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“Tessa’s Home” Episode 8: Merry Christmas and Thank you

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa tells her story…

What I wish for Christmas is that people would come together and realize how much we need each other.

I want to thank OIM for being there when I needed them; for listening when nobody else would; for being exactly what I needed when I needed it – whether it like it was freezing cold and they had hot chocolate, sandwiches or socks; or when I was upset, taking the time to talk to me, and eventually helping shape me into somebody I want to be more, and to give me the opportunity to work alongside them; even seeing where I came from. Not a lot of people would let me do that. 

A lot of people, when they learn what happened to me and where I came from, just walk away.  I’ve had people completely cut ties with me over that.  They (OIM) don’t judge and they brought me back to God and I feel like if they weren’t there, I’d still be in a pretty dark place.  They brought life into my life and I’m thankful for that.

When I think of OIM, everything comes into my head: Moira, Jay, you, the office, the art group, the outreach – everything – especially the people.  They were there.

To the donors: no matter what you give, everything has been so helpful because without everybody’s efforts as a whole, we would not have what we have.

At art group we’re at 20 youth capacity. Even we are over capacity with 23.  I asked Moira, ‘Where does the money come from?’ She goes, ‘Jesus’.  What that translated into my mind, was it came from the people God motivated to donate, and so are doing the work of Jesus. When I thought about it, all these people coming together… without them, we probably wouldn’t be there.

I just wanna close in saying, ‘A great big thanks for all you do’.  Merry Christmas.

From Tessa’s Home in her little apartment/condo, from her home with the kids in the art group (and on their behalf), and from the Staff and Volunteers at OIM, from our home to yours,

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!

Donate a special Christmas gift today to help us continue to reach out to young people, just like Tessa! Click ‘Donate Now’.

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 5: The Birth of Hope

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder on CHRI radio, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa continues her story…

I got into housing right after, but my place wasn’t that great. It was my ‘place’, but it wasn’t my home – I’d been in and out of ‘places’ of several kinds, but it was never home.   It was between two drug dealers; one sold cocaine and guns, and the other marijuana and cocaine.  That wasn’t the place I wanted my kid, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there, so I gave up my son to CAS and I went back to the streets. It was the hardest thing I ever did.

I remember being really distraught, and I was downtown in front of McDonalds on Rideau, and Outreach was there.  Two outreach workers from OIM came by and I was drawing in a little sketch book.  “You like to do art?” “Yea, I love to do art.” “We just started up an art group two weeks ago.” “Oh really?”

In the weeks to come, the same outreach worker was always bugging me about coming, but I never did. I guess when somebody tells you about something, you get this picture inside your head of what it’s like, and it wasn’t like that at all. 

So one day he came by ( and I don’t even think it was an outreach night) and said, “You coming? It’s tonight.”  I said, “OK, fine! I’ll come.” And he came and met me and I went.

I loved it.

After they introduced me to what it was, and told me about the mentoring and said they could help me with goals that I had, I thought maybe this could be helpful (and in my mind, thinking, ‘for now’). 

So like, I’ve been going there for three years, and I have missed like, four nights.

Getting this positive reaction for something I did, was not something I often got… Going through school, I had this art teacher that told me that I just didn’t have it (to be an artist). 

In the Passion 4 Youth art group I made goals to do stuff, and it eventually led me to getting my son back.  I set goals with Malley (my mentor) and she would ask me, ‘What are we working on this week?’ and ‘How’s the fight for your son going?’ and ‘What are your goals towards that?’  After working on that for a pretty long time, I got my son back, and brought him to the art room.  Everyone was really happy about that.

As Christmas approaches, please consider making a donation to help us with our Street Outreach Program.  Please click ‘Donate Now’.  Merry Christmas and thank you.

 

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 4: Disappointments on the Way Home

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa’s continues her story….

After my dad died, my head was really messed up because of it and I ended up hitchhiking across Canada. 

 At this time, I was 17 years old. Me and a friend made it all the way to Calgary Alberta in 5 days. I spent a few months out there, and eventually made my way back home to Ottawa.

From Calgary, I had had a pen-pal, who I was corresponding with regularly, who lived in Ottawa, and when I arrived back, we decided to meet. When I did, we were inseparable, and I had found, who I thought was my soul mate.

For about a year we were inseparable, (so I was 18 here) and when I found out I was expecting I went to his work (he worked at a coffee shop).  I waited my turn in the line, went up and said, “I would like to a medium ice cap and a side of ‘I am expecting your baby’”.  He looked at me in disbelief and we arranged to meet.

After that weekend I went to see him at his place, and he was gone.  He decided to move somewhere far away and cut off all contact with me.

Being very young and headstrong, my fear was soon overcome by excitement, and joy, but I remained homeless and sleeping outside until I was 8 months pregnant, and to this day, I haven’t heard from my first son’s father.

My beautiful little boy is now four years old, and I also have a one year old, both boys, and anyone with children knows how wonderful and amazing and life changing they truly are.

Please consider a Special Christmas Donation to help us continue our outreach program to people on the streets.  Your donation will help us help others, giving hope and a future where there is none today. Click “Donate Now”.   Thanks for your support!

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 3: Life on the Streets, Shelters and Drugs

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

 

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

One guy took me in (and also molested me), let me stay at his house actually burned my hair with Axe hair spray and a lighter.  That’s when I first started wearing a Mohawk.

From there I went to a shelter and then I got a ride to Ottawa.  I stayed at one shelter for maybe a month before I learned that if you lived outside, you didn’t have to listen to anybody. I didn’t like the rules they had there (at the shelter).

Soon after I started living outside, I was smoking and using marijuana.  After living on the streets for about a month, someone asked me if I had ever tried Ecstasy. I lied and said, “Yea, totally.” I started doing hard drugs more and more.  I was addicted to ‘uppers’ or Ecstasy (most of the time) or anything that made me feel happy. It took away the pain.

I was abused all my life. From the outside we lived like a happy family, but behind closed doors it was really bad.  I could never remember a time when I was as happy as I was when I was on that drug: it was like all of your bad feelings go away, and I was doing it every single day for a while.

After about 3 years of sleeping outside, couch surfing, and staying at shelters, but mostly on the street, I went for a visit to my “family”. I’d like to say ‘home’ but it never really was – not at all.  The reason I say it like this, “Family”, is because to this day, I consider the bonds I made with other youth who experienced the pain and heartache as I did, to be stronger, than those of my own blood. While visiting, I ended up seeing my lifelong abuser for the last time, and it was not a happy memory. I remember the very last words he said to me, were “take those stupid things out of your face, and grow some hair, then I’ll respect ya you freak!” I simply replied, “Love you too Dad,” and he drove away. Two days later, at around 3 a.m., the police came to my mother’s door to tell us my father had been in an accident, and did not survive.

I didn’t feel sad that he was gone. I tried to act sad, like everybody, but I didn’t.  I went in and finally was able to say everything that I wanted to say to him. The only thing I’m sad about today, is that I never had a chance to confront him to let him know how I felt as an adult.

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region and beyond.  We need your help to continue our outreach program on the streets.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate Now”.  Thanks for your support!

heARTfelt Thursdays: Male Figure in Blue

Painting - Acrylic - Male Figure Blue

 

Claudia grew up in a home with drugs and conflict, prompting her to leave at the age of 17. Claudia ended-up on the streets and using drugs. She joined the P4Y program two years ago and has been a committed member ever since.

Though she had done art prior to joining the art group she had never made space in her life to engage with art as she does today. She is often seen leaving covered in paint, having created some wild and meaningful abstract piece.

This piece of work represents a man in her life who has made a significant impact. It is the first piece in a series she is completing.

When Can I Take This Off?

I was talking with someone recently who had obtained housing. They have been on the street since their early teens—both sleeping on the street and in flop houses. They haven’t seen stable housing in years and have a weathered look about them. It is impossible to tell if someone is homeless simply by looking at them, but this individual carries the stereotype, and most on lookers would assume that they were homeless.

We were walking down a street the other night, with condos and old houses on either side, talking about the new place. They had been there for about a week. There was excitement in their tone, as they told me about the new wood floors, the paint, and the windows. The conversation continued casually until they said “a homeless person like me”.

I stopped walking and looked at them: torn pants, rugged hair cut, and rebellious attitude. And, I said “But you’re not homeless? Not anymore.”

“No, not exactly.”

It struck me that this individual walked around with a big sign duct-taped to their back: HOMELESS. Even when they had a home, a place that was their own, where they could sleep indoors, safe and tucked away from Ottawa’s nightlife, they still saw themselves as homeless. Even when they had a key, and a door, and a lock that only they could unlock, they saw themselves as homeless.

I thought about a story I was told recently, where a street-friend who had been on the street for 13 years had found housing. After a year he had to leave that situation and went back on the street. He was discouraged about the situation but a staff member congratulated him.

“You’ve lived on the street for 13 years, and then you lived in doors for a year! That’s a big deal.”

Many of our street-friends seem to be used to the transient life style of moving around, sleeping in doors for a few nights and being outside the next. Shelters, flop houses, couch surfing…there are ways to make your way inside but you will still carry that label.

My question is, when do they get to take it off? What could finally change so that they don’t feel like it is the core of their identity? What can I do to stop allowing this to happen? Being ‘homeless’ doesn’t seem to go away when you find housing. Many of our street-friends have housing, be it through ODSP, OW or their own means. The problem seems to have very little to do with the home.

So, what are we really saying when we use that term? Or, what scares me more, is what do those we label hear when we say it?

Yet, a better question may be this: What will that person have once they remove that label? Who will be their community, and with whom will they share their culture?

What if this label has become a shelter, an identity and a safety-net? I think of the street-friends who lost his housing after a year; isn’t it easier to leave the label on then being forced to put it back on? It is like saying, with no expectations I can have no disappointment.

I pray these two individuals can both see themselves and be seen as so much more than their labels. Where they sleep should not define who they are, and I continue to ask myself where my place is in that. Though I cannot change how they see themselves I can try and show them how I perceive them.

Taking things for granted???

Ken Pic

She walked into the drop in with her head held high, her long strawberry blonde hair (it had seen better days) swirled around her head like flames of fire looking to devour anything in its path. Our eyes meet when she entered the room, and I said ‘Hi,’ but she ignored me and quickly moved through the room. I don’t remember meeting her before.

She was both street wise and street tough – a survivor by anyone’s standard. I guessed she was in her mid 20’s, but she looked older.

I tried to connect with her about 1/2 hour later but was ignored – again. Oh well, sometimes it happens…

Today is an unannounced BBQ lunch and now I’m outside in the garden at Dominion Chalmers with my apron and tongs, cooking up a storm. 125 burgers and I’m almost 1/2 done.

Who comes out into the garden but ‘Firestorm’.  She quickly glances around, assesses the situation, comes directly over to me and asks, ‘Can I flip some burgers?’

‘Sure,’I replied, ‘But you’ll need a hair net,’ and pulled the gray net up from around my eye brows.

She quickly wrapped her flowing locks in a double hair bun with an elastic, and ran inside for a net.

She ran back, grabbed the tongs, we cooked burgers together and chatted.

As she turned burgers on the BBQ, we watched the flames from the fire circle, twist and coil all around the grill, she said, “When you’re homeless, you never get to cook.  I love cooking.  Thanks so much for letting me help.”

Question: What other ‘regular’ things do we take for granted?

 

 

 

 

Stories from the Street:

This story comes from a street-friend who was reflecting on a situation that impacted his life greatly. This story was shared during one of our weekly Stop-In times, where street-friends, volunteers and staff share coffee and conversation.

When I first lived on the streets, at 18 years-old in Vancouver, there was a situation that really changed my life.

At the time, I was young, cold and starving but had nowhere to go and nothing to eat. It happened at 4am in the morning when I heard someone coming down the street. I looked up to see there was this little old lady (who was probably not even five feet tall) driving down the road. She was coming towards me in a golf cart and I could see she had sandwiches, juice, water and granola bars with her. After giving me something to eat she began to tell me about Covenant House that was in the city (a shelter and housing NPO for street youth). Since I had nowhere to go I decided that this would be a good place to go.

Covenant House was only for youth, they offered multiple programs and a bed to those in need. When I was there I realized that people actually cared about someone like me, and that there was, in fact, a place for me to go. My time there gave me a chance to get off the streets and the staff offered me the support that I needed most. My experience with Covenant House has prompted me to want to open a similar house, and I continue to hope for this dream to be fulfilled one day.

We appreciate that the work of OIM and organizations like it can bring hope to individuals, like this street-friend, who may not feel valued or cared for. It is stories like this one that motivate us to continue our work and the work of our greater community.

Story collected by OIM staff member  Samara, and edited by Selina

A System Built for Some

The Ottawa Police have had a heavy presence this summer.

I see them patrolling the streets, walking down Bank or Elgin in pairs, or biking through the streets. You and I probably feel pretty good seeing them out and about during this bustling season. Does it make you feel safer? I like knowing someone is close by. I have a deep respect for individuals who go into policing, it is a tough and scary business. Our communities need to have trained people committed to protecting the vulnerable. Yet, sometimes we create laws that seem to do the opposite. Sometimes, from lack of understanding we create laws built for ourselves but not for vulnerable individuals.

When I am walking down the street, since joining OIM, I see a little more than just the hustle and bustle I would normally be aware of. I see faces who are blending into the walls and door ways, people I used to ignore or walk quickly by. I have even had the opportunity to befriend and connect with some of these men and women, and see their interactions with passerbys and the officers who are on patrol. Since, these are often the people that the officers are keeping an eye out for. Ottawa is a tourist destination as well as a large city, and the community struggles with the percent of its population experiencing homelessness. One of these officer’s responsibilities is to issue tickets to individuals ‘soliciting’ or ‘loitering’.

A good idea in theory, right? Ottawa is home to people struggling to make ends meet, to find work, to find affordable housing, to curb their addictions, to get healthy or get their medication under control. Some of these individuals have found themselves on the street, often with little money, and ,any consider pan-handling their daily work. Often public opinion is not in favour of the man or woman sitting cross-legged outside of the store, and every community wants to see their politicians and helping professionals ‘dealing’ with the problem. Now, I am making no moral judgement on whether soliciting money is OK or not, instead I have a story from a street-friend to share.

I used to stay with a bunch of guys who lived under the Laurier Bridge; they lived there for years. They would pan-handle everyday downtown, and they got tickets regularly. Whenever the cops asked one of us for our address we would say “Laurier Bridge,” so that’s what they always had to write on the ticket.

To issue a ticket a police officer needs your name and address. Now, I don’t suppose if you refuse to pay your ticket the City of Ottawa will be sending the mailman down under Laurier Bridge to deliver a notice. And, though many of our street-friends do work to see their tickets paid-off it is often hard to imagine the importance of that ticket when you don’t have housing, or a good sleeping bag, or a decent pair of shoes. And, if the tickets keep piling-up the likelihood of them getting paid gets much smaller.

The law we refer to when discussing pan-handling is Safe Streets Act of Ontario (1999). This acts has some very good intentions, to protect the public from coercion, but in reality it also allows cities to visibly ‘manage’ its disenfranchised population. Many of us feel safer seeing the police on the streets, but it is not the same for everyone. I have seen first-hand the look of disappointment when a street-friend is caught-up talking to a street outreach worker and doesn’t see the cop coming up behind them. This law, though well-intended is vague, it does very little to deal with the root issues of homelessness, and instead attacks the ‘symptoms’ to very little effect.

Someone with no money will struggle trying to understand how their community expects them to pay a fine. Someone with no address may not flinch when asked what their home address is, but it is another reminder that the system we live in was not built with them in mind. This is what I find most frustrating about my work with OIM; trying to work within a system of governance that is disconnected with some of its neediest citizens. I don’t think the Ottawa Police, the men and women walking the beat, are in the wrong. In fact, they are great men and women trying to do good work to the best of their abilities. It is irony that they are asked to enforce a system of policies and laws that don’t fit with the individuals they meet each day. I want safe streets as much as the next person, but I want safer streets for all of us. I am not sure what the solution is right now, but I know what I see isn’t working, and if you need more proof then you can ask any of our street-friends whether they feel like the system was build with them in mind.

What we need is to re-imagine these laws, keeping every party in mind, asking what works for ‘us’ not for ‘some’.

 

Written by Selina, OIM Staff.

I lost a piece of my heart…

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  That’s what I feel when I meet someone who just makes me want to weep.

Today I met Constantine….a proud man with a proud name.  He tells me he is seventy years young.  He tells me he is a descendant of Constantine the Great.  He is Romanian he says and has been here for many years, fleeing persecution in his native land.  He says his family left behind is better off without him, he must leave so they can be safe.  He tells me he has been here for many years but has only been on the streets a few months.  He says that mold was discovered in his apartment, that it was making him sick but no one did anything about it.  He tells me he suffered a small stroke and that scared him.  He left his apartment, for good.  Now he’s on the streets.  He has trouble finding food that he can eat because he can’t cook on the streets and his doctor has told him to not eat salt as it’s making him sick.  His legs are swollen from water retention.  He prays.  He thanks God he says every morning when he wakes up.  Thanks Him that he made it through another night.  He’s cold.  He’s wearing three jackets and three scarves today but he is still cold.  He says he has lost about fifty pounds since September, since he’s been on the streets.  He says he has hope though.  He’s pretty sure he’ll be getting another place in a couple of weeks.  He prays it is mold free.  I pray it is too Constantine.

There is something wrong with this world when we allow a seventy year old man with multiple health issues to sleep on the street.

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  I think maybe God did too……