Tonight thousands of homeless Canadians will sleep on street grates or in doorways. It’s a social tragedy. In the killer cold their coats act as blankets, protective barriers, and shelter. They are humiliated by empty stares and the condition of their lives.
Then they are awakened from a dead sleep to find someone looking at them—someone from a Salvation Army Outreach team.
Across Canada Salvation Army Street Outreach teams are giving hope to a population that has no fixed address, is mobile and in many cases, hidden.
John worked on the oil rigs in western Canada and had become quite wealthy because of it. Fifteen years ago he came to Ottawa to take care of his dying father. Shortly after John’s arrival his father deceased, and this triggered a downward spiral of drugs, alcohol and eventual homelessness for John. John spent the next eight years sleeping outside in Ottawa’s harsh climate.
During these eight years The Salvation Army’s Street Outreach program conducted regular visits to where John decided to sleep. The passionate staff provided him with winter boots, a jacket, water, socks, a sleeping bag and effective referrals to partnering agencies where he could get food and apply for social assistance. Staff would often try to convince John to accept a ride to a shelter, but he wasn’t ready for that step.
After eight years of sleeping on the streets and continued survival assistance from the Street Outreach team, John decided to come inside. At The Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre he slept in the first bed he’d had in eight years. Here John also had support workers to help him overcome his drug and alcohol issues.
Today John still corresponds with the Street Outreach team but only to yell a heartfelt “Hello!” With the support of the Street Outreach team John made his way off the streets, out of the shelter life, and into a home he can call his own.
Ottawa Booth Centre Street Outreach
The Ottawa Booth Centre has been providing street outreach for more than a decade.
“The primary focus of the Outreach Team is to provide transportation for homeless and at-risk individuals from the streets to safe, appropriate shelter,” says Darren Graham, Coordinator of Outreach Services at the Booth Centre. “The challenge is getting them to trust you enough to accept that help. Without help, they have little chance of escaping the streets.
“Homeless men, women and youth who live rough on city streets require more than transport, food and clothing, and other supports,” continues Darren. “They also require another human’s time and compassion. This is when our outreach professionals use their skills to help them believe, if but for a moment, that they are worthy of respect. The more self-respect one has, the more believable the option of moving inside becomes.”