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Christmas on the Streets

Christmas on the street is not a happy time.  In fact, it is a period of time in the street community that weighs heavily on our street friends.  Memories of what once was but will never be; images of turkey dinners replaced with plastic utensils and Styrofoam plates: good memories belong only to Christmas past, for some it’s reliving the nightmare of drunkenness and abuse.

It should have come as no surprise to me when this week I asked different friends at the drop in to tell me of what a ‘best Christmas’ might look like.  I was gathering information for upcoming promotional materials, hoping to let my readers gain a better picture of how it really is on the streets.

Some would not participate: memories too difficult to recollect;  sounds unlike Christmas bells fill their minds and hearts; many commenting that they didn’t believe in Christmas – the hype, the rush, the crowds – but mostly not wanting to articulate the loneliness and emptiness that so many feel so deeply.

Some did respond. Greg said his best Christmas was last year.  Why?  “Because I was breathing.” What would make up his ‘best Christmas’? “This one, if I am breathing.”  Anything to look forward to in the New Year?  “Yes,” he responded, “breathing.”  It’s really more than a trite same answer to my questions, but an acknowledgement that folks on the street really do live one moment to the next.  Nothing is certain for the future, no guarantees from anyone, any expectations long dashed on the rocks of reality, and hope has long vanished into the silent night.

I think that people have thought and felt this way before.  Many have just given up, and live one day – no, one moment to the next.

This is how many people who call the streets their home feel and think.  It’s a dark world.  We have the privilege and opportunity to enter this world, when invited, and bring another message.

I think it may have been like this so many years ago, when a voice resounded in the heavens, “Hey, unto you a son has been given.”

Moved with Compassion

Returning to the office in the early evening to gather some materials I had forgotten, I discovered the first of the evening outreach workers at the back preparing for the night.

Each weeknight teams of trained volunteers  prepare knapsacks full of sandwiches, drink boxes, personal care items and other ‘treats’ which might be available, in preparation for their venture into the downtown core.  These items are important in that they are ‘immediate felt need’ items, but are more important as they serve as the means to make initial connections with people on the streets.  We use them as tools to introduce ourselves to our friends, and they also help us continue relationships with those whom we have already met. It means something to us to be able to provide a sandwich, snack and juice box to someone who has not eaten for some time.

Hamish was in the back store room area of the office, considering and selecting things to put in the outreach bags which bear the OIM logo.  Here was a faithful worker who was moved with compassion to those who are in need.

It wasn’t always like that for Hamish.  There was a time, he told me, that he ‘just walked around them’ on the sidewalk, and not give them a second thought.

Now he seeks them out and is compelled to help in any way he can.

With his eyes moist with tears, he told me about the disparagement of giving some of these same supplies to two of our street friends, while at the same time noticing people less than thirty feet away, sipping wine and enjoying the very best of Ottawa’s cuisine and night life.  ‘It just isn’t right’, he told me.

He never thought he would be doing this; never thought about those on the streets at all until he came ‘just to see’ what was happening at our Urban Intervention Training.  As he came to a deeper understanding of some of the stories of our street friends, his heart was touched and he knew he would have to do something.

 His life has been changed, enriched and blessed as he reaches out to those who call the streets their home.  He never expected to be an outreach worker, but he is thankful that he has opportunity to do something for those who are without.

What about you?  Ready for some change in your life?

Live and Silent Auction – the details

Generally speaking the needs on the street are increasing and for many charities across Canada, there are dwindling resources as people are faced with financial crises of various sorts.  We are hosting a fund raising auction that I would like you to attend.  The details are in the rotating banner above, but if you are interested, I would like to share with you some of the events of the evening:

Greg Paul, well-known speaker and author will be our guest speaker.   Greg is from Sanctuary, Toronto, and in addition to his role as a pastor of a church in the downtown core, has authored two best sellers: God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle.  Another book will soon be released.  Greg is a member of the National Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness and a member of Street Level.

Dave Smith, a renowned philanthropist, businessman and entrepreneur in Ottawa has agreed to be our auctioneer.  Dave has a heart for youth, and has founded the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre.  Additionally, Dave has been instrumental in the process of bringing a residential detox program to Ottawa.

In addition to over 150 Silent Auction items, we have a number of live auction items.  The live auction items will include, but not limited to the following list:

  1. The Rideau Canal Story – a set of 8 customed framed prints celebrating the 150th anniversary of the building of the Rideau Canal, value $1400
  2. Stradivarius Violin (copy) & Two framed prints: Damsels with Stringed Instruments, value $1,000
  3. The OLD WEST Collection: 26 volumes, faux leather covers, time-life series, value $600
  4. Lunch with the Chief Vern White.  Value: priceless!
  5. Romantic Getaway #1, one night at the Lord Elgin, $100 coupon from the Keg, a camera, bath set.  Value $410
  6.  Romantic Getaway #2, two nights at the Auberge de mon petit chum, Wakefield, $100 coupon le Moulin Restaurant Wakefield, Book “Celebration of Love”, special “Basket of Healthy Chocolate”.  Value $500
  7. Big Girl’s Special, One month membership tanning package, Nine West designer sunglasses with Coach case, a gift certificate for cut, style and highlights, and SPA bath set.  Value $650
  8. Big Boy’s Special, One hour plane ride over Ottawa in Cessna 150, Complete car cleaning, DeWalt heavy duty drill, 40 pc socket set, 5 Guy tools, Jack Astor Restaurant Certificates, Haircut, Certificate Play It Again Sports.  Value $545
  9. 98.5 the JEWEL Advertising Kit, Forty 30 second spots on Ottawa’s own “the Jewel” 98.5 fm. Value $2,000
  10. Pitt Special SA2  A plane ride on one of eight ‘Red Baron’ biplanes in Canada.  A ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to ride the wind. Value: $450
  11. ROOM REDO – Upper Room Home Furnishings Gift Certificate $2,000 towards a consultation and furniture remake of a room of your choice in your own home.

Tickets are available by calling our office 613-237-6031.

Love to see you there.  Thanks for your support!

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?