Mark Holmgren, CEO
Sometimes people give up. They lose hope. They feel they won’t ever get out of the problems they face. Sometimes people give up on other people. They get frustrated. They feel like they have tried so many times to help someone without any success. Why should I keep trying, we ask ourselves, when the other person isn’t doing all that much, if anything, to help themselves.
I have talked to people who think at some point society should just give up on the homeless and the addicted and spend limited resources on other things like children and youth. I understand such sentiment. I also believe in focusing on children and prevention; in fact I agree we are not doing enough of that work in general, and to be honest I would like to see Bissell Centre provide more support to children and families than we have in the past.
But here’s my problem. I don’t know what that “point” is when society might say, sorry you have had your chance and you are still homeless or a drug addict; so no more help for you.
Frankly I don’t believe human beings should say that to other human beings, but even if we did, how would society go about determining who gets cut off and then what would being cut off from any help look like?
Would we just accept people dying in the street, inflicting violence on one another, suffering through unbearable winters without a home? Would we refuse them food, health care, another chance?
At Bissell Centre, we have seen many people turn around their lives after years and years of addiction
and living on the street. We have seen ex-cons overcome their past and build productive futures. We have seen bad parents become good parents. We have seen the chronically unemployed find and keep good jobs. What we do not know is how long it will take to help someone help themselves create a better life.
Some need regular invitations to join a program; others are forced to seek help due to a crime they committed; and some just change their own lives over time because of experiencing caring people.
I knew one man who woke up after 40 years of alcohol abuse and just quit drinking – for good. I asked him why. He said he didn’t really know how to explain it, but he figured it was time to change. Then he just said thanks for being nice to him, for being there when he needed help.
Coming up with a system of writing people off might have some economic rationale, though I am hard pressed to think there are cost savings in such an approach. But from a human perspective, how can one human being determine the criteria for banishing another human being from hope and from help? Who among us has the wisdom and the moral calling to serve as such a judge?
I think about these things because people in the community sometimes talk about such things with me. With rare exception these kinds of questions are asked by caring people, people struggling with how to address huge, complex social problems with limited resources. I get it.
At Bissell Centre, we can’t help everyone, but we can do our best to try to help those who ask us for help, for those who walk through our doors throughout the week, and for those we come across in our work throughout the community.
We may not be able to help everybody, but I can tell you this. We don’t give up on people. We don’t give up on people even when they have given up on themselves.
This is not what we do because of some decree from our board of directors or from me as CEO. Rather it is what I observe each and every day from Bissell Centre staff. They don’t give up on our community members. It’s a part of our history and a part of our culture. It’s a fundamental element of our organization’s DNA.
We don’t give up on people. That’s just how it is at Bissell Centre.
____ reprinted from the CEO's Report to Stakeholders (October 2012)