Each spring, my wife and I find joy in feeding the birds that frequent our large rural Ottawa backyard. Together we peer out at our many-winged visitors through the kitchen window or separately through the patio doors. Species include beloved cardinals, chickadees, doves and nuthatches. Uninvited, yet equally welcome, guests are feisty red squirrels and their companion, more docile black squirrels.
Our love of nurturing nature in this simple way brings great joy.
While most of us understand the need to nurture God’s creation, helping people living on the margins may not always come so naturally. Judgement, criticism and stereotypes sometimes precludes caring for people in need.
Street outreach organizations like Ottawa Innercity Ministries, however, look beyond ‘first impressions,’ scratching below the surface to the person underneath. They do so by sustaining life on the streets of our fair city and bring great joy to those in need.
Each day of the week, volunteers generously donate a couple of hours of their time to provide food, clothing and words of affirmation to our street friends. The outpouring of Jesus’ love and warmth during this brief interaction offers hope, which can enable the escape from the prison that is street life.
OIM conducts drop-ins, a youth art program and advocacy to those who grasp at this hope and seek a better life.
We know that these interventions bring with them joy through faith in a better future.
Isaiah 43 v 1: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”
-Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer
You never know what to expect on street outreach. Some days are uneventful; others are not.
One chilly Sunday afternoon early in April our team crossed Dalhousie Street at Rideau. There in front of a popular cafe, amidst the hustle and bustle of shoppers, lay a big man.
No one else seemed to notice him.
It was disturbing to see someone seemingly asleep like this, especially for our two new team members. We knew he was in very bad shape. Under-dressed, unconscious and helpless on the cold floor of our concrete jungle, we weren’t sure of the cause.
However, our team leader took charge and tried to wake him, as OIM has trained us to do. With few signs of life, his first thought was that the man had over-dosed and was dying. To administer Naloxone or not?
Weighing the odds, our quick thinker dialed 911 for medical assistance. Coincidentally a police cruiser stopped at the intersection and was approached by another member of our team.
The police promptly took over, checked the prostrate young man for vital signs and called for an ambulance.
Once the man was in the ambulance, when asked, one of the paramedics said Naloxone was not warranted in this situation as an (opioid) overdose did not seem to be the issue. We were thankful for their timely response and expert care.
Just as the ambulance arrived, a fire truck pulled up to offer assistance and another could be heard approaching rapidly.
All of this happened within ten minutes. Needless to say, we were impressed with our Ottawa emergency services and thankful that our friend had been well taken care of so quickly.
-Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer
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 including a permanent location for our OIM Office as of Aug 1 .
Thanks and God Bless.
I will always remember that night out on Street Outreach when I decided to bring a used pair of off-white slip-on shoes that someone donated at the office. These shoes were from a well known brand (I don’t remember which one, maybe Tommy Hilfiger). Even though they were a bit dirty, I thought: Who knows? Maybe someone may recognize the brand and be happy to receive it.
The whole night went by and we handed out the usual: sandwiches, socks, juice boxes. Finally, as we were ending our shift, one of the last persons we saw that night (if not THE last) asked if we had a pair of shoes. I said: “Yes! Here you go,” showing him the famous shoes. To my surprise, not only did he recognise the brand right away, but he was so happy that he couldn’t stop jumping with joy and thanking us, again and again. Even though these “new-ish” shoes were a bit dirty and a bit too big for him, he was full of joy. (I noticed that his current pair was too small for him and the laces were missing).
It struck me, in that moment, how some of the things that we take for granted can mean so much to someone in need.
– Sophie, Street Outreach Volunteer
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.
Why do you volunteer at OIM?
It’s a question that I have been asking our volunteers lately. The answers that have come back have had one thing in common: a big passion for serving.
Working with OIM volunteers has been a privilege for me. It’s encouraging to meet people that find the time to share a part of their busy lives with our guests with the only objective being to give love and support to the most needed here in downtown Ottawa.
Let me tell you about a few of our wonderful volunteers:
Beth comes every Wednesday all the way from the outskirts of Ottawa to the downtown core, where she has been volunteering at the Office “Stop In” for 7 years. Our guests can always expect her to be here each week where she greets people with a ready smile, a cup of coffee, and a chat.
Sacha is a busy university student, but she comes every Thursday to the Office “Stop In.” She’s always ready to play a game of “spit” with Harold or learn from the guys how to play bridge.
Kirk and Hamish go on Street Outreach every Wednesday morning. Kirk comes early to get coffee going and when Hamish comes with special sandwiches that he made especially for the regulars they see that morning, they hit the roads ready to serve!
Our volunteers are loving, passionate servers with big compassionate hearts. It’s amazing to see a community that really cares about one another.
In spite of all the difficulties that individuals struggle with all around us, I am so encouraged by the people I know who are out there really trying to make a difference.
Gaby, OIM Staff
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
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.”
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.
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.
OIM has been given a booth at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show, March 20 to 23 at the Ernst and Young Centre. Why?
A friend of the ministry donated this 10’ x 20’ exhibitor’s space so that people who are thinking about renovating, redoing and re-fixing their own homes might take a moment and consider people who don’t have any home at all.
Our booth will have an area where visitors can see some of the art work that our Passion 4 Youth artists have created; we will be showing the 7 minute OIM DVD and also another shorter DVD featuring interviews from three of the youth from the program; we will have a visual aid of a home (on Bristol board) where visitors can buy a brick for a donation of any amount, and we can collect funds for new space (which we desperately need).
Then we’ll top it off with not one, but two (and maybe three) surprises that you can only discover if you come by and have a visit with us.
The Ottawa Home and Garden people are expecting over 20,000 visitors to the show this year, and it is a privilege to represent OIM there. We have scheduled volunteers and staff for the entire weekend, and you will want to see how this works!
Please consider this your special invitation: ‘Come on down’ and visit us!
Following from last week, my friend ‘Jesse’, the ‘small things guy’.
So last week at the drop in, I had to call the police and ask them to remove Jesse as he would not cooperate and leave when I asked him. The reason? He was drinking (no surprise) openly (not allowed) and blatantly (not allowed) and was not showing respect to the church where we house our drop in (the biggest offense), neither did he respect the staff and volunteers who make things work.
I was hurt – OK, so I know it’s not about me – but it pained me that my ‘friend’, who in his last letter from jail called me his ‘Best Friend’ walked and stomped all over me (not literally) and our friendship (I thought).
He left the premises last week only when Ottawa’s finest escorted him out – no problem.
So my week goes on and I think about Jesse a lot, and our friendship, and wonder how badly it’s been violated. Then I’m looking through my shirts and I find one that I think Jesse would like and bring it to the drop in, thinking I would meet him there today.
On the way it struck me that Jesse would not remember even one of the details of our encounter last week. Nothing.
Staff called to tell me he had arrived at the drop in and I came shortly afterwards.
We connected. I gave him a shirt. He liked it. I told him I loved him, and he knew that. I told him he was not respectful last week and I had to call the police. What?? he said. Didn’t remember a thing. Truly. We hung out for a while and he said he would help me with the memorial service to come later that day. It was a new day. Fresh start. My Best Friend. Again.
So what to do? Life goes on. Hold things lightly. Hold others with a firm grasp. Never let go of hope. Never give up on people. Love unconditionally – people need to be loved.
Question: What about the seventy times seven plus one? Does love ever draw the line?
PS (and unrelated): It’s not too late to join our Urban Intervention Training for new volunteers: next session Feb 6. 2014