In a large room just inside the entrance to The Salvation Army Booth Centre in Ottawa's Byward Market, a poet stands in the corner reciting hard-earned lessons, surrounded by displays of brightly coloured paintings and drawings, all made by the men who attend the centre's art studio workshop.

Painting, poetry and acting out are all part of the weekly therapy sessions for residents of the housing centre and others who take part in its addiction recovery program.

Every Monday night for the last three years, men have been encouraged to explore—their lives, their anxieties and the root causes of their addictions through the making of art.

Chi Wei Lee, who says he was once severely depressed and homeless, hasn't missed one session since they started.

“I used to tend to keep everything to myself, all bottled up and then I'd explode,” says Chi Wei, as he stands before a number of his brightly painted works. “Art is a good way for me to express it. If I'm angry, it just comes out on the paper.”

Dennis Pettigrew, a former resident of the men's shelter, is showing his illustrations at the exhibition. He talks about the value of the art therapy program as a worthwhile diversion.

“A lot of people have addictions and other problems,” he says. “This gives them a way to turn around and escape from those addictions. It's a diversion for them. If we saw some of the famous artists from the past today, we'd say, 'Oh, what sketchy people!'

“There's a genius in everybody.”

Melissa Weigel, the Ottawa Booth Centre chaplain, launched the workshops as part of the ongoing drug and addiction rehabilitation program because she wanted to create an informal atmosphere where participants would feel free to use paint, pencils and ink as a means of self-expression.

“It's very therapeutic as it gives you some self-awareness, some self-discovery, an expression of your emotions, something you might not realize is going on inside of you,” explains Melissa. “You're expressing yourself with lines and colours rather than words.”


The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art "I used to keep everything to myself," says Chi Wei Lee, whose works include this untitled one.

The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art "Angel" by Chi Wei Lee

The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art A collection created along the theme of "hope"

The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art Embroidery art from Penelope

The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art Radina with some of her drawings. Contributions from the clients, staff and the community are accepted

The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art Jordan showcases her artwork

The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art The annual art exhibit draws hundreds of visitors

The Salvation Army - - The Power of Art

(Reprinted from

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