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New Perspective on Home

I attend St. Albans Anglican Church in downtown Ottawa. We are lucky to have space in the midst of both the Market, nearby Centretown, and Sandy Hill. We feel as though we are surrounded by busy city life, with event constantly taking place and people coming and going.

It also means our church body lives with neighbours experiencing poverty and homelessness, in fact our church body, itself, has members who find themselves living in shelters or on the streets. It is a stark reality of urban life, and one our congregational is learning to navigate with sensitivity and compassion. It certainly helps that Centre 454, a social service, is located in the lower half of our church building. The folks who work and volunteer there are the same as those you would encounter at OIM–deeply caring and passionate people.

Though we have the pleasure of housing Centre 454 and partnering with them in their ministry, it can be difficult to know how to incorporate our church’s youth into this part of our life together. We have a small but energetic group and as leaders who see Jesus’ strong dedication to social justice we know it is essential to be able to invite our young men, women and children into experiences that can foster understanding.

As a staff member at OIM I knew about our One Homeless Night program, which invites youth to walk for a night in the shoes of one of their peers experiencing homelessness. Though our size did not lend itself to this activity we truly wanted our youth to experience the lessons and principles that this activity offer.

We invited OIM’s Youth Outreach Worker to join us for an evening of discussion, and walk of ‘new perspective’. We traveled around our own neighbourhood, of Sandy Hill, in the rain, trying to see with new insight the individuals and stories of our very own street community. Some of the stories were difficult, and our youth struggled to understand, but more often than not they rose to the occasion with questions and concern. It was unbelievably valuable experience, and one we brought to a close by packing gifts for the Passion 4 Youth participants and, of course, prayer.

It was imperative that we not only see and understand, but that we follow with action.

I hope next year our numbers will grow, or that we might partner with other churches for a full overnight One Homeless Night event. For now, I am grateful that OIM, a place care for dearly, was able to bless my youth with a new perspective for their own homes, and to challenge them how they might invite inclusion and create spaces of safety and support for their neighbours.

 

Selina,

OIM Staff

If you’re interested in organizing a One Homless Night event with your youth group or school visit our One Homeless Night page for more information.

Volunteer Perspective: Why I Love Outreach

I love street outreach. I don’t go out because of a sense of obligation, or because it’s what ‘good Christians’ do to get on God’s nice list. I really love going out on the streets every week with a bag or two stuffed with things that I can bless our street friends with.

Before I began street outreach I hated the feeling I got in my stomach whenever I saw somebody on the street asking for change. I never knew what to do. I thought, “what if I give them change and they spend it on drugs or booze?”  I felt terrible, mumbling excuses about not having change, just walking by not making eye contact.

One freezing day while downtown during Winterlude (a big winter festival in Ottawa) with my family, God showed me a better way. As we were passing by a young man asking for change below the underpass, I remembered the granola bars and hand warmers we had tucked under my toddler’s stroller. When we offered them to our new street friend he gratefully accepted. A light went on in my head! It was so easy to be a blessing, and each of us received something out of it.

I contacted Ottawa Innercity Ministries and started their Urban Intervention Training, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the streets and start outreach. Shortly after I started going out on outreach our family had taken some major blows. It has been emotionally exhausting at times, but as Joyce Meyers says “When you’re feeling down, go out and do something good for someone else! Be a blessing and you will feel better.” She is so right. It’s impossible to stay in the ‘sorry for myself rut’ when I’m focused on someone else rather than on myself.

Last night our street outreach team met a street friend who asked for prayers for his dad who is dying of cancer. We took turns praying for his dad right there with him on the street. I was shocked and humbled by our street friend’s words when he started to pray. Instead of asking for housing for himself, and provisions of any kind, instead of asking for food, or even healing for his dying dad, he just thanked God over and over for so many things. He thanked God for the privilege of having known so great a man as his father, for friends, for the blessing of knowing what it is to be homeless and to be able to reach out in kindness to his fellow street friends. Wow. How many times have I come to God with a list of requests as long as my arm and tacked on a quick ‘thank you’ at end? I was deeply humbled by this beautiful prayer by such a sweet man.

I love outreach, because since I started I have begun to look at the world differently. I see people in my city differently, I see myself differently, and I see God differently. Thanks be to Him.

Blessings,

Jen

 

If you are interested in learning more about Street Outreach or our Urban Intervention Training (winter program starting Jan. 30th) contact our office at 613-237-6031, or email us at ottawainnercity@rogers.com. 

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 7: A Real Home for Christmas

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from family radio 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’s home like now?

 I went from being homeless, to getting into a rooming house, to an apartment.  Now I have a condo.  It’s not the biggest place in the world, it’s not the most fancy, but it’s clean, it’s safe and it’s in a good neighbourhood. I want to get a bigger place, like a townhouse with more space maybe a small yard for the boys… although sometimes I think I don’t want to move away from this place, like it’s small, but it’s the first place I’ve ever had that actually felt like home. 

I don’t go home and sit and worry, I go home, and I’m gonna take a bath and put my robe on and sit on the couch, and play with my kids.  Before when I’d go home, I’d have to eat, and to do that, I’d have to take out dishes, then I’d have to wash the dishes, ‘cause there’s cockroaches all over them, and now, I have a safe haven.

The only other place I feel safe other than home now, is art group.  I don’t have to worry while I’m there.  Now when I go, I take my shoes off, go get dinner, then someone comes along and lifts up my feet, walks through, and sits beside me, and we eat and talk and it feels like home – the way home should be, not like what I’ve had my whole life.  I didn’t get to this point until two months before I had my second child – I was so stressed then, in 2011 – I advertised to try to get a place, but  when the landlord found out I was on ODSP (Ontario Disability Service Plan) I was turned away – every time.

I finally found a place, a two bedroom with hardwood floors, where Tim and me and my two kids live today.  The landlord was willing to rent to me and even gave me a deal.  I couldn’t believe it!  I asked her, ‘Why?’  She said, ‘Because I was you. I was a young mom, and nobody would ever rent to me.  I saw your story, and it made me like, ‘I want to help you.’

All these little pieces that came together make this a home for me now.  Last night I was out, and like, ‘I want to go home, and I was really excited. I was looking forward to it.’ It’s safe and it’s my home.

If I can have my kids and we’re safe, and I don’t worry at night, that’s home.’

Thanks for helping us as we continue to reach out through Street Outreach, Drop in programs and our Passion 4 Youth art program.  Thank you too for your special Christmas donation to help us continue to make a difference in the lives of people on the streets.  Without your support, we could not continue.  Click ‘Donate Now’.

“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!

A Special heARTfelt Thursday: Sneak Peek!

P4Y Art Show Collage 2013-11-191

Texture, colour, pattern, meaning…

OIM is excited to extend an invitation to friends and community members for the up-coming Passion 4 Youth art show.

The Passion 4 Youth artists have been hard at work this Fall to create pieces that explore the idea of violence and social structures. Each artist has created an art piece that represents a major structure in our city that has had a positive or negative influence on their lives. From the perspective of a street-engaged youth, we will be looking at the Children’s Aid Society, the criminal justice system, financial institutions, immigration, the media, health facilities, and many more.

We encourage you to come out. Doors will be open 7:00pm-9:00pm, and there will be a suggested $5 donation at the door. Light refreshments provided.

Tabaret Hall, Room 112, uOttawa–550 Cumberland St.