In 2008 I was working as a full-time youth outreach worker, which allowed me the opportunity to spend countless hours on the streets of downtown Ottawa. I started connecting with Ottawa’s large population of homeless young men and women. As the youth began to open up and share their stories of abuse, addiction and emotional scars, my heart broke. Many of the youth believed that they were destined for a lifetime of pain, and poverty. They believed that the next high, the next drink, the next sexual encounter would be the only thing that could give them momentary relief from their daily troubles. In short, many of Ottawa’s homeless youth have lost hope that life could be better than their current experience. They know that there is a better life, but they did not think that it was attainable for them. A better life was just something that they could dream about, but would always be just beyond their reach because they lacked the things that the world tells us are the symbols of happiness and success.
One of the reasons the youth felt this way is their living conditions, or one might say a lack of living conditions. I would often find the youth sleeping under bridges, in bushes at a park, on a sidewalk or storefront. Sometimes they would scrape together enough money to pay for an all-night internet café and fall asleep in a chair staring at a computer screen. Other times young men and women would find a friend’s place to sleep. But many times those places come at a high cost of sexual favors and drug use. Everything about where they were living screamed “worthless”, “unlovable”, “despair”, and the youth received the message loud and clear.
In Ottawa there are two youth shelters, one for young men and one for young women. They hold ten beds each and run at 100% capacity all year round. In my three and a half years as an outreach worker I was only able to get a youth into a shelter three times. The rest of the times I called, the shelters were always full and had no more room. So I would have to watch the youth walk away, with nowhere to sleep, and I would tell myself, “There is nothing I could do”.
One night I was sitting downtown with a youth who was panhandling. It was around midnight. The youth said they were tired and got up to leave. I asked them where they were going to go. The youth looked at me and said: “I am going to go hang out in front of the strip club. Sometimes when people come out and see me sitting on the ground they offer to take me home with them.” It was like a bomb went off in my heart. I felt God saying to me “Stop saying there is nothing you can do and start trusting in what God says is possible. God was calling me to open an emergency shelter for homeless youth. A place where hope could be restored, and where hope would inspire the change that God wanted to bring to their lives.
Around this time I met Michael Brum, an architect in Ottawa for many years. Michael had decided, that after years of traditional architectural consulting, he was searching for more. While continuing his architectural practice, he felt inspired to also assist those who were homeless locally and internationally. Michael has been involved in late night street outreach since 2010. By combining his commitment to the homeless and my passion for homeless youth, it was agreed that we would open a facility for street-engaged youth.
So began a journey together to see how God would use us to see this vision come to life. I made the difficult decision to leave my position as an outreach worker, and take a position in the construction field so that I would be able to dedicate my time to starting the shelter. A few months later, my great friend Clive Good came on board with Michael and I to help make this dream a reality. After a lot of searching, and hard work, Restoring Hope Ministries was offered space in the basement of First Baptist Church at the corner of Elgin and Laurier. Here is where we started to provide a respectful, temporary safe environment where youth are not be judged, nor rejected during their crisis instead of them being alone on the streets. Where healthy meals and a variety of supportive services are provided, with care and compassion shown through love and respect.