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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

More beautiful for having been broken…

Recently Moira sent me something that she knew would intrigue me.  It is a picture of a piece of pottery that was broken and then repaired with gold or silver laquer.  It is an art called Kintsukuroi .  When a piece of pottery is broken, what is our first impulse?  To throw it out of course!  To us it’s a useless piece of hard clay now, no longer good for its intended use.  But this art is about taking something broken and making it repairing it ‘understanding that is more beautiful for being broken’.

We are all broken people and then God puts His gold repair on us and makes us more beautiful in our brokenness.  No need to pontificate…the picture says it all…

Where did He call home?

Have you heard the story about the little boy who shared his lunch with a homeless man?  The little boy had found the older man in a park and was so enthralled with this man’s beautiful smile that the boy apparently had no fear of him, sat next to him for an extended period of time and shared his bologna sandwich and cookies.  Later, when his mother had asked the little boy what he had done that day, the little boy answered, “Today, I shared my lunch with Jesus!”

Now, this is NOT a real story….I don’t think….but yet there is something so interesting in it that I’ve taken it a bit to heart.  It has made me think about the face of homelessness from Jesus’ perspective.  You know, when you think of it, Jesus was homeless through much of his life. Oh sure, he sounds as if he had a home growing up but once he went into ministry, he was effectively homeless.  Nowhere in scripture does it say that after a busy day of healing the sick and lame and preaching the good news to the masses, Jesus went HOME and spent a lovely evening in front of the fireplace, with his newspaper and hot tea.  Nope, not our Savior.  He “couched surfed”, much like the guys we serve here at OIM.  He spent time in the homes of people who could put him up for a night, or two.  Or, he laid his precious head down where he could….under a large tree maybe?  Or in a garden perhaps?  Maybe next to a city wall or other structure somewhere?

It makes me wonder a little…..what if Jesus came today?  Where would he sleep?  Shoved uncomfortably into a store doorway maybe?  A dark, smelly, dangerous alley perhaps?  Or, maybe a dirty recycling bin typically made for cardboard?  Would a little boy share his lunch with HIM?  Would you?  Would I?  Kind of makes you think a little, doesn’t it?  It should…..

-Erin

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

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

Cold Toes, Warm Hearts!

It was -27 degrees last night! Sweet merciful crud that’s cold! But the Wednesday night Outreach crew, appropriately bundled up, had a warm night regardless. In particular, Edwin and I had a wonderful chat with a new friend, in the fleeting warmth of a local MacDonald’s. Andy has an experience common to many of our street friends: he’s in his mid-twenties, and has been hitch-hiking from major Canadian city to major Canadian city for the past few years: Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Montreal and St. John’s have all been stops – but he spent the New Year here in Ottawa, sitting in front of an exhaust fan. We heard quite a travelogue of a few years of life filled with adventure, crime, sadness, victory, defeat, and love – a truly gripping tale just waiting to be heard at your local downtown heating vent.

So here’s some advice: next time you’re looking for a good story, forget the local bookstore, disregard the internet, put down your video game controller, and strike up a conversation with someone on the street – adventures await!

Jeff