parole Board has an additional 90 days to investigate and arrive at a decision.  One hundred and twenty days.  Four months.  All the while my friend is in 23 hour lock down.  By the time the decision is delivered, his parole will be finished and on May 4, he walks. 

Then I find out that people who can make a decision, do an investigation, bring some kind of resolution are ‘on holidays’ (that’s what I heard first from CSC) and ‘on course’ (second ‘reason’ given – it is year end and budget money – well use it or lose it ??) – all the while Tom is wondering what’s going on.

Welcome to the ‘system’.

Injustice upon injustice – it’s called Life on the Streets

Some things set me right over the edge, mostly it’s a different story with a similar theme: injustice (see Justice III, Feb 26/10).  Here is yet another:

Tom is a recovering alcoholic that will be celebrating seven years of sobriety in two weeks.  He works his 12 step program and is determined to stay clean.  He came to visit us, then volunteered, and then entered our work skills program.  He comes to the office four days a week to help: no job too big, no job too small, he does them all – with a cheerful heart.  He has a record but his probation ends in two short months – and he works hard at keeping clean.  He won’t even cross the street  without a walk signal.

Clean. Squeaky clean.  Pleasant, kind, hard-working, and a delight to be around. We have high hopes for Tom.

So one day, he doesn’t show up. A day, then two and more and then a week and we wonder where he is.  No way to contact him.  Finally we find him – in jail. 

He is in jail right now, been there just over two weeks for “parole violation”.   For “panhandling”.  Reported to his Parole Officer (P.O.) by an “anonymous” person who called it in.  Over fourteen days in jail (and counting) with no help.  No lawyer.  No hearing.  No explanation.  Just “there”.

I called the P.O. and left message after message with no response.

Tuesday of this week the P.O. goes to see Tom in jail to tell him he can’t get out until next Thursday.  Sorry, no.

How can this be?  What about his rights?  Good question.  Looks like Tom doesn’t have any.  An ‘anonymous’ call is enough to land him in jail.

Right now, I don’t have the complete story. But I know enough to know there’s something wrong here – very wrong.

So, today I called my lawyer.  Let’s look into this.  Lawyer will call the P.O. and make an inquiry.  Let’s find out what’s happening here.  Let’s get to the bottom of this.  I have an appointment tomorrow at the jail.  Somebody has to do something about this.

This is a sad story.  Sadder that it happens all the time.  Sadder still that most of my street friends’ rights violations (this appears to be one of them) go unnoticed, undetected and unresolved – particularly so because they don’t have anyone who will help.  They get lost in the “justice system” – or the justice is lost in the “system”.  Maybe it’s just “the system”.

ANYBODY INTERESTED IN DOING SOME ADVOCACY??  Get ready for rejection, apathy, unanswered messages, high levels of frustration getting around red tape, and white hot rage when you see injustice heaped upon injustice heaped upon injustice – oppressing people who are already broken and helpless.

Naw… it’s hoping for too much that somebody somewhere might respond to this plea for help and say, “Hey, I can do something.  Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

(Let me get back to you on this next week.  Friday morning, 1:01 am)