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“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 Big Thank-You for a Wonderful Evening

Everyone here at Ottawa Innercity Ministries, staff, volunteers and street-friends, would like to thank our supporters for coming out to our big event last Friday night. Ballet Magnificat!, premiere North American Christian ballet company, performed its two critically acclaimed pieces: The Arrival and Deliver Us.

The event was an astounding success, with seats filled and the dancers at their best. It was an evening of art and worship.

Proceeds from the event are going towards our ministries, and we would like to especially thank those who made additional contributions throughout the evening.

Our 25th anniversary year is almost done, with the approach of a new year only a few months away. We thank all of those who have continued to support us both with their time, donations, and prayers.

As we celebrate 25 years this year we are celebrating not only a great ministry but the 25 years that we have been privileged to serve the poor. Ottawa Innercity Ministries (OIM) was established in 1988 after Rev. Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward answered God’s call to leave their jobs and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the streets.  Years later, in 2003, Rev. Ken MacLaren assumed the duties of Executive Director and has been faithful leading our mission ever since. While street outreach remains the largest component of OIM’s work today, other ministries include our weekly drop-in, office ‘stop-in’ services, a dynamic youth art program, work skills development as well as advocacy and referrals.

Here at Ottawa Innercity Ministries we believe in giving hope to people who feel that there is none left. Whether on the streets, at our office, or at our drop-in, we offer individualized support and care to those who are feeling lonely and isolated, young and old, and who are just struggling to get by. Our many volunteers help us put our vision into action on a daily basis in order to reach out to all those who call the streets their home.

We would like to thank the Ballet Magnificat company Alpha who made Friday evening the spectacular event it was. As well, thank yous to CHRI Radio for promoting our event throughout the city, Salem Storehouse book store for their efforts getting tickets sold, Swiss Chalet for their in-kind donations, and Woodvale Pentecostal Church for their assistance as a great host.

heARTfelt Thursdays: A Portrait of a Man

 Drawing - Street Outreach
A new volunteer, Sara, with OIM did this drawing recently. It was her first time on Street Outreach, and she was worried she would be nervous. Street Outreach can be unsettling at first, with all the anxieties and expectations swirling inside of you.

Her first stop was to see Clark, who is pictured above. He was sitting outside a store, soggy from the rain. He was happy to see the bright red vest coming.

Sara crouched right next to him–no hesitation–and they talked like old friends. She was kind and gentle with Clark; she listened to him attentively.

The following week Sara showed me this portrait she had drawn of him. It really looks like him, a man seen with eyes of love instead of prejudice. I believe Sara has a gift, the ability to see people the way God sees them: wonderful and loved.

OIM is so thankful for the kind of volunteers we have, like Sara so many of our volunteers see our street-friends as people–valued and loved, wonderfully made. By taking the time to get to know each street-friend Sara was able to see those wonderful parts of them, and look past the soggy street clothes and guarded posture.

I hope when people look at Sara’s portrait they will see Clark as she does, both in this drawing and on the street.

~Moira

OIM Staff

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……

God’s hands on a cold night…

This past Wednesday, Ottawa experienced what I hope was the last winter storm of the year (fingers crossed!). It was windy, snowy and wet. Buses were cancelled and everyone was warned to stay off the messy roads.

But that night, I was scheduled to do outreach from 9-midnight. I would love to tell you that I am a really tough/super-amazing outreach worker who is always motivated to walk the streets to do God’s work.-but that’s just not true. Last Wednesday I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around the empty streets of Ottawa in a storm. In fact, I was secretly hoping that Jeff, my outreach partner, would cancel so I could stay in my nice warm apartment. But he didn’t, so I dragged myself to the office to do outreach.

We did our normal outreach route down Elgin and throughout the market. The streets were mostly empty and quiet. (When the weather is really bad our street friends are much harder to find. Not because they are in a safe, warm place, but because they are anywhere that is an escape from the elements)

On our way back to the office, I was dreaming about the hot shower I would have when I got home, when we heard “Hey outreach!” It was Laura and Kelsey, two youth who I have met a few times on outreach.

Neither had jackets. Neither had boots. Both were soaking wet. “Do you guys have any sleeping bags?” they asked.

We didn’t have any with us, but we told them they could come back to the office with us to get some. They walked back with us to the office, and we learned that they had both been kicked out of their places so they had nowhere to go. There was no space in the youth shelter and both refused to go to the adult shelter, saying they were too scared. Instead, they were going to sleep outside.

They warmed up in the office and changed into dry socks. We gave them food and sleeping bags, and they thanked us over and over before leaving to go find a dry place to sleep.

It was easy for me to give myself a pat on the back that night. “Good job Moira! It’s a good thing you braved the elements so you could help those girls.” Then it occurred to me that I was giving myself a whole lot of credit. When really, God has these two girls in his hands and He will take care of them. He may have used me and Jeff that night, but if we had not done outreach God would have taken care of those girls. And this does not make me feel like I am not needed, but rather reassured God will take care of his children.

 

OIM goes to the Oscars!

Ok…OIM didn’t actually GO to the Oscars…but the film that won ‘Best Documentary Short’ is the story of Inocente Izucar, a street-artist who was living on the streets of San Deigo at the age of 15.  This documentary features a young woman who uses brilliant colours and unique art pieces to rise out of the challenging life on the streets to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional painter.  After watching the trailer, I am anxious to watch the full feature….a story of hope and redemption.  Perhaps you will add it to your movie list too.

Our Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program has many talented young people who are experiencing this story of hope and redemption.  It is a place for street-engaged youth to experience their true value…to feel the power that comes from knowing that you have a part to play in this world.  If you aren’t familiar with this exciting program, look on our website in the lower right-hand corner.  Some of these amazing youth are featured in our Faces Of  OIM.  See what hope looks like…

-Kim

Feeling Human

 

I met Ashley last summer. She had just left her parents house and was staying at a downtown shelter. Like many other youth who first come to the streets, she seemed nervous but excited about being out on her own for the first time. She spoke about her life like she was starting a new adventure. But just like other youth, this excitement began to fade as the harsh realities of the street began to set in. Ashley’s hope for the future seemed to fade too….Ashley showed up at the office recently. She was looking thin and exhausted and she had two fresh black eyes. We talked for awhile and she said she was feeling unhealthy, dirty and exhausted. She talked about how badly people were treating her when they passed by her panhandling on the street. Then she looked at me and said “I just don’t feel human anymore.”

It broke my heart to see Ashley losing herself. I spoke with her about the art group and encouraged her to come out to be among people who have experienced similar feelings. Ashley seemed hesitant but she showed up to art group the next week. I showed her around the art room and introduced her to the other youth but she was still looking depressed and exhausted and she sat down to sketch. As the night went on, a beautiful thing happened. Some of the youth sat with Ashley and got to know her. They complimented her art work and helped her find supplies. I was happy to see her making friends. Part way through the night, I noticed that Ashley was gone so I checked the music room. There were some youth and volunteers jamming together on the guitar, piano and drums. To my surprise, Ashley was playing the djembe. She had a huge smile on her face and was completely engaged in the music. At the end of the night, she told me what a great time she had and that she couldn’t wait to come back the following week.

To see the change in Ashley over the course of two hours was amazing. The youth in the art group are so kind and accepting that they make everyone feel welcome. That night, they made Ashley feel human again.

You Take Donations Don’t You?

We came in this morning to find a note from one of the outreach teams that was out last night.  The team had come across a friend in need and they gave him a bottle of water.  He wanted to pay for it, but the team assured him that it wasn’t necessary.  He then asked ‘you take donations don’t you?’  He then passed a loonie to our team as a donation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this among our community.  So many times, people will come into drop-in and need some item of clothing…a new coat for example to replace one that has grown too big or small.  They don’t simply take a new one, but they leave their coat because they know that someone else could use it.  They give back.  One of our friends came in a couple of weeks ago with a kettle to donate because they had been given another and they didn’t need two.  She said ‘your ministry has been good to me when I’ve needed things…I can give back this way.’

Time and time again…those with the least give the most…

-Kim