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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.

It’s not about the food…

OIM hosted our annual Easter Dinner this week.  Over 40 volunteers  served 150 dinners to our street community.  As I stood back and watched the first sitting being served I couldn’t help but smile.  The room was filled with smiles and laughter all around as our volunteers and street community simply enjoyed each other’s company.  We serve a pretty fantastic meal at our special dinners and we are known for our generous portions (thanks to EVERYONE who provided the meal), but more than that we offer friendship.  We offer the good news of God’s love through our service and fellowship. It’s not about the food…not really.  It’s about the desire to belong.  In this place, and in this need, there is no difference between those serving and those receiving because in this interaction…we all find belonging…

-Kim

What did your morning look like?

Going to work this morning, I came down the same hill at the same time and saw the same bus going up the other side.  I got on my usual bus with the same driver and saw the same people going about their routines too.  Before that, I got up, checked my email…watched the morning news as I had my coffee and said goodbye to my family as I do every morning.

 

Routine…predictability…we might be tempted to see it as boring…but it’s actually healthy!  Of course we like to shake it up every now and then to keep it interesting, but mental health experts say that routine and knowing what tomorrow will bring is a key factor in your overall health.  The stress of not knowing what tomorrow will look like can be seen first in a lowered  immune system leading to frequent illness, and chronic stress leads to changes in the very biochemistry of one’s body leading to conditions such as depression.

 

What did your morning look like?  Many of the people we see at OIM woke up not knowing where they will eat today, or where they will sleep tonight.  Many don’t know where they will be tomorrow, let alone in a week.

 

Routine…predictability…doesn’t sound so bad does it?

Rachel’s Gift, the final episode: Rachel Speaks for Herself

This is the eighth and final episode of Rachel’s Gift”.  Listen as Rachel finally reveals her “Gift”.  Invite your friends to listen and ‘catch up’ on previous episodes.  If you missed episodes go to ‘Recent Posts’ from November 28 (right hand column).

Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s Rachel: 

Thanks for your support for our Passion 4 Youth Art program this Christmas.  Help us continue this life-changing program.  Designate a donation today! Just click the ‘Donate’ button.  Thanks for your special gift!

Youth Art Show III

A totally unexpected outcome was realized at our youth art show just a few months ago, and I don’t think I told you about it.  So have a read, and let me know if you don’t think that this is the coolest…

The kids were pumped, everything was ready, all the art work was in place, snacks, interactive art table (the kids’ idea), it was all so special, so beautiful.  But none of it was really as beautiful as this.

I mingled with the kids, the volunteers, and introduced myself to some of the early arrival guests.  I had the chance to meet some people that I did not recognize, and early into our conversations, they identified themselves as parents, relatives, grandparents, cousins or some link of family members to the artists in our Passion for Youth art program.

At first, I thought this was very cool.  Then, as I met more and more relatives of the kids, whether on my own, or one of the kids would introduce their ‘kin’ to me, the degree of coolness increased significantly.

It had not occurred to me that the kids would have relatives come out to such an event (I am not sure why).  It sure meant a lot to the kids though.  Of course, some of the parents/ relatives were very interested in winning the bid on certain of the art pieces.  I think each was successful.  While they did not bring their kids home that night, they took a piece of them through the art work their kids had created.

In debriefing with our youth outreach worker, Jason, I mentioned that there was quite an interest on the part of the relatives of the kids, and was this an expected outcome?

No, it wasn’t really, but it made sense to me when Jason gave me a bit of explanation.  Most of the ‘events’ that the kids are involved in with other social service agencies in the city, have to do with such things as safe sex, harm reduction, drug use, safe drug use, etc. – which are exactly NOT the sort of things the kids wanted to sport in front of their parents or relatives.

But an art show?  Bring it on!

The kids were so proud of the fact that they were the featured artists, that ‘many others’ in the community wanted to come (and pay) to see their creations, that they were the centre of attention, that people wanted to talk to them about their art, their stories, their ideas – it was a win-win-win situation.

THAT they could invite their relatives to. 

Five of the kids had one or more family members at the exhibition/silent auction that evening. 

I’d say that is taking a step in the right direction, wouldn’t you?

Drop In to our Drop In, New Year’s 2011

A sunny bright first week of January and many greetings of “Happy New Year” were offered from our friends at the drop in.  New Years is just so much better than Christmas.

In addition to the beautiful day, some of our folks were only just receiving their cheques from December (some glitch in the matrix of ODSP/OW) on this day, so it was doubly beautiful (maybe more).

Our numbers are down a bit because of the cheque thing (a typical first of the month pattern), but we have given up trying to estimate our effectiveness through the number of people served a meal.  Instead we count the number of positive interactions our volunteers have with our street friends – more than ‘the Big three’ of news, weather and sports. 

Downstairs, there’s a couple of euchre games on the go, people visiting with each other, relaxed, informal – a nice place to hang out. 

Let’s ‘drop in’ on a few of my encounters with our friends:

I met Bill who is 19 years old and his sister Chaucery (or so I thought, until Bill told me it was his mom), and we chatted.  Two years ago he ran from a fight only to have a severe stab wound in the skull: “See the mark?” he says as he points to the top of his head.  We talked of a few things, but he told me he didn’t want to talk about his father, one time Chaucery’s partner.  Then, after about twenty minutes,   he brought up the topic of his father, and how he had been so severely mistreated.  Usually, among people who have been mistreated as children it is their fathers who have been the primary causes of abuse.  He didn’t want to talk about it, but then he did.  He had been diagnosed with some condition of mental illness (before the knife wound and somehow associated with his father), he explained, and lives with his mom.  Their hydro had been cut off, and it was a good thing I wasn’t part of the blanket-blank agency, or they would have some choice words for me.  They were going to make it, the mom said, because hydro was not their heat source, and their landlord had allowed them to have an extension cord running to a power outlet in the hall.  “We have lots to be thankful for,” Bill reminded his mom.

On the way to the coffee urn, Wayne came in and asked if he could have a hamper to take home with him (before the appointed time for hampers) because the service technician was coming to his new place to hook up a phone that afternoon.  Wayne has undergone a remarkable recovery from alcohol, drugs and the street scene.  He has been clean for over a year now, and has every intention of continuing to improve his life.  After many, many attempts to obtain housing, he now has a place of his own.  I marvel at what he has accomplished against overwhelming odds, as well at his determination to keep on the ‘straight and narrow’.

 Jelica, our managing director, put together a few groceries, while Wayne showed us pictures of his two daughters and grandchildren.  “Wow”, I said, admiring the photographs and smiling, “You don’t look it, but you truly are a rich man.”  He quickly nodded assent and told a condensed version of the powerful reconciliation he recently had with one of his daughters – after being estranged from her for many, many years.

“Thank you so very much for the food,” he said, and put the pictures carefully in the front part of his knapsack, and the groceries in the back.  “I’m off to catch the 12:10 bus.”

As he climbed the stairs out of the building, my eyes met Jelicas’, and there was a simultaneous sigh of gratitude and wonder at this example of a transformed life.  More than words are needed to grasp the deep significance of what was happening all around us. 

It’s all a gift from God, and gifts of God.

These kinds of encounters happen all the time, each one purposefully and intrinsically orchestrated by our Heavenly Father:  each one a display of His splendor .  Mother Theresa coined it well when she said, “We see Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

You should find out how you could be a part of this somehow.  Happy New Years!

The Gift of Christmas (volunteer social dec. 2)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders, And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9; 6, 7

The Gift of Christmas is all wrapped up in Jesus, is Jesus, and is the meaning of Christmas.  His message is the gift that keeps on giving as the gospel unfolds: cradle to cross, Jew to Gentile, one person told another person, who told yet another, they told somebody who in turn told someone else, who that person told someone else and so on to today, and the gift continues to unfold to the world.

You are the gift.

Drop In: I stood at the doorway to the sanctuary and watched: Rudy just finished cutting someone’s hair and asked if he would like prayer; a volunteer doing foot care right in front of me; sounds of Carolyn and Wendal distributing clothing upstairs and beside the stairs a staff spoke quietly with one of our street friends, behind me in the sanctuary, two more foot care volunteers massaged and soothed tired feet and Clara worked her touch care on tired aching backs… and I marveled at the gift unfolding…

Youth Art Show: in the moment I stood back and surveyed the room: young street artists, volunteers, donors, partners, prayer warriors and intercessors all there.  Many of the kids didn’t recognize the gift but each knew there was something special happening right in front of them.  I sensed the Giver of gifts painting on the canvas of human hearts, and it was a powerful moment.  All the work, the people, the prayers, the gifts working through His people… and the gift was unfolding…

Years ago on Street Outreach, Steve and I peered into a loading dock in the Byward Market and made out the figures of two small girls.   The one that spoke told us they just arrived from Montreal, that they were both sixteen, and were OK.  We shared what we had, noted references to places where they could get help, and in some way, I sensed that Steve and I were the gift, unfolding…

Sparky had taken refuge in the Laundromat near our office and I went in to sit with him for a while.  He was pretty intoxicated and did not do too well hiding the bottle of cooking sherry from the Laundromat overseer lady.  We had a conversation, and I stayed a bit longer.  When I got up to leave, Sparky told me in a very clear, impassioned plea, “No.  Please stay with me,” and for a moment I could not tell whether I was the gift or if he was, just unfolding…

Years ago at a downtown drop in, William, who was at times subject to alcoholic seizures, tottered and swayed, pointing his finger in my face and prophesying, “The Lord is blessing you.  The Lord is blessing this place and what you do,” and he became the gift, telling me we were the gift.  And it keeps on unfolding…

We come alongside one another as the gift unfolds through us, in us and through our street friends- in whom the gift is birthed, delivered and manifested.  And we thank God for each one.

You are the gift unfolding, Christ in you, the hope of glory, and I watch it all the time.  And I count it as a gift and privilege from the Gift Giver Himself to come alongside you and walk and work with you as we together we watch the gift unfold.

There is a tradition in some churches to speak over the communion elements of bread and the wine, to say, “The gifts of God for the people of God”, and the response comes, “Thanks be to God.”

Here tonight, in and with each other, I present each of you to all of you, and say, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” and we say together, “Thanks be to God.”

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!

Youth Art Show II

The evening the kids have been preparing for had finally arrived.  It was time for the ‘Passion for Youth’ art show at Dominion Chalmers.  There was sufficient space for each artist to choose five pieces of their work to show, and it was a challenge for some to decide.  Hustle, bustle, the staging of sofas and tables from the art room on the second floor, the preparation of the interactive art table where guests could be creative, coffee, tea and snacks set near the entrance all combined to accelerate the excitement and anticipation.

In the end, all was readied.  The stage was set, the players were ready, last minute adjustments to the easels were complete, the live entertainment arrived ( Max and August), and the mood was  set. 

Guests enjoyed the ambiance, the artists and the art work.  Ahh, the art work.  For some of our guests, the time had finally come when the art work that was ‘for display only’ at our auction, was finally available for bidding.  There were pieces of art work that captured hours and hours of devotion, had become a  labour of love, and were now revealed to the public.

But there was something here far greater than what initially captured the senses.  There was a clear demonstration of a Master Artist at work with figures of moving clay.

The real demonstration of art was that of the artists themselves.

Initially, many of these youth never had any idea that they could create anything beautiful at all.  The images of childhood that are so familiar to us were either non-existent or so overshadowed with such painful memories that it would have been better not to have had them at all.  Years of repeated abuse served to reinforce their belief and image they would never amount to anything.  They were told as young children that they were losers, worthless  and discarded and treated as less than animals.  They had eaten from the garbage bins, slept in the bins or wherever they could, experienced cold and discomfort that are beyond description.  They were survivors, despite it all.

Tonight was different.  People they didn’t even know told them over and over again, that they had created something beautiful.  So beautiful in fact that they would like to buy the items and remember the artists.  The youth were the ones encouraging the younger guests and showing them how to hold a paint brush, how to mix the colors, how to ‘let themselves go’ and be creative.  Photos were taken.  The young artists were congratulated for work well done, praised for their choices of color or texture, and one small bit at a time, I believe some changes began to occur.

Maybe the voices of the past were wrong.  Maybe I’m not useless, after all, someone likes what I have created.  Maybe there is something good about me.  Maybe this is not the end.  Maybe, just maybe, I can do something good.  Maybe there is something good about me.

That was the real exhibition of art.  It wasn’t the paint on the canvas, or the music that filled the air: it was living, breathing, young people experiencing hope and a promise for the future.  And, maybe, just maybe, that might be enough to change a life.