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Add a Homeless Person to Your Christmas List – II

Merry Christmas!  Just a quick note today, on the eve of Christmas eve, to invite you to do a last minute gift purchase – for someone experiencing homelessness – for someone you don’t even know.  Click on the banner above for more info.

AND, if you would visit www.chri.ca, you can listen to the podcast of the interview I did with the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson.  This is not a political maneuvering or ‘nail him to the post’ interview, but an opportunity to hear our Mayor’s heart regarding the less fortunate in our city: how at an early age, he learned to care, what he is doing now, and some ideas how citizens of Ottawa (and beyond) can become involved.

Take opportunity today and make a donation.  We’ll be sure it gets to where it’s needed most!

The Gift of Christmas (volunteer social dec. 2)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders, And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9; 6, 7

The Gift of Christmas is all wrapped up in Jesus, is Jesus, and is the meaning of Christmas.  His message is the gift that keeps on giving as the gospel unfolds: cradle to cross, Jew to Gentile, one person told another person, who told yet another, they told somebody who in turn told someone else, who that person told someone else and so on to today, and the gift continues to unfold to the world.

You are the gift.

Drop In: I stood at the doorway to the sanctuary and watched: Rudy just finished cutting someone’s hair and asked if he would like prayer; a volunteer doing foot care right in front of me; sounds of Carolyn and Wendal distributing clothing upstairs and beside the stairs a staff spoke quietly with one of our street friends, behind me in the sanctuary, two more foot care volunteers massaged and soothed tired feet and Clara worked her touch care on tired aching backs… and I marveled at the gift unfolding…

Youth Art Show: in the moment I stood back and surveyed the room: young street artists, volunteers, donors, partners, prayer warriors and intercessors all there.  Many of the kids didn’t recognize the gift but each knew there was something special happening right in front of them.  I sensed the Giver of gifts painting on the canvas of human hearts, and it was a powerful moment.  All the work, the people, the prayers, the gifts working through His people… and the gift was unfolding…

Years ago on Street Outreach, Steve and I peered into a loading dock in the Byward Market and made out the figures of two small girls.   The one that spoke told us they just arrived from Montreal, that they were both sixteen, and were OK.  We shared what we had, noted references to places where they could get help, and in some way, I sensed that Steve and I were the gift, unfolding…

Sparky had taken refuge in the Laundromat near our office and I went in to sit with him for a while.  He was pretty intoxicated and did not do too well hiding the bottle of cooking sherry from the Laundromat overseer lady.  We had a conversation, and I stayed a bit longer.  When I got up to leave, Sparky told me in a very clear, impassioned plea, “No.  Please stay with me,” and for a moment I could not tell whether I was the gift or if he was, just unfolding…

Years ago at a downtown drop in, William, who was at times subject to alcoholic seizures, tottered and swayed, pointing his finger in my face and prophesying, “The Lord is blessing you.  The Lord is blessing this place and what you do,” and he became the gift, telling me we were the gift.  And it keeps on unfolding…

We come alongside one another as the gift unfolds through us, in us and through our street friends- in whom the gift is birthed, delivered and manifested.  And we thank God for each one.

You are the gift unfolding, Christ in you, the hope of glory, and I watch it all the time.  And I count it as a gift and privilege from the Gift Giver Himself to come alongside you and walk and work with you as we together we watch the gift unfold.

There is a tradition in some churches to speak over the communion elements of bread and the wine, to say, “The gifts of God for the people of God”, and the response comes, “Thanks be to God.”

Here tonight, in and with each other, I present each of you to all of you, and say, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” and we say together, “Thanks be to God.”

Youth Art Show II

The evening the kids have been preparing for had finally arrived.  It was time for the ‘Passion for Youth’ art show at Dominion Chalmers.  There was sufficient space for each artist to choose five pieces of their work to show, and it was a challenge for some to decide.  Hustle, bustle, the staging of sofas and tables from the art room on the second floor, the preparation of the interactive art table where guests could be creative, coffee, tea and snacks set near the entrance all combined to accelerate the excitement and anticipation.

In the end, all was readied.  The stage was set, the players were ready, last minute adjustments to the easels were complete, the live entertainment arrived ( Max and August), and the mood was  set. 

Guests enjoyed the ambiance, the artists and the art work.  Ahh, the art work.  For some of our guests, the time had finally come when the art work that was ‘for display only’ at our auction, was finally available for bidding.  There were pieces of art work that captured hours and hours of devotion, had become a  labour of love, and were now revealed to the public.

But there was something here far greater than what initially captured the senses.  There was a clear demonstration of a Master Artist at work with figures of moving clay.

The real demonstration of art was that of the artists themselves.

Initially, many of these youth never had any idea that they could create anything beautiful at all.  The images of childhood that are so familiar to us were either non-existent or so overshadowed with such painful memories that it would have been better not to have had them at all.  Years of repeated abuse served to reinforce their belief and image they would never amount to anything.  They were told as young children that they were losers, worthless  and discarded and treated as less than animals.  They had eaten from the garbage bins, slept in the bins or wherever they could, experienced cold and discomfort that are beyond description.  They were survivors, despite it all.

Tonight was different.  People they didn’t even know told them over and over again, that they had created something beautiful.  So beautiful in fact that they would like to buy the items and remember the artists.  The youth were the ones encouraging the younger guests and showing them how to hold a paint brush, how to mix the colors, how to ‘let themselves go’ and be creative.  Photos were taken.  The young artists were congratulated for work well done, praised for their choices of color or texture, and one small bit at a time, I believe some changes began to occur.

Maybe the voices of the past were wrong.  Maybe I’m not useless, after all, someone likes what I have created.  Maybe there is something good about me.  Maybe this is not the end.  Maybe, just maybe, I can do something good.  Maybe there is something good about me.

That was the real exhibition of art.  It wasn’t the paint on the canvas, or the music that filled the air: it was living, breathing, young people experiencing hope and a promise for the future.  And, maybe, just maybe, that might be enough to change a life.

Passion for Youth ART SHOW

Thirteen street youth will be presenting their art work for show and silent auction on Monday, November 15, 2010 from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at Dominion Chalmers United Church in Ottawa.

The kids have been preparing for this show for several months and will demonstrate techniques and applications in the course of the evening.

It’s all a part of building self-esteem and self worth into lives that have experienced only abuse and trauma.  Passion for Youth, means our passion for youth, but also identifying things that the youth are passionate about, working with those in a proactive, positive way.  Our mission statement:  Empowering street youth by engaging their passions though ABCD (Assets Based Community Development).  It seems to be working just fine.

“It’s amazing to see the difference a bit of encouragement and hope will do with these youth,” says Jason Pino, OIM’s  Youth Outreach Worker.  “In just a few months, we have seen kids get housing, get jobs, finish high school and begin to think about rebuilding their lives.”

Volunteer mentors spend time with the youth discovering, setting and working towards the realization of their goals.  In just two months of the program, four of the young people have reached their goal of reducing their drug use, and two of these have found jobs.

Come out Monday night, check out the artwork and meet the kids.  See you there!

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!

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 2: Invisibility

I can become invisible in three seconds.

In the time it takes for me to move to a standing position on the sidewalk to sit on the curb beside someone who is experiencing homelessness, I am invisible. 

No one sees me (or the person I am now sitting beside); people look at their watches or their pda’s as soon as they catch a glimpse of us;  attention is diverted quickly to anything that is in a different direction.

You can try it sometime if you want to risk it, and it will be nerve wracking to say the least, but don’t worry,  you’ll be OK as soon as you stand up and continue on your way.

But what if you couldn’t stand up?  What if you just didn’t have the wherewithal to sluff off the years or abuse and mental torment?  What if you could not muster the stuff to rise from that place of invisibility and anonymity and no-one-ness? What if you had to stay there? What would that be like?

I know some high level leadership training courses that have a segment where the student has to either sleep in a shelter or panhandle until she ‘earns’ ten dollars.  At OIM, we have provided opportunities for people to attend ‘One Homeless Night’ where a participant spends the evening on the streets (8 pm to 12 midnight) with only $1.50 and then sleep in a church basement as part of an ‘out of the cold’ shelter experience.  Other programs like these have been run with varying degrees of severity, and in some measure, participants can experience a certain degree of ‘homelessness’.

The common denominator in all these examples, is that at the end of a certain period of discomfort, hunger or embarrassment, you just go back home to the suburbs where a caring family, nice warm home and bed await.  (Notwithstanding the stop at the first fast food joint for a period of ‘catching up’ on some serious eating).

What if there was no choice?  What would it be like to find a place to stay when the shelters are full? Who can you trust? Where can you go?  Where will you use the bathroom (after you are identified as homeless)? Where is safe?

Give this five minutes of your consideration, then give us some feedback.

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?