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.
When people ask about what volunteering among the poor looks like, I tell them about Beth:
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 from the streets can always expect her to be here each week where she greets them with a ready smile, a cup of coffee, and a chat. It’s encouraging to meet people who 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.
It’s not what she does that matters, it’s that she shows up and let’s them know someone cares.
– Gaby, Staff
30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds a Day, Celebrating 30 Years of Service
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, in fact – for our ministry’s needs.
Thank you and God bless.
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
Every time I do street outreach in downtown Ottawa, I can’t help but notice the constants. Like the difference between those who are blessed with “enough” and those who aren’t.
I see it each Sunday night in the stylish clothes some people wear or the cars others don’t have. It’s visible in their health or sickness. It’s in their expectant or distant gaze.
Affluence in Ottawa abounds. We work hard and from a “world” perspective, deserve this. It is apparent in the streetscapes of the neighbourhoods we visit in the downtown core. Walking purposefully north from the office on Bank Street to Sparks Street, over to the Market and then back along Elgin we see the imposing, manmade landmarks; great buildings old and new. Our parks are pleasant places to rest and take in the abundant fresh air. In the evenings at least, the streets are quiet and clean. Ottawa is a world class city. It abounds with hope and a prosperity.
But from a spiritual perspective, things are not always so positive.
There is much strife on our streets and we see it every week. It, too, is world class…
In spite of this, I love going downtown in the fall. We start before the sun sets and end after dark. The vibe doesn’t change; just the ratio of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ alter as the night marches on.
The trendy restaurants are full during the dinner hour but afterwards, while the bright lights still shine throughout the downtown core, people begin to flee open air events like the light shows and canal cruises. Stores close and tired workers escape to the relief of their homes.
But the homeless have no home other than the streets we find them in. Our street community is diverse and reflect a variety of circumstances. There are two happy and informed 62 year olds who I have come to know separately, who never complain and are joyful in our conversations. We frequently meet youth on Rideau Street who are similarly outgoing, but often in various states of sobriety. Then there are the despondent who can’t seem to grasp the severity of their situation nor seek adjustment to it. The more difficult ones are those who suffer from the unkind effects of psychological disorders. They share a common home and often a similar future.
Last Sunday night my young colleague and I sat down beside a woman seated on a curb in an Elgin Street parking lot. She was obviously in a saddened state, bent over crying. She had two plastic bags on the ground beside her, stuffed with clothes that she may have had to rescue in an attempt to escape an unfortunate social situation.
We spoke to her compassionately, telling her we were “outreach”, asking how we could help but to no avail. She wouldn’t lift her head from within her cupped hands nor acknowledge our extended hearts. All we could do was leave her a sandwich and a bottle of water with the good news that “Jesus loves you”.
My accomplice and I are both blessed with happy, healthy homes to go back to at the end of our short shift on the streets. But as we hang up our red vests we are easily reminded that our friends are not as fortunate.
However, we believe that, through our small effort, we leave them in the love of Jesus Christ and continue in the hope that there be a positive change in their lives.
Peter, Street Outreach Volunteer
Earlier in the day at church I prayed for increased spiritual closeness to our street friends. Wow, was I rewarded!
Later that evening, my young street outreach partner and I met 52 street friends. They represented all facets of this diverse culture; those just trying to get by, those seeking secure and comfortable housing, those on disability and those suffering with addictions.
A former “hooker” hugged me while we were ministering to someone and told us both how OIM has positively influenced her life.
Later, a middle aged unmarried couple asked for prayers for themselves and also for the man’s son who was also present. The couple expressed their love for one another and inquired as to how they could be married by a minister.
We had several open and friendly lifestyle conversations with young adults living on the edge and the fringes of society. One young woman confided the food we provided her that night would preclude her from shoplifting and its inherent dangers!
We prayed with others and were both inspired by the rewards of our work for The Kingdom that night as never before. In fact, I believe my outreach partner, who is new to the city and looking for meaningful ways to help the under privileged, felt the Holy Spirit’s presence that night and was re-invigorated by the experience.
Peter T, Volunteer
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