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Larissa’s Journey: I Met OIM – Choir & Innercity Arts

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s-Journey

How I first met OIM?

Well, there was this girl that used to go to choir, Alisha, and I asked her to come over. In my kitchen, I could only find macaroni and cheese. I didn’t have any money. None.

She said, “I go to this place where they pay me to sing. They also have an art group. If you like, I could call Moira and see if you could go.”

I was like, “Ohh… maybe I could get some free food.” I was so happy, and thought, “Maybe there is a chance for me.” I was on my last straw and did not know what to do. At the same time, I was also nervous, thinking it was not going to be what I thought it would be. Honestly, it was better. It was very organized.”

When I first went to choir, I was really excited, because I thought: “I could become famous.” I was so excited to become famous. Once I tried it out, I thought, “This is awesome.”

That was the beginning.

I got into the choir, and had to go on a waiting list to get into the art group.

I begged Moira to go to the art group, begged for weeks on end.  When an opening came up in the younger “Innercity Arts” program, Moira told me. I asked her about all the details

I was worried that if I came to the art group that I would be judged, thinking they would think I would be in the same place as they were. The youth made me feel like I was a part of everything. They involved me in just about everything. When I come to the Innercity Arts program, it’s like, “Hey everyone! Larissa’s here!”

When I got to the art group, I couldn’t believe how good it was. I loved it. I enjoyed myself. I did really good with fabric art.  Really good! I sell all my fabric art at the art shows we have each spring.

I never felt unwelcome, and though sometimes I got teased, it’s been going well.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares “My Changed Life.” Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Off The Streets

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s-Journey

I got off the streets, because I got pregnant.

I stayed at a male rooming house when I was pregnant. Then my partner went off to jail, and I went to Windsor to see my mom. It didn’t go well. She was on crack and kicked me out. She kept her crack pipe behind the garbage pail in the kitchen. Her crack dealer was coming over all the time, and she kicked me out because she was too nervous to deal with things in the right way.

Eventually I got back to Ottawa, and stayed at the family shelter motel. I had my daughter while I was living there. Children’s Aid deemed my place unlivable, so I went to another shelter and my daughter was placed in care. It was hard to give my daughter up, but I couldn’t look after her properly.

Later on I put her up for adoption, but it’s an open adoption, and I can visit her. I don’t visit her, because I think it would be too hard for her. Maybe some day I will. I get letters twice a year with pictures of my daughter.  She is five years old.

I stayed at the shelter until I got Ottawa housing, probably about six months.  I’m still in Ottawa Housing in a one bedroom apartment. They sprayed my apartment for bed bugs and cockroaches some months ago, but yesterday they showed up again. The exterminators don’t know why the problem continues, and they are investigating.

In my first apartment I hit my head on the bathtub – real bad. It was like someone grabbed me and smashed my head against the tub. I fell. I woke up the next day in the tub. I never went to the hospital.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares how she first connected with OIM’s Innercity Arts and Choir programs. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Life On My Own – Homeless On The Streets

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

homeless on the streets

I don’t remember when I left the shelter. It just was not working for me. I got a boyfriend, and we slept outside together. We were on the streets for about a year.

The pattern was that I would sleep outside in the spring, summer and fall, and go to a shelter for the winter (usually, although there were some winter nights I would be outside). Each time I went outside I’d be sure to have a new boyfriend. It was not safe to be alone.

Life on the streets is different. Everything you knew before, all your survival skills are not enough to survive. You have to hope that someone will have pity on you and give you money, or one of the drop in centers you go to during the day will have everything ready for you. For example, if the showers are not available, you are not showering.

To be able to have food, water, and safety – which can mean being around the right people – that’s the survival skill, along with camping skills. You have to be able to camp to survive outside or on the streets. How to start a fire, what to do on a snowy night when you’re outside (you can die in your sleep from hypothermia), how to find shelter (I’ve slept under a bridge where it’s the most freezing cold place ever) or just sleep along the side of the road. Freezing to death was one constant worry. In the summer, I’d worry about sleeping somewhere and maybe someone with a knife would find you and there is such danger.

I was homeless for four years, and on the streets for three.

We went to drop ins during the day: we made the rounds to all the drop ins, ‘Out of the Cold’ programs, and any place warm wherever we could  stay for a while. Free food was very important.

I got jumped once, and got beat up badly. I did not call the police because the girl that beat me up sometimes let me sleep at her place.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares her experiences first coming “Off The Streets.” Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Teen Years

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on-air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s JourneyNo more foster homes would take me. No more group homes. I had aged out. They asked me where I wanted to live. Since I had always wanted to live in Ottawa, I chose there. They dropped me off at the young women’s shelter, and left me on my own.

I didn’t feel ready to be on my own, but it was a rush – at least at first.  I was so new to everything. At the shelter I could go out whenever I wanted (in group homes you weren’t allowed to do this), and I felt like a free bird. After three weeks though, things were very different.

I had freedom yes, but there were also responsibilities. Before the shelter, anything I did, I got a slap on the wrist, and told not to do that again. Consequences came at the shelter. Anything you did wrong, you had to answer for it and deal with it. It was terrible to be an adult. At sixteen I was forced to be an adult, and I wasn’t ready.

My clothes were always stolen by other girls. I was a bit smaller than everyone else, so tighter clothes on the other girls was very popular. I watched them in my clothes, and I felt like crying. Some of those clothes had memories.

At the shelter, for example, I learned that you couldn’t share a toothbrush. Hygiene was different for me too. I really didn’t know how to look after myself. I still don’t know some things. I don’t do dishes. I used to fill the tub with hot water, soak the dishes in the tub with ½ tub of bleach, and you let them soak. When you can pull them out and there’s no food stuff on it they were ready.

When I was about 16, I went to see my mom, and found her Percoset and OxyContin pills and my mom was doing crack. I used those drugs for about one month before they almost killed me. Every step was like almost floating on clouds. I felt like I was on a big marshmallow. I couldn’t feel the ground under me

I went home to the kitchen and dropped.  I went to the hospital for a couple of weeks. I almost lost one of my kidneys. That was the end of drugs for me. 

I was at the shelter until I was seventeen. I left when I was banned and was homeless.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares what it was like to be living on her own, homeless on the streets. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

Larissa’s Journey: Early Years in Foster Care

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening!Larissa’s Journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares her “Early Years”. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. Thanks!

I would wait until my sister was asleep and then I would cry that I could go back to my mom and dad. I wanted to find out who my dad was, but I never did.

When I was 4 ½, I started to go to different homes in foster care. They finally found a home for my sister and me.  My sister and I were made to change our last names to a hyphenated one, because they were maybe going to adopt us, and they didn’t want anyone to know that we were foster kids. I lived there for 9 years.

They didn’t adopt us. My birth mom fought in court that we should not be adopted. The courts never agreed to allow us to be adopted.  When I left home, I was old enough to know what was going on, and I still wanted to go back home.  I felt so all alone.

My sister was with my at this foster home.  I don’t cook. I used to eat eggs and the eggshells too. It all went into the blender. Me and my sister would make concoctions and have an after school snack.

I went to 10 different foster homes after that, until I was 16. It was somebody else’s family, but you were lucky to be there, because it could be far worse. I must have been a really bad kid, because I never stayed at any place for any long time. One place my foster mom threw a knife at me and it stuck into the wall. I called the cops. I even lived in a group home near Spencerville. In that place other kids in the hoe would run away and get rides from truckers.

One home was way out in the country and we had homemade bread, butter, and we had to get wood from outside and bring it in to heat. Mice ran across my bed, and there were rats too. Crazy. I got really sick once and lay on the floor to cool my fever, and they wouldn’t take me to the hospital. I told my social worker but she didn’t do anything about it. Even though I was really sick when we talked, she didn’t do anything.

Some people that had us used us as if we were a trophy when we were in their home.  We’d get gifts to open in front of everyone, for show, then they would return the gifts to the store.

I went to so many different schools, lasted a month maybe. I only have my grade ten. The last school I was at, I lasted only two weeks. I can’t do school any more, I was hit by a bus and hurt my head really bad.  

When I was sixteen, someone from the group home dropped me off at a shelter in Ottawa.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares her “Early Years”. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. Thanks!

 

Larissa’s Journey: My Earliest Memories

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening!


I never met my father, and my mother never married but there were lots of boyfriends – all the time there was someone new. She kept her maiden name and passed it on to me.

When I was small, there was a bowl of bananas on top of the fridge. I climbed out of my high chair to the counter to the fridge and got the bowl and was eating them. I got into trouble, put back in my high chair, sent to bed, and my mom and her new boyfriend would fight.

Once when they were fighting, I went to help my mom and went to punch the boyfriend, and I accidentally punched my mom in the mouth and gave her a fat lip. I was four. She screamed at me to go to my room. That’s when I called the cops. Not just arguing, but fist fighting, tackle to the ground. I called the cops once, when I was four (I still had visits from my mom) – I’m not sure which boyfriend it was because there was a bunch of different boyfriends. The cops came after I went to bed. I got into big trouble for that. They put me in my room with the lights off. I couldn’t reach the light switch or the door knob because I was too small.

We moved from apartment to apartment, mostly in complexes. We moved a lot. I can remember two places I lived in before I was four.

My mom owed a lot of money for drugs. She would abuse her mental health medications. Once she collapsed and the drugs spilled on the floor. I ate some of the pills. My aunt screamed for the landlord to open the door. They took me and my mom to the hospital. I was feeling better, but when I was leaving, I collapsed on the floor. Then they gave me charcoal and pumped my stomach. She did drugs until she died. The last time I saw her, she was on crack. That’s one of the reasons we moved a lot – drugs.

When I was little, my mom would allow me to watch inappropriate adult shows. When I went to school, I strangled a kid – I thought I was Zena the Princess Warrior. I choked a girl out. I got suspended in kindergarten. I was four.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares her “Early Years”. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. Thanks!

 

The Street Youth Who Changed My Life

he came to usI am sitting here trying to get caught up on Facebook, letting family and friends know we are safe after the tornadoes that slammed Ottawa when I stumbled across a friend’s post that brought tears to my eyes.

The poem was heart wrenching, it really struck a chord.

It talks about a young man’s struggle, his pain with life and how he finally gives in and ends it all. Then I read the name that follows the RIP, the tears stream down my face.

I know this young man. It is more than one of the many faces that started me down the path that I am on.  He is the first one.

Years ago a step of faith brought us together and we walked a rough road together. His shell cracked and he shared some of his pain. This is how I learned to love a street youth. I learned things that textbooks will never teach you. I learned that if you let Jesus take the helm, wonderful and amazing things can happen. 

Richard, not his real name, changed my life.

I look at street youth differently because of him. I will not condemn any of them because of him. I will not cross the street to avoid them because of him. In fact, I will purposely cross the street to talk to them. Thank you Richard for the changes you helped forge in this old man’s life. You had a greater impact on mine than I think I had on yours. You forced me to stretch my boundaries well beyond anything that I was comfortable with and many others have reaped the benefits and will continue to do so.

The tears will continue to flow and I am not ashamed of them, I miss you brother. I pray you are in a better place and that you are no longer hurting.

– Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

The old couch in the art room

In the art room there was an old couch that we were going to throw away. It was stained and falling apart and we didn’t really need it anymore.

But we never got around to throwing it away so it just sat in the corner of the art room.

No one ever used the old couch, unless they were really upset and needed to speak privately with someone. Unintentionally, it became the place where youth would sit with volunteers and, sometimes, cry and pour their hearts out.

I can remember many conversations on that couch. Comforting many young people as they cried about something that was going on in their lives. Something that would often happen as I sat on the couch comforting a youth is that the other youth in the program, one by one, would come by the couch and offer a kind word, hug or smile to the youth who was upset. Sometimes they would say “I’ve been there man” or “I’m here for you” or they would offer the loving gesture of a cigarette.

That old couch, as dilapidated as it was, became a safe space where tears were shed, trust was built and people were loved.

-Moira, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

 

He Came To Us

Jason was invited to Innercity Arts by a friend. He liked the opportunity to have a good meal and hang out with friends, but he had no interest in the staff and volunteers. It was very clear from the beginning that Jason did not trust us. He was very blunt with me, and said he wasn’t interested in speaking with the volunteers at all. I told him mutual respect was all that was required – no opening up and sharing was necessary.

We soon learned that Jason has a tumultuous home life, which led to a series of foster homes and group homes. He said that most adults reminded him of the staff he had to deal with growing up. So, we took it slow. We did not push Jason to open up, and mostly we just let him be.

One day, Jason arrived at the art group in crisis. He was crying over something that had happened and he said “I didn’t know what to do…I didn’t know who to talk to.” He came to us – and we sat with him and listened as he cried. He thanked us before leaving, and gave us a hug.

-Moira, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless You.

 

 

Thank you 9th Hour Theatre!

I met Jonathan Harris back in 2011, when I was looking for someone to come to the art group to do a theatre workshop. He told me all about his theatre company, 9th Hour Theatre, which used the performing arts to explore faith. I was immediately stuck by how warm and open he was, and how passionate he was about theatre. Soon after, he came to Innercity Arts and did a theatre workshop. He taught the youth about storytelling, and encouraged them all to ‘tell their story’. It was a powerful workshop.

Almost immediately, Jonathan could tell there was something special about Innercity Arts. He did not need to be convinced, he could see the value in what we were doing. He eventually became a mentor in our program and began attending each week. The youth were immediately drawn to the same openness and warmth I had seen in him.

This year, Jonathan told me that we wanted to do more for the art program. He said, “I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have a theatre company.” He decided to use what he had to do as much good as possible.

He told me his plan to raise funds for OIM after each performance of Godspell, the musical 9th Hour would be performing at Centrepointe Theatre. He set a goal to raise $5000, which truthfully I thought was a little ambitious! Well, they surpassed their goal and raised $6,718.29!

All of us here at OIM were blown away by both the talent we saw at Godspell, and the generosity of 9th Hour Theatre.

On a personal note, I feel inspired by Jonathan Harris. Sometimes, it’s easy for me to think that I do not have the resources to make a difference. But Jonathan is proof that if you use what you have, you can do so much good.   

We want to thank Jonathan Harris, for his continued support of OIM. We also want to thank the board of 9th Hour Theatre, the talented cast and crew  of Godspell and for everyone who came out to attend the show.  

I encourage you all to keep your eyes open for 9th Hour’s next production. You can follow them here.