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Bedbugs or Brutality?

I walked past Jim sleeping outside the convenience store on my way to the bank.  He was OK, probably tired from a late night.  The doorway of the building he was laying across was vacant, and he was ‘out of the way’ at least, from pedestrians and cars.  No danger.  No alarm.

This is Jim’s ‘area’, I guess you could say.  He would pan outside the supermarket, play his guitar for donations (or not), and generally was easy to get along with.  He knew how to do his ‘work’ and got by – as best a person could get by, homeless style.

I have wakened Jim on occasion to see if he was OK, or needed something, or if I had something for him.  Today everything looked good, so I let him sleep.

He comes to the office regularly, and we have gone out of the way to help him with recording some of his songs, created CD’s for him to market and so on.  He appreciates the help, but he is pretty entrenched in his lifestyle for any radical change – at least for now.  So, we do what we can, and wait for the day when he wants to make a change.

Back to the street.

On the way back from the bank, one of Ottawa’s finest has pulled the black and white over the curb just in front of Jim’s spot.  A young constable, mid twenties, has the task of ‘moving Jim “along”.  ( I have yet to discover where ‘along’ is.  For sure it’s not here and not now).

It doesn’t look pretty.  Jim is shaken up from his peaceful sleep, rushing to gather his things to the tune of “Hurry up.  You need to move – NOW!” and other such pleasantries.  Jim slips his foot out of his oversized running shoe and shows the peace officer his feet – black and blue and cut.  “I can’t move fast – look at my feet”, Jim shouts at the policeman, who by now is donning his black leather gloves. 

I stay and watch as a witness, in case something goes awry, but it gets cleared up.  “Cleared up”.  Sounds good, clean, and neat, but it’s far from anything even remotely connected with clean or clear.  It’s messy.

I am grieved whenever I see this happen, and it happens all the time. Some business owner, or not – maybe it’s just time for a ‘sweep’ of our streets from city hall – whatever… it’s dehumanizing, degrading, condescending and sometimes brutal.  It’s about the wielding of power and the power of injustice.

Jim has tried to get housing, but it’s not an easy option for him.  He had to leave his last place because of the bedbugs.  Lots of them – hungry too! 

At the very least, there aren’t any bedbugs on the streets – just the police.

What’s worse?

Modern Day Good Samaritian

Some have asked me to print a story that Brent Daley, one of my buddies at our drop in, has written.  Here it is, with only moderate editing.  Anybody need a ghost writer?

It was the spring of 1995 when I moved back home from Calgary. I was tired after spending 15 years as a mechanical engineering technologist at the University of Calgary, but if the truth be known I was burned out.

The normal three day drive would double because of the shape I was (wasn’t) in both physically and mentally.  My aging Honda Civic was packed full and the utility trailer I was hauling had more than double it’s capacity.  I had everything I owned with me.

 An early May morning on the north shore of Lake Superior showed God’s handiwork: deep blue sky, blue lake, paper white beaches, trees in bloom – it was a picture postcard.  Highway good, no traffic, my gas tank was ¾ full with 30 miles from the last town and 20 to the next. That is when the trouble began.

 My body tensed when I heard the loud crunch and grind behind me, and I was surprised to see my right hand trailer wheel come off, pass me, jump the gravel ditch and come to rest on the tree line.   Of course I immediately pulled over into the gravel and stopped. I went for a walk to retrieve the tire as I had no spare and took it back to the car. Upon further inspection I discovered that the complete wheel had pulled off the trailer, right over the wheel nuts. The bolt holes on the wheel had become enlarged to accomplish this. What to do?

 I sat on the trunk of the car to ponder my predicament. While I was having a smoke and a think, a car came along in the opposite direction. His brakes lights indicated he was stopping, and a quick U-turn confirmed his intention.  I was alone with a considerable amount of cash with me so I was a little leery of the situation. I noticed that there was a man driving and a woman in the passenger seat knitting. I felt a little more at ease. The man got out of his car and approached me asking what the problem was. I explained to him about the wheel and how it had come off. He asked me if I had tools, a jack for the trailer and some washers in the tool box which I assured him I did. He said “Come on and I will give you a hand to fix the problem.”

 He and his wife had been vacationing in Toronto, now on route home to  Thunder Bay. He was a motor mechanic and his wife was a registered nurse. Within 20 minutes he had the wheel back on the trailer, using the washers to have the nuts hold the wheel in place. He made the wheel spin true and jacked the trailer down.  Ready to go. I put the tools and jack back in my trunk and went to shake his hand.

 “What do I owe you for your time and help?” I asked.

 “Well, let me tell you.  Last night I hit a patch of water on the highway near Barrie.  I lost control of the car and it jumped the ditch.  Both front tires were blown on impact.  A farmer came along and pulled me out of the ditch, went and got his pickup truck and took me into Barrie to purchase new tires. When we returned to the car the farmer helped me install the new wheels and I asked him that same question you just asked me.”

“He told me that I owed him nothing, but that if I was given the opportunity I should do a similar kindness for someone else. I have now done that and what you owe me is to pass it along”.

 I have often thought of that mechanic and the help he gave me out in the middle of the northern Ontario wilderness that fine morning in May. I have had opportunity to pass along the favor many times. It has always struck me that if everyone in the world treated each other the way he treated me this would be a much better place to live.

 Brent Daley, July, 2010

Getting a Place of Your Own

Harry has been desperately searching for shelter since he was released from jail three months ago.  He has been squeaky clean – no drugs or alcohol since his discharge.  He is pleasant, kind and often helps others with their troubles.  (Oh yes, he’s still a bit rough around the edges, but we are proud and happy to see how he is managing things at this time).  The one major glitch in his life right now is finding a place of his own. 

I spoke with him at some length and he gave me the ‘Housing 101’ summary.  I took note of his thoughts and feelings about what it is like to have your own place.  Three phases: On the streets; Looking for Housing; Finding a place.

ON THE STREETS

You are nothing.  Nobody wants to know you, know who you are. You’re the bottom of the shoe.  You feel like a ‘low life’, limbo, and you are always wondering the ‘what if’s’: what if this, what if that.  You feel like an empty shell, like you are just spinning your wheels.  You feel depressed, deprived, miserable, and angry – angry at yourself.  You get depressed, real depressed.

LOOKING FOR HOUSING

Agencies, housing help, your worker… it’s all the same story.  It’s one long headache.  Living in a bad area is worse than homelessness – people always knocking on your door, buy this/that… there’s no stopping it.  So ANGRY!

Me: ‘How hard is it? One to ten?’

TEN!  It’s not about money. If you’re starting over, you need money, references, someone to vouch for you.  Twenty years ago, if you had the money, you were ‘in’.  Not today!  Used to be:  “Oh, on ODSP (Ontario Disability Service Plan)?  OK, just fill out this form.”  Not now.  It’s fill out this form, that form, get references, who will vouch for you? When something comes up, we’ll call you.’

It doesn’t happen.  Not any more.  Getting housing is like winning the lottery – about the same chances.

WHEN YOU FINALLY GET HOUSING

It’s about 100,000 pounds off your chest.  Your mind is at ease, all the pressures are gone, complete turnaround.   If you got no place, and then you get a place, you lose the anger, you can relax.

It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s yours.  You go to the door. You have the key.  You open the door and shut the world out behind you.  Maybe you have a TV here, a bed there, a little table – it’s your place, your domain…

When you finally get your own place, you can begin to think about what to do next.  You have more patience, you can start to plan.  You’re not on the edge, not jumpy.

You get a place, you see things different; you answer different – there’s no more anger in your voice.

You can put your feet up and say, “I’m home and this is mine.”

Getting a place can make the difference between success in reintegration and re-offending. We’re doing what we can to make Harry’s search successful.

Word from the Drop In

Speaking with Brent at the drop in last week, I discoverd he had an aptitude and interest in writing.  I asked him to write about our Wednesday drop in and describe from the front lines, what it was like.  Without editing, here is his report:

One of the best kept secrets amounge people of limited income, who live in Ottawa, is the Ottawa Innercity Mission’s (OIM’s) Wednesday Drop-in. I have been a semi-regular at these drop-in’s since before they took up residence at their present location. I will try to explain here most of the reasons for my attendance at this particular function..

 The drop-in is held every Wednesday year round at their new location on Gladstone Ave. between Bank and Kent streets.in the Salvation Army Church building and easily accessible by several OC Transpo bus routes. It is free and open to everyone who cares to attend. I like to attend because of the relaxed atmosphere which is well organized, clean, well maintained and usually quite quiet and very well run. Although OIM is a Christian based organization, there is no lectures, chapel services or religious readings at these drop-ins. The people who attend maintain an atmosphere which is quite controlled, friendly and easy going. Staff members and volunteers mix freely with the patrons. There are several aspects to the program throughout the day which I will explain here.

 The door is open at at 10:00 am and the entire building is utilized. The first 25 people through the door are offered food bank tickets, which I will come to in a moment. On the lower level coffee, tea, milk and juice are available all day. At opening time there is a selection of breads, muffins, cookies and the like (breakfast) available. People gather in groups to talk, play cards or other games, read or just generally socialize. It is a great place to meet old friends or make new ones. At noon a hot meal is served at the tables and there is always enough food that seconds are regularly offered The volunteers serve up the food and everyone is encouraged to eat their fill. After lunch is served the volunteers and staff usually circulate throughout the room offering a selection of sandwiches and some type of desert. Promptly at 1:00pm one of the staff members begins to call numbers for the food bank offerings and groceries are distributed in an orderly fashion. Many people stay on to chat, socialize and play cards until 3:00 in the afternoon.

 On the second level there is a barber who, on a first come first served basis, will cut your hair for free. Rudy usually does between 12 and 15 haircuts throughout the day but he does take the summer months off. There is also a foot care clinic there where you can get your feet cleaned and once dried you will receive a new pair of socks. A chiropractic doctor is available afternoon for those who need his services.

 The third level of the building has a room which offers a selection of used clothing and footwear. This is quite popular first thing in the morning as that is when selection is best. If you can’t find what you want, come back again next week as there are always new offerings available.

 All in all OIM runs a great, fun, safe and much appreciated program. I would encourage everyone of limited means to come out and participate in a great weekly event. It is well worth the price of admission. 

 Hope this meets your needs.  I will get the other article bout the good samaritan written this afternoon or evening.  I am making preperations to get away for the weekend so am very busy.  Cheers.

Brent

 If you would like to read Brent’s article about the good samaritan, let me know by responding to this blog.  Cheers!

100% Success Rate at OIM!!

 ‘So what kind of success rate do you have with people?’  I looked at this person while a whirlwind of thoughts raced around in my head, almost like the dog chasing his tail.

My friend was thinking there might be a 3%, or maybe 5% success rate – where a person who lives in abject poverty, on the streets, ‘recovers’ and breaks the cycle of poverty, gets a job, an apartment, a family and all the other trappings that accompany the ‘Canadian dream’.

My mind flashed to people that I knew on the streets: people that had been sexually abused for many years as children and who had articulated these abuses only after living with them in silence for over 20 years;  I thought of others who were trapped in the dark cycle of drug and alcohol addiction which started as self-medication to deal with the beatings received from father, mother, step-parent or whoever; then of the teenage girl who brought her new born baby to the drop in for help, looking for someone – anyone who might show her real love, because in her experience people had only used her as if she were a piece of meat, a commodity that could be sold, rented or used.

All this raced through my mind in just a few seconds, with my friend waiting for an answer to his probing question.

‘One hundred percent,’ I replied, ‘We have a 100% success rate.’

His mouth dropped open in disbelief.  ‘What??  How??’

‘Each time we hand out a sandwich, or sleeping bag, or pair of socks, we build relationship with people who have never had relationship before.  It brings someone a step closer to a time when a light will come on and they will make better decisions and life choices.’

Some agencies count their ‘success’ by the number of plates served at a shelter or drop in (not withstanding that many folks will have five helpings!), or the number of people who attend a chapel service in order to receive a meal ticket, or the number of youth who will participate in a ‘project’ so as to make them eligible to receive services.

We count the number of positive interactions we have with our street friends at our drop in services or on the street through outreach.  It’s all about relationship (and 100% success).