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A Humbling Experience

Recently, a few of us were talking about people we had met through the drop in and where they were. I talked about John, a man that I had met over 15 years ago when we ran our drop in out of another location downtown. John was a homeless man who had his challenges being homeless with mental illness issues. He was a flamboyant individual, colourful, always had an opinion and was willing to discuss any current topic and extremely political. (If he could have found a way to control his mental illness, I do believe he would have made an attempt to become a politician. But that is another story.)

John’s colourful dress reflected his mood and his outlook. I had once told him he reminded me of a peacock because he always had feathers in his hat and he was brightly dressed. I didn’t mean it as an insult and he didn’t take it that way. It sparked a friendship that has lasted many years…

During Christmas of 2005 my father died, predeceased by mother in 1994 and both in the month of December which makes the period of Christmas hard for me.

In May 2006 I am outside the drop in and in a real depressed mood. We had just put dad in the ground and I am dealing with a lot of emotions; guilt, everything associated with the loss of your last parent. With no close family nearby to talk to I am isolated, with my only siblings in British Columbia. John comes up to me pushing his grocery cart filled with his worldly possessions and sees that I am depressed and asks me what is wrong and I tell him. No one else has picked up on this, or if they have they haven’t asked.

He leans over and very quietly says to me, “I have been there brother. I know exactly what you are going through. I am here for you if you need to talk.” He reaches out, squeezes my shoulder, looks me in the eye and something passes between us that can’t be expressed in words. Tears flow and I mumble ‘thanks.’

Every week I give up my time for the homeless, the marginalized, to support them. And, here, it took a homeless man to recognize my pain and hurt and to provide me the one thing I needed: unconditional love. I was humbled, I was loved and I learned a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Love comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. We just need to learn to recognize it and accept it.

 

Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: A Mighty Man Hidden

I trust you are enjoying our little get-togethers. I find myself again wanting to share with you about a friend named Bob. (As I will always share, for the sake of anonymity, everyone in this series of posts will be named Bob. This will be my standard opening, so I trust you will be patient with me.)

Back to “Bob.”

Bob is a wonderful guy. He’s articulate, engaging in conversation. He presents that air of an intellectual, but not stuffy or arrogant; just genuinely interested in conversation that goes deeper than the weather. I have sat and talked with Bob several times, and enjoy our conversations very much.

In honesty, I am still waiting for the opportunity for our conversations to get personal. Not just theological about Faith and Christ, but where trust and opportunity will present themselves in time. The reason I am mentioning Bob here is that I truly wonder what set of circumstances has brought him to the place where access to a self-sustaining life is limited and the need for support is high.

We are so fortunate at OIM to be able to support and come alongside our friends like Bob.

As for Bob’s life, with many trauma survivors their ability to guard and protect themselves is highly developed, so he has only shared small bits of that part of his life with me so far. In appearance and conversation though, Bob would fit very comfortably within any social environment. He also applies action to words: whenever he sees that I need help with drop-in duties I don’t need to ask. He just steps in and lends a hand. Bob’s heart and desire to contribute and make a difference in life is evident, even though we run into the big “BUT” that drowns his potential. Bob is quite a paradox and I am genuinely blessed to have met him. I pray also that God brings a revelation of Christ into his life because Bob has so much potential to give and impact the life of others.

Rick O, Staff

Staff Perspectives: What Our Street Community Has Taught Me

Hi, my name is Gabriela. In March, I joined the OIM team as the new Administrative Assistant.

I’m originally from El Salvador and I moved to Canada last year. When you come from a country like mine (a beautiful country but with many problems, including widespread poverty and homelessness) it’s hard to think that a country like Canada still faces homelessness.

But, unfortunately, it does.

Before working with the street-engaged community through OIM, I didn’t give much thought to why someone ends up homeless. Even just walking downtown, where you see homelessness staring you in the face, you can become numb to the situation. You see it everyday. So, without even bothering to look at a homeless person, you simply walk by.

That’s why I am grateful to be working at OIM.

My time with this ministry has been an enriching experience in so many ways. My perception about homelessness has changed, I have learned so much from our street friends. I have learnt how empathy can change things even if it’s not always easy to imagine what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes. At times, it’s just easier to judge or to assume that if someone is in that situation (homeless) it must be because of their life choices. But, it’s more than that. Much more.

And I’ve also learned about the strength of character that resides in each person who visits us at the office.

Every week our street friend ‘Rob’ comes to the Stop-In at our office. He is constantly struggling with mental health issues and feels overwhelmed and negative towards life. But what surprises me about him is that even in his toughest week he never forgets to ask me how I am doing and how my week is going.

Being at OIM has definitely been a one-of-a-kind experience. I have learnt to never underestimate what a small act of kindness can do; you don’t need to do extraordinary things to help others. Often something as simple as having the time to listen or share with someone is enough.

It is in conversations with individuals like ‘Rob’ that I have learned to become more caring, understanding and patient.

That’s what our street friends teach me, each and every day.

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week – just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, “I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn’t feel like it tonight at least.”

Stop. Pause.

What if it was you?

You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of ‘no good’, you’ll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort…

Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits…

How would that make you feel?

For the one’s and two’s and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, ‘everything’ (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home.

A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was ‘you?’ I know it would mean a lot to me.

Ken MacLaren

Imagine A World With More HOPE

george frederick watts hope paintings

This is George Frederic Watts 1886 painting, “Hope.” Hope is sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left intact. She sits in a hunched position, with her head leaning towards the instrument, perhaps so she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string.

This painting,  inspired a scene from a (1922 film) of the same name and it is thought by some that it had an influence on Picasso’s early ‘Blue Period’ paintings.

Nelson Mandella reportedly had a print of the painting on the wall of his prison cell on Robben Island..

After Egypt was defeated by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Egyptian government issued copies of this painting to its troops.

The painting was the subject of a lecture by Dr Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, who described it as a study in contradictions. The lecture was attended by Jeremiah Wright and inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 on the subject of Hope. He said:

…with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God … To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope … that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting.

Barack Obama attended this sermon, and later adopted the phrase “audacity of hope” as the title for his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address as well as the title of his second book. Obama’s speech instantly catapulted him to a national stage, both as a star within the Democratic party and set the stage for the day that he would become president.

Imagine a World with more Hope.

Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may overflow with hope.

Ken MacLaren

 

 

 

Danielle’s Story: Episode 3 – A repose in the midst of trouble

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

As soon as I turned 16, my friend’s mother invited me to live with them. It was a very emotional experience finally escaping my family once and for all.

It was a highlight of my life.

I remember laying down in the small bedroom that they let me stay in. They painted a nice cloud on the ceiling and they all were so very sweet.

At the same time, I was worried about how they might treat me. I had these panic attacks, with my heart racing and feeling like I was about to die.

I was confused emotionally, and scared, I guess.

My friends mom was very structured. She taught me about doing chores: doing dishes, laundry and all that. She never yelled at me, included me in the trips to the cottage, included me in all their family activities, helping in the garden.

They noticed that I was struggling with my homework, so they sat down with me at the table and helped me focus. I just wanted to write stories, but they helped me get through school.

 Living with my friend proved to be the safest time in my life that I have ever felt. My grades went from D’s to A’s. 

Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone.

Why not let them know that they are NOT alone?

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 1 – Early Life

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

Hi my name is Danielle. This Christmas, I’d like to share my story with you- not to make you feel sorry for me, but because, I strongly believe stories help bring communities closer together. They teach us powerful lessons. They help us grow. They teach us to be thankful. I am so very thankful for all that God has given to me through OIM and people in our  community who really want to help others. Stayed tuned to Family Radio CHRI to hear my story after the 8 AM and 5 o’clock evening news. Here is my story as I told Ken.

My father had been disowned by his parents; my mom lived in a group home and suffered from mental health issues. After my mom became pregnant with me while staying at the group home, she left the province and cut all ties with my birth dad. I never met him as a child. He tried to make contact,  but my mom would not allow it. When I asked my mom about my dad, she never told me the truth, she changed the stories all the time. She told me she didn’t know where he was, but I found out later, she knew where he was all the time.  I remember as a young child asking God to please help me find my father. But I never found him.

 My step dad came into the picture when we moved to a different province, and they had a child together. I had friends that wouldn’t talk to me because my mom would tell them untrue things about me.

 It was also around then, I noticed my mother was acting very strange – she and my step dad fought constantly and she’d throw things at my stepfather. He was using drugs and alcohol regularly, and when my sister was born, she had developmental and speech delays that really affected her.  

 When my brother was born, he had even more learning disabilities. They beat him with a belt, threw him down the stairs, yelled in his ear – he can’t hear properly even now.  He hurt his sister with his metal toy car, and my step dad took the metal toy car and hit him with it on the head.

 At the  time, I wished my siblings had never been born. I think my parents stopped loving me.

 

Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone.

Why not let them know that they are NOT alone?

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

 

Shane’s Story, Episode 6: The System – Welfare

Shane’s Story is an eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!”

Listen to the first part of her story by clicking on the ‘play’ button below, then read the rest in this post:

I filled out forms for CPP as a surviving child – if one or both of your parents die before you’re 25, they will help you.  I am also on Welfare, so they consider the money from CPP as earnings – although I didn’t ‘earn it’ – I have an overpayment of $600 although I didn’t receive that much, so after this (meeting) I have to go over and talk to them.

My welfare worker always tries to play funny games.  Others too – just to get you going. I’ve only had one good worker, the rest are always on you, on you, on you…

I’d even have Doctor’s notes to say, “I’m not all here,” (mental health wise). So don’t try to poke me. Don’t do it, ‘cause I’m gonna get in trouble, and both of us are gonna end up getting hurt. Just me or you, or both of us.

But they still like to poke.

During the OC transpo strike, I had to go to school in order to get my welfare, ‘cause I was under age and it was a condition. They knew we’re dealing with mental health issues, and my dad just died and I’m just going crazy. I’m breaking everything. I’m breaking my face with pans, every chance that I get, just take it and swing it at myself – just to feel like different.

It was an hour walk from where I was living to school in minus 30 in the winter, and another hour back to where I was staying. That’s what she (my worker) wanted me to do. You’re not supposed to have to walk if it’s that long, and you’re not supposed to do it, but she didn’t care. She just cut off my money. Too bad. Go to school – that’s easy for you to say, you have a car.

Right now, because I get CPP… it’s been difficult with CPP

When I found out about CPP and applied, welfare was nattering at me and needing more and more information, and they kept on cutting my cheque, putting stop payments, trying to get it back. I hadn’t received any money from my dad’s CPP yet, I don’t know, they just try to get away with stuff. Stuff they can’t get caught on.

When my dad died, OW (Ontario Works) asked for his S.I.N. number for his information , and somehow she mixed up my dad’s and my S.I.N. number, which she had on her file, which she could have looked at any time she opened my file: she opened my file with my dad’s number and it came up wrong, deceased or expired, so I had to keep going over to City hall and tell them there’s something wrong with my card; they’d check on my S.I.N. number and said it was perfectly fine. Then back to my worker and she said, ‘No, it’s broken, you must be lying. Go back to City hall, which I did. They again said, ‘No, its fine,’ and they’d give me a stamp of approval, and I’d go back and she’d type it in again, and she’d say, ‘Oh, my mistake.’ I don’t think it was an accident. You would have to go into my file and change my information. This is not an accident. She was just stringing me along.

I didn’t know if I’d have rent or food. What was I going to do? I couldn’t buy tampons if I didn’t have any money – so… black pants for this month. Then I got another worker. She was better.

For a while that is, then there would be a letter: You have been cut off.

For my cheque, I only get $120 each month for basic needs. The rent is paid directly and then there is just $120 left. They expect you to keep a cell phone paid for, just so that they can stay in touch with you.

I know people who scam off welfare, and they never get caught. I’m just trying to get by and it’s so hard.  Maybe these people just get lucky, I don’t know. They never get cut, they never get notes, or bad phone calls, they just get money.

I jump through hoops and try to do everything right, but they still take away my money.

Shane’s Story, Episode 5: My Own Place

Shane’s Story is a eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!”

Listen to a part of her story by clicking the ‘play’ button below, then read the rest of her story in this post:

I got my place last spring.

housing 2

The door of Shane’s room the day she moved in. Notice the hole where the door handle should be.

I met this kid panhandling and he lived in the building. I told him I really needed a place. I told him I had a dog and really need somewhere safe and warm to keep him. He told me there was a room available in his rooming house. It was beside his room, and the place was really disgusting.  It was really gross. It’s a building full of bachelors, of addicts and dealers but that’s what you get. There were spiders, cockroaches, bedbugs – but there’s no house centipedes though, and I’m pretty happy about that. None! The room though was an absolute pigsty. There was grime to the point that I had to scrape it off with a knife. There was something that kept coming up off the tile that was really gooey and sticky. Really sticky. You had to scrub it off with hot water.  I don’t know what I was cleaning up there, but it was pretty bad. Once I got it tolerable, I put my stuff in there. It took like two weeks to get it at least decent. That’s like without cleaning the walls or without cleaning the window, or checking under the bed box to see what garbage is under there. I still don’t know. It’s a secret (laughter). The underneath of my bed – I don’t want to know. (laughter)

It’s weird sharing a shower and a toilet with like 20 other people. They pee all over the floor. I have to wear my shoes into the toilet, you have to take toilet paper with you and bring it back with you.

housing1

The floor of Shane’s room.

I’m paying $470 for a tiny little infested room that’s not even up to code. Like one of my windows is not really a window – it’s a board with a nail holding it in place. I had to make my own ‘fixes’ – they wouldn’t put caulking under the box for my bed and the bugs were crawling in and out of there. ‘No, don’t do that to me. I don’t want bugs near my bed’, so I finally got some white duct tape and taped it. They (landlords) don’t really do much.

Bedbugs? Oh yea. Landlord only sprays one room at a time, so each time the landlord sprays one room, the bedbugs that survive just over to the next person’s room. He sprays that room and they crawl upstairs to where it’s safe. They just keep going. We just push them around really. I’m waiting for the time they push them back into my room, ‘cause I’m highly allergic. My face will swell and it’s bad. I had to go to the doctor a couple of times, and get hard core allergy medication.

They’re not in my room now. I had to go out and buy powder that’s safe for animals. I put that on the floor around my bed, and if they come in, they’re dead.

You brush it into the baseboards, and if they try to get in there and hide, they die. It’s pretty bug proof.  Cockroaches though, I don’t know how to get rid of them. They just keep comin’. From my dresser too- I don’t know why ‘cause in there there’s only clean clothes. They’re not in my pantry though. Not even a nuclear bomb will kill them.

bed bugs

A swollen bed bug bite on Shane’s arm.

Shane’s Story, Episode 3: On My Own

Shane’s Story is a eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal’s story. Tweet it to your friends – it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane’s special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!”

Click the play button to hear a part of her story, then read the rest below:

When I was 16 I left the foster home. For a little bit I went back home, test the waters thinking that maybe, maybe it will be better this time. Maybe they will actually take me seriously, but uh, nope. I ended up getting kicked out.  I guess I kind of exploded after a bit…

Drugs started pretty young, I think 14. Someone asked me if I wanted to smoke some grass. I said don’t be stupid you don’t smoke grass, but then he explained it and that was my first time.

It was really weird the first time, it wasn’t very pleasant. But I kept doing it. It was ok. Then my friends introduced me to a boy – I  kinda ended up dating him for awhile and almost got pregnant. He would steal beer from his Dad because his Dad was an alcoholic, so we all started drinking. He couldn’t even keep track of how many beers he had. He would buy like 3 or 4 two-fours and take 5 out of box and you would never know (laughter). He figured he drank them.

When I was at the foster home, I got into a band and the drummer of the band was into ecstasy and he offered me some. I didn’t know what it was, he explained it to me and I took that.

After that I went crazy.

I started doing Ritalin. I met another boy who I started dating and he had ADHD so he had hard Ritalin. So he would toss me a few of those.  I would get messed up. Then it was uppers, downers, all arounders… it wasn’t until that I started doing dirty street drugs, like the really gross stuff that I saw how much trouble I was in. I’m gonna die! But it was a way to escape, to stop being angry for a while. If I was messed up I could talk more I would make more friends, people start calling me. Who the hell are you? Sure ya I’ll go hang out (laughter).

I started doing Gravol because I could get a lot of it, that’s easy because I could go into the pharmacy that’s easy just take like 5 or 10 of them. Have a good day. Then it was MDMA, mushrooms, acid and then after that I got into ketamine. I never banged needles. I am afraid of the flu shot so why I am gonna stick myself ? I almost did but once it touched the skin I was like no I can’t it’s gonna hurt.  I never did that. But if I could put it up my nose, up my nose it went. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t buy it.

I started getting paranoid thinking I was gonna have a heart attack. I’m gonna fall asleep and my heart will actually slow down and stop and I’ll die. Eventually that got to be too much and you would start getting mad at yourself if did it because you knew it was going to happen. I knew that I would freak out but I did it anyways. Then I started to snap out of it.  Eventually you start saying no or like prolonged periods without. That was pretty cool. I don’t think many people snap themselves out of it.

This was just a couple years ago. When I was living in Quebec I had hit my worse like, 5 speed pills a day.

Worse worse. And I would still like push for more. If I could get a little bit more that day I would get a little bit more.

I had to run away from my boyfriend. He kept wanting to do drugs and I didn’t want to anymore. He keeps getting scary so I packed my bags & I left.

That was the worst time of my life: getting off speed.