As the CEO of Bissell Centre, I am continually amazed by the number of people and organizations that care about the poor and the homeless. These people exist across all sectors. I sit with them at government tables, in corporate boardrooms, in the pews at church, in meetings with other non-profit leaders, or over coffee with friends at a café. Unfortunately I also meet people – thankfully fewer in number – that believe that, somehow, social and economic problems rest solely within individuals. Or who judge the actions of groups like Bissell Centre as ineffective because the problems we exist to address still exist or are getting worse.
Housing the Homeless – a Useless Endeavor?
One individual told me recently that supporting Bissell Centre to house the homeless is a useless endeavor because we haven’t yet eradicated homelessness. In other words the 240 chronically homeless men, women and children we will house this year is a failure because we can’t help everyone who knocks on our door.
I told this gentleman that I did not realize that housing 240 homeless people was a bad thing. I said I did not realize that addressing homelessness throughout our community was Bissell Centre’s responsibility. I guess I thought we were part of a greater effort to house the homeless. I guess I thought that homelessness is a societal issue with complex causality. I guess I thought homelessness is a shared problem, not just the problem that organizations like Bissell Centre must resolve alone.
I pressed further into the conversation, not because I thought I could change this man’s mind, but rather to understand how he thinks, how people like him think. We talked for about an hour. We did not reach much common ground, but here are my observations and questions.
Homelessness is the Fault of the Homeless?
My counterpart told me that the government should stop wasting money on the homeless because it’s their fault they are on the street. Later he also said the government should cut taxes so that he had more money to fuel the economy as a consumer. I asked why he doesn’t just pull himself up by the bootstraps and make more money. He waved me off and said helping the homeless won’t help the economy. Of course he is wrong, but just not prepared to be wrong. Read More…
In the late 1920s, James Ramsey, owner of a department store in Edmonton, donated $300 to Reverend Pike to purchase a piece of property on Lake Wabamun for Bissell Centre to send inner-city people of all ages for respite – they called it Fresh Air Camp. Since then, the United Church has owned the land and Bissell Centre has been sending people in poverty to the camp to enjoy new experiences, get away from the stress of a life in poverty, and build healthy relationships with adults and families.
Last year and the year before, I closed the camp while Bissell Centre developed its go-forward strategic plan to eliminate poverty and homelessness. Truth is the traditional camp model was too expensive to operate. It cost $250,000 to operate camps over the summer months for 200-300 people. There was little funding for it and the pressures on our fundraising were already great.
Over this time we have been working on the transformation of Moonlight Bay into a retreat centre – a place that individuals, organizations, and communities can go to engage in learning, planning, symposiums, workshops as well as life events like weddings and family reunions. We are in the process of renovating Moonlight Bay and will have all the cabins done shortly. Capital funding has been provided by the Edmonton Community Foundation and by the Government of Alberta’s CFAP fund. These funds will help Bissell Centre turn Moonlight Bay into a year round facility.
What are we doing is finding new ways to fund camps for low income families and kids – through revenues from rentals of our facilities, corporate sponsorships of camps and of Moonlight Bay in general, as well as donations from people who understand the importance and often life-changing experience of camps. In other words, whatever revenues we make will be turned right over to holding camps and recreational activities for our families and kids.
Technically, this is called a social enterprise. But realistically this is about Bissell Centre’s commitment to do what it takes to ensure our families have this resource. As many of you know this year’s Bissellebration event focused on raising money for Moonlight Bay Centre. While the final results are still being tabulated, I already can tell you that one of our auction items raised $20,000 for camps this year!
I encourage you to consider using Moonlight Bay for your next retreat or family gathering. Check out the retreat ideas above and take a moment to visit the Moonlight Bay Centre website.
Corporations and other groups interested in sponsoring camps for low income families, please contact us at 780.423.2285
Heart of the City volunteers have been super busy planning really exciting things leading up to our 10th anniversary festival on Saturday June 1 and Sunday June 2 at Giovanni Caboto Park. Bissell Centre was a lead player in the development of this festival and this year I am happy to say we are one of the sponsors of this vibrant local event.
I encourage you to come out to the park on June 1 and June 2 and enjoy a day or two out beneath the summer sky and take in some great local music
Bissell Centre is sponsoring, along with CJSR, the CD Compilation of those performing at the festival.
Visit the Heart of the City website for more information. Or you can check them out on their Facebook page.
Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta calls out the double standard that drives our broken relationship to charities. Too many nonprofits, he says, are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done. Instead of equating frugality with morality, he asks us to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments (even if that comes with big expenses). In this bold talk, he says: Let’s change the way we think about changing the world.
His context is the United States, but his message is applicable to Canada’s charitable sector. Please take the time to view his video.