CEO Update

by | POSTED: May 09, 2014

It’s been a while since I posted a CEO Update about what has gone and is going on at Bissell Centre. Clicking for more below will get you to my report on the following:

  • Our financial condition
  • An overview of new and expanded programming.
  • An incredible gift of land from the United Church
  • Mini-reports on 24/7 MAP and our Winter Warming services
  • Increasing our work with Aboriginal people
  • Our commitment to evaluation
  • Our progress on “spreading the word”
  • A request for your advice, and
  • A lot of thank you’s,

The last six weeks have been “busy, which is my secret code for “working lots of hours.” It’s just that time of year: dealing with year end reports and challenges while building the coming year’s business plan  and also working on launching a new program, expanding another, and investigating the possibility of launching a major new program aimed at helping young mothers on social assistance gain employment that might be financed through a social impact bond.

Social Impact Bonds are a new financing method that have been launched in Great Britain, Australia, the United States and one or two other countries. Not yet in Canada, though the Alberta Government and private investors are exploring “SIBs” to see if they make sense here. This posting is not about SIBs,however, but if you are interested in learning more, check out the recent Venture Magazine article on Social Impact Bonds (our featured side bar item currently) and I offer up a posting on Social Impact Bonds at my personal website.

Strong Financial Condition
We ended our 2013-14 fiscal year strong financial condition despite the impact of a devastating fire at our Thrift Shoppe, thanks to strong financial support from funders and donors and effective cost-management. In addition to operating our services in the black, we undertook some major repairs and upgrades at Moonlight Bay Centre. Restorations are still going on at our permanent location of the Thrift Shoppe but slower than I would like. That said we hope to move from our temporary location back home within a couple of months.


Preventing Homelessness
We are days from launching a new program called the Community Bridge which is a year long “prototype” of a program Bissell Centre has designed as a series of interventions to help low income families prevent imminent eviction. We have done this type of work for years, but I felt it was time to get more formal and deliberate about preventing homelessness. It will be evaluated and my lead team on this initiative (which includes me) is  working with an advisory group, Our intention is to be so successful at this that major funders will want to help us scale it up.

Increasing our Victims Services Work
We also got great news recently that our Inner City Victims Services Program (we partner on this with Boyle Street Community Services) has been award two years of funding from the Alberta Government’s Civil Forfeiture Fund  to help us further extend services to inner city victims of crimes and undertake focused efforts to deliver crime prevention strategies in inner city neighbourhoods.

Housing Options Program
A group our managers put their heads together and came up with another way to house the homeless. As you may know, our Homeless to Homes is a Housing First program. As good as the program is, not all homeless people are eligible for it. So, my crew came up with what they call the Housing Options Program. It is a true collaboration among a number of Bissell Centre programs to bring forward housing options to those clients who frequent our Drop-in Centre and need a place to live (but who are not eligible for Housing First). We will continue to test it this year with an eye on fully operationalizing it in 2015.

In the late 1920s, James Ramsey, owner of a department store in Edmonton, donated $300 toward the purchase of the land out at Lake Wabamun that became Moonlight Bay Centre. The United Church owned the land and granted us use of it since then.

Last year discussions ensued with United Church friends about the possibility of Bissell Centre being gifted the land and guess what? That’s exactly what the United Church in Canada did in January of this year. Valued at well over a million dollars, this incredible gift reminds all of us of how closely the United Church holds us to their hearts. This formalizes what has been the case all along: Bissell Centre’s operation of Moonlight Bay Centre on United Church land was and is meant to be forever, I am so grateful. We are so grateful.

I remember the long hours our team spent designing this service, led by our capable Chief Programs Officer, Gary St. Amand. This was our first program that operates non stop 365 days per year. Thanks to our partners, REACH Edmonton and Homeward Trust for collaborating on this as funders and for providing the resources required to operate 24/7 MAP for the coming  year.

This was the first year we extended our hours in the Drop-in during the Winter, thanks to funding from Homeward Trust.From November 1, 2013 through April, 2014, we stayed open 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Our Drop-in staff rose to the occasion (an understatement) to make this happen and we called on many of our relief staff to help out.

As things progressed, we also agreed to keep the Drop-in open 24 hours per day when temperatures hit 20 below or worse. Our intention is to repeat this service in the coming Winter, funding allowing.

Bissell Centre sent staff to provide support and assistance at the recent gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Edmonton. I was glad I attended and was able to learn more about the injustices inflicted on Aboriginal people. We are not an Aboriginal organization but we serve and care about the many whose lives have been harmed by trauma and prejudice.

This coming year we are taking steps to increase our organizational knowledge about and understanding of Aboriginal people and increasing actions that will link our Aboriginal clients to cultural events, sweats, spiritual ceremonies, and Pow Wows. We will host  a Pow Wow later this year, so stay tuned for more info on that. We will also be involving Elders in our  work to help ensure our Aboriginal participants have access to cultural and spiritual leaders.  Please, if you haven’t had the time to visit the TRC website, I encourage you to do so.

Reviewing What We Do and Exploring New  Opportunities
Bissell Centre is committed to looking at ourselves, with an eye on how to get better, do more, and involve others. We  have just completed a major review of our Drop-in Centre and will soon be developing plans to better engage our participants in addressing their challenges through more connections with our other services and more programming focused on addressing their challenges and aspirations for a better life. Once that plan is in place – in about a month or so, I will write about it here.

To increase our ability to understand those who come to us for help as well as track the efforts and results we deliver, we are making changes to increase our capacity for offering person-centred, integrated services (sometimes called “wrap-around services”) as well as doing a major overhaul of our client and outcomes tracking database.

And our commitment to do what we can to help employ people, we are just completing a feasibility study focused on identifying options for introducing more employment services that build on our success delivering our Casual Labour and Jobs First services. More on that too as things progress.

We have taken many steps to spread the word about poverty and homelessness and the work we do at Bissell Centre to address these complex problems. In the past year we spoke to nearly 200 employee groups, service clubs, faith groups, schools, unions, and associations and send thanks to all of them for talking with us. We also got very serious about deploying online strategies through our website/blog, Twitter and Facebook — all purposed to build more and stronger relationships with people and organizations, share information and news, and create a growing movement of people who share in our mission and vision.

In two years we have gone from virtually no presence on social media and a rarely visited website to a sector leader in the use of online tools. In fact tonight I am attending the Yeggies. We are nominated for an award in the Non-Profit category.I wish the other nominees best of luck of course, but  my fingers are crossed. If you see me there, say hello.

So many people and organizations care about us, I am unable to say thanks to them all. And to be honest we don’t know who everyone is; many, many people and groups drop off clothing and other goods and don’t leave their names. We wish they would so we could thank them.

I believe in saying “Thanks.”

This past year we set out to say thank you in a personal way through making phone calls to our individual donors. We made nearly 1,000 telephone calls and we didn’t reach everyone. We will try harder this year.  That said, to all of you who give of your money, time, and/or donate clothing, household items and more, to all of our funders large and small, to those businesses, unions, service clubs, faith groups, schools (of all levels), and associations, thank you for being with us in our work.

You help make a difference. It means a lot.

I would like to hear it if you do. Maybe you have an idea that can  help us better address homelessness and poverty in general or maybe you have a specific idea about what we might do to help children or families or folks with FASD. If you have an idea on how we can make more use of volunteers, tell me.

Or if you have an interesting fundraising idea, I am game to hear it. Also, I sit on the Mayor’s Task Force to End Poverty and if you want to send any advice about issues or solutions I might bring to that table, please share them with me. Anything really.(Oh and if you have any suggestions on how to shed a few pounds… well, that, too!)

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