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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?

Thanksgiving Drop In Style

Just after the Thanksgiving holiday.  Wednesday drop in.  Friend after friend came up to me and spoke with me very candidly about how much they appreciated what we were doing at the drop in.

Billy Bob told me that last week, he was given six eggs!  What a blessing for him!  He said he budgeted the eggs on a daily basis and they lasted all week.  He couldn’t believe that we would give out fresh eggs.  While he was speaking I was thinking about his complimenting us when, about two and a half months ago, we were able to include a pound of ground beef with the food hampers.  He recounted to me on several occasions since then, on how he had measured the amounts very carefully, and had fresh hamburger for the entire week.  THEN, Billy Bob reminded me of the same thing I was thinking – and again, how very much he appreciated this.

Jeremy walked by, stopped, turned around and told me how much he appreciated all we did at the drop in: the friendly volunteers, the hot meal, haircuts… everything was so great.  He lowered his voice and quietly said, “This is one of my favourite places.”

Susan came up to me directly and thanked me profusely for having so many fresh vegetables to hand out: tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers (donated by a local produce store and distributed to our guys the next day).  She said this was the only place to come and get some fresh vegetables – which she could not afford on her limited budget.

I went upstairs and sat and talked to Brent while he got his feet washed (we do this regularly: soak, massage, rub with lotion and ‘clean sock’ those guests who enjoy this service) and visited.  I noticed the volunteer massage his feet and also the shin and calf, up to the knee.  “What’s this new service?” I queried.  Brent quickly explained this extra service was such a blessing, since he was diabetic and had poor circulation in his legs.  The caregiver smiled and said, “I do this for Brent each time he comes.”

While she was giving this explanation, Peg came up to me, dressed in loose fitting sweat pants and sweater.  “LOOK! LOOK at my back.  SEE? See? My spine is straight” she exclaimed.  I looked as hard as I could, but I really could not see anything.  “See?” she asked as she directed my attention to the lower part of her back with her hand, “See?  It’s straight!  Just after two treatments with Dr. Payne!”

“Oh, so you have been to visit our chiropractor?” I asked.  “You are feeling much better, are you?”

“Oh yes!  ALL my pain is gone and my back is straight now.  Can you see it?  It’s straight,” again directing my vision with a sweep of her hand up and down her lower back.

Our friends/guests who come to receive our services are so very thankful and grateful for these seemingly small bits and pieces of service that we are able to provide.

It’s such a small thing for us, but such a great gift to them!

At Thanksgiving and throughout the year, we are thankful TOGETHER for the many gifts we are able to receive and enjoy!

Auction 2010 Report

Our second (which might become an ‘annual’) auction happened this past Monday, October 4.  Here is a brief report about our evening:

  • Over 220 guests in attendance
  • Over 150 Silent Auction items
  • 16 Live Auction Items
  • 70+ volunteers
  • We raised just over $20,000!

Greg Paul, author of God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle, spoke passionately about the role people caught in poverty can play in our lives.  Drawing principals from Isaiah 58, Greg challenged the audience to a higher, truer form of worship and engagement of people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness.  Personal interaction stories from his own community, Sanctuary, in downtown Toronto, provided concrete illustrations of how we can achieve community that embraces all levels of social and economic strata.

Dave Smith, with credentials too numerous to mention, did an outstanding performance as our auctioneer.  Many of our guests commented on how the entire evening was such a positive and enriching experience. 

One of the highlights of the Silent Auction was the collection of art that was donated by the youth in our Passion for Youth art program.  Kids who are part of the program donated their own pieces of art to help support the work of OIM.  Tremendous!  Five of the kids attended the program, and enjoyed being a part of our evening.  Hats off to you kids!

To crystallize the evening into one word, I would choose ‘fun’.  People really enjoyed themselves: people were talking, interacting and laughing.  At the same time, we were challenged with the reality of homelessness in a country wrapped in wealth.  It was definitely a win-win-win situation.

To those who participated by volunteering, attending, providing auction items, baking delicious desserts, staff and board – thank you very, very much.

We are already thinking about our auction next year.

Thanks for your support!

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!

Years of Building

It sometimes takes years to build enough trust for some of our street friends to talk to us about their lives.  Red is thirty-six and we have spoken fairly regularly over the past eight years.

Most of our conversations revolve around things that are of concern to Red.  He is preoccupied with the spiritual world and speaks of his battles with demons, and even the devil himself.  Wisps of hair from his bangs fall down over one eye, both eyes glisten and he speaks of the devil coming at him with a gun, but he is stronger and uses his own power to beat him up.  That would be God’s power in him.  His world is complex and difficult.  He stays at the local shelter mostly, but has taken to the streets when that doesn’t work out.  He suffers from schizophrenia and his endless conversations with the voices that are inside his head lead to sustained self-medication.

This week we had opportunity to talk once again over coffee.  There were the usual demonic and satanic battles that he was waging, with strong testimony that he will not be overcome.  Then his tone changed.

He told me that one of the staff at the shelter want to talk to his mother who lives in the Maritimes.  He refused to allow this because, well, what would she tell her?  He said his parents know he is on ‘skid row’ and he doesn’t want to bother them about his own problems.  He told me his dad is a retired firefighter and he has a brother four years older than he.

We spoke quietly about his family relationships and about his drug use.  He has seen it all on the streets, the back alleys and everywhere in between.  The people at the shelter remind him to take his meds, which are working quite well for him at this time.  In fact, he hasn’t taken any pills (street drugs) for four days. 

Red doesn’t stay in any one place for any lengthy period of time.  He was on his fourth coffee, downed it and said it was time to go.  On his way out the door I wished him a good weekend, and hoped that when I saw him the next time he would be able to say he hadn’t taken any pills now for seven days!  He smiled and agreed.

Seven years.  I found out more about Red in the forty minutes we spoke together this day, than I have in seven years.  We can build on this.  We can talk more, and maybe… well, anything could happen.

LIfe on the Streets 3: Panhandling

We see people panhandling for loose change all the time in our cities.  It’s commonplace.  We have come to adopt certain attitudes towards panhandlers and developed our own patterns of giving (or not).

We make assumptions about those who would ask us for a handout, and we have prejudices about the different approaches people take when asking for money.  However we respond, we walk away and the next person on the sidewalk is hit for a donation.

Generally, those who ask, ask unashamedly, without reservation, boldly, maybe even arrogantly.  Some have learned to hit the right buttons and tell one (maybe of several) stories that have brought them success in the past. It looks so easy, like anyone could do it.

That’s what it appears to be right now, but it wasn’t always like this.

What about the first times?

What would it be like to have no other choice but to ask others for help?  When you have exhausted all of your options?  You ask people for money: not your family or friends (that ended long ago), but complete strangers (who generally are opposed to what you are doing). 

All of your resources are gone and you have hit the wall.  You have no other options, so you do what you have to do to survive.  Pride is long gone and the memory tapes of ‘loser’,’ useless piece of ____ ‘, useless bum’ –  that were ingrained into your thinking from childhood come to the resurface, are reinforced and become your reality.

The first few times it would be hard – maybe the first few thousand – but it becomes a part of who you are.   Blame, shame and desperation have become your daily portion.  

There’s  no way out.  It’s your life now, and you get used to it.  You get better at it.  You harden yourself to the shame, and do your ‘work’. You know where to go, what to avoid, work the angles, develop the stories, and push yourself farther and farther away from who you once were.

Panhandling, it’s pretty simple.  Easy.  Straightforward.  Right?

 “Hey mister, any spare change?”

Life on the Streets I: Walking

I arrived back in Ottawa late last night and drove through the downtown area on the way home. I saw a man walking with a garbage bag over his shoulder and as I approached, I wondered if this was someone I knew.  It was.

Eddie is somewhere around forty years old and has been habitually homeless.  He doesn’t use alcohol or drugs but he does have some mental health issues, and a major story that has brought him to where he is tonight.  He is friendly, can carry on a conversation most of the time, and is one of our friends. 

I want to take you to just one part of Eddie’s life:  Eddie is a walker.  He walks.  And walks.  And walks some more.

He is constantly on the move, from one styrofoam cup of coffee to the next, from one doorway or abandoned building to another when he is ‘moved along’.  He is allowed to most of the social service agencies in our city, but really does not access them.  He has trouble, as I mentioned earlier, with mental illness.

OK, so I want you to imagine for a brief moment what it would be like to be Eddie. Not the voices inside his head, or the trauma that has formed his life, but something simple, that we can all ‘get’.  The walking piece.

People who are experiencing poverty and homelessness are always on the move.  Police, business owners and citizens all say, ‘Move along.  Go Somewhere Else.’ (I have not ever located this place called ‘Somewhere Else’, but I have a suspicion that it must be pretty full by now).

Walking.  No where to go, just walking.  Heat from the concrete, frostbitten toes, soles from the donated runners separating from the tops and flopping, wet, damp, wet and even frozen. Not sure of your welcome anywhere, but a basic understanding that you are welcome nowhere (many good citizens tell you this, but the voices in your head confirm repeatedly). Some degree of danger, because when you are alone and on your own you are an easy target.

We might imagine some discomfort in our own walking experiences perhaps, but realize there is no reprieve here.  No let up.  No stopping. You can’t get another pair of shoes and dry socks.  There are no boots available, just used donated runners – when you can find a size close to your own.

Where would you go?  Can’t go for coffee, ‘cause you have no money.  Restaurants are out.  Drop in programs, maybe, if you are safe.

You just keep on walking, walking, walking.  Endless walking.  Keep on moving, one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, but there is no end.

Welcome to one part of Eddie’s world.

Any ideas?