Art in the heART of The City Visual Art Exhibit: Dec. 2nd-18th

Discover emerging artists at the  Art in the heART of The City Visual Art Exhibit next week at  City Hall!  

The Exhibit will feature  41 artworks by 12 artists who are creating in the inner city neighbourhoods of Boyle and McCauley and is the first of its kind undertaken in The City. The Exhibit will recognize,  celebrate, and explore the talent and creativity of the artists who are in the core of our city.  

Participant artists are from Bissell Centre and Boyle Community Services, iHuman, E4C HUB, and George Spady Society.

The Exhibit runs from Dec. 2nd -18th at Edmonton City Hall and is  presented by a not-for-profit community partnership between the inner city agencies of Bissell Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, The Works Society, The City of Edmonton, and supported by the Edmonton Community Foundation and The Stollery Charitable Foundation.  

For more information about the Exhibit, please view the poster here.

Click here to download the media release.


The Skinny on Why We Fundraise and on the Support We Receive from Major Funders

Not too long ago, I had lunch with one of my favorite people, a long-standing colleague and friend. We talk about a wide range of things when we meet, and most of the time we are putting our heads together about how to create synergy between our two organizations. We enjoy the ability to be frank with each other, which is especially helpful when we disagree about something.

At this lunch, one of the topics we covered was her criticism of a posting I did on my personal blog in July of this year called, “Let’s play pretend.” In that posting I voiced a number of criticisms of funders.  Her primary issue with my posting was that it lacked, in her opinion, balance. It did not, she said, provide information about the good things funders do and are working on to strengthen community life as well as their relationships with agencies. She felt it failed to adequately represent the significant funding agencies like Bissell Centre receive each year.

She was correct. The balance could have been stronger. I did explain that my intent was to stir the pot more so than provide a positive-negative accounting of funder actions locally. I believe there are many structural problems that agencies like Bissell Centre experience at the hands of the funder community, and I do not believe that funders are collectively addressing this. I will continue to write about these issues and challenges, and advocate for change. That said, this posting is my attempt to offer more balance to ensure fairness and to provide Bissell Centre supporters with a bigger, fuller picture.

Later on in this posting (see An Overview of Support from our Major Funders) I share some of the good news experiences we have with our major funders. All of the support you will read about is critical to our work and I am grateful, truly. That said, it is also the case that Bissell Centre has to raise $2 million in donations this year to ensure that many of our programs can continue to operate. These programs include our drop in centre, free child care services, family support services, recreational and wellness programming, volunteer services (we recruit, deploy, and support 1,000 volunteers per year), and others. As well, we have to fundraise at times to ensure we can cover all the costs of a contracted service, which are typically government contracts.

Our infrastructure costs exceed what funders provide and, trust me, we are very good at getting free and low-cost services from suppliers. Most funders seem to be content knowing non-profits have to pay their staff lower wages than funders pay their staff. However, as CEO of Bissell Centre, I believe our incredible staff should not be paid sub-par wages. They work hard and deal every day with the kinds of human problems that most of us will never experience: deep poverty, homelessness, severe mental illness, the trauma of sexual abuse, and the list goes on. They are skilled and knowledgeable and deserve a decent wage and benefits.

All of our major funders have limited resources. The reasons why their funds are limited are open to discussion and debate. Some say there is a finite amount of money and at a very macro level that might be true. Others say – and I admit to being one of them – that limited resources in any government or funder resource stream are the result of decisions made by those in power.   Our reality is that choices are made about how public, community, and private dollars are spent. Those in positions of power are faced with difficult decisions and I believe they work hard to make good decisions, based on a matrix of priorities. Even so, it is reasonable to raise questions about current priorities, how things might be better prioritized, and so forth. My board expects that of me. You do, too. I think the same expectation is reasonable to direct towards those who control the purse strings on doing social good.

Regardless of where you sit on that subject, at Bissell Centre we choose not to be stymied by the limitations of our major funders. That is why we fundraise. Not only do we have to cover what funders don’t, we want to do more. We believe the community members we serve deserve more.

We are blessed with so many who help us do just that. Each year we receive significant support from the United Church and its many congregations and women’s groups. Service clubs, unions, associations, businesses of all sizes, and many community and corporate foundations step up with their support each and every year. Individuals from across the city and beyond send in donations of cash and also clothing and household items.

Each year we generate approximately one-third of our budget. I already mentioned the $2 million we need to fund raise, but we also earn a fair amount of income. Our Thrift Shoppe is one example. Its revenues not only pay for the operations necessary to provide very low priced used clothing to low income people, but it also funds our free clothing outlet at our downtown offices. We are currently transforming Moonlight Bay Centre into a retreat centre, a place where weddings take place, organizations meet, and other groups hold camps and other events. We use those revenues to fund free family camps for low income parents and children. We decided to take this approach because frankly there are no major funders that choose to provide ongoing funding to family camps for low income families.

We have more ideas along those lines that we are working on right now.  After all, I believe we should not fundraise for things we can take care of ourselves.

Again, my intent here is not only to explain why we fundraise and need your support but also to be open and transparent about the support we get from our ongoing funders and contracts. I think Bissell Centre donors deserve to know the full picture. Charities that just paint a hard luck picture are not always painting the full picture. Bissell Centre wants to paint a good news picture, one that invites and celebrates the community’s engagement in and support of our work to end poverty and homelessness.

If you are interested in knowing more about what Bissell Centre is up to and where we are headed there are numerous ways to learn more. All of our services are listed and explained on our new website, and there are specific reports and postings that will give you a good sense of who we are and what we are doing. Consider perusing our business plan or my most recent CEO Stakeholder Report on Homelessness.


For the past six years we have had two 3-year multi-year agreements with United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.   The first three-year agreement provided for more than a 20% increase to Bissell Centre. In the current three-year agreement, our program’s funding has been frozen. Of course that is a concern to me because our expenses go up each year.

However, United Way also stepped up along with other funders to provide $75,000 towards an innovative homelessness prevention initiative we have designed and are now prototyping. More recently, United Way has provided office space for a large Bissell Centre team on Stony Plain Road; it’s a two-year rent-free lease. That saves us around $20,000 per year and allows us to apply those dollars to service delivery.

Bissell Centre is funded by the City of Edmonton, through the Family and Community Support Services program. Its core funding has been flat for numerous years. Again that’s an issue for us in terms of addressing rising expenses in the programs it partially funds. However, since I took the CEO position at Bissell Centre, the City of Edmonton has come through on a number of occasions for Bissell Centre through project, emergency, and one-time funding. The city helped us with the fires that devastated our Thrift Shoppe, funded a food security project, and other one-time projects. I estimate the total additional contributions in the past three years has been around $170,000.   We would have struggled without that support.

Two other funders (foundations) have been key supporters of Bissell Centre over the years. The Edmonton Community Foundation and the Stollery Charitable Foundation. While these two stellar foundations do not offer sustaining funding to programs, they do provide important funding to help expand or launch new programs and services. In the past several years, these two foundations have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Bissell Centre expand the hours of our drop-in centre and our family support program; they both are lead funders in our homeless prevention prototype (Community Bridge), and have provided other grants to support our work with respect to family camps, capital improvements, and more recently support of an art show of inner city artists which will take place soon at City Hall.

REACH Edmonton and Homeward Trust put their heads and funding together in 2012 to launch Bissell Centre’s 24/7 MAP initiative. These two funders were seeking innovative ways to reach street involved people 24 hours per day, seven days per week, offering assertive outreach, crisis diversion and the means by which to house the chronically homeless.   Bissell Centre is proud to have been chosen to be a part of that innovation.

Last year, Bissell Centre expressed interest in joining the Winter Warming initiative funded by Homeward Trust. We are now in our second year of offering drop in services during the six winter months, 7 days per week, 15 hours a day, including holidays. It is important work and it helps ensure that the homeless are not suffering in the harsh winter and experiencing frostbite or worse.   We could not be open so long without that support.

The Government of Alberta (Job Skills, Training & Labour) is a long supporter of our Casual Labour program and last year agreed to fund an additional staff person to help us recruit more businesses into the program. It also provided funding so we could undertake a feasibility study about how to expand our work into longer-term employment services. That money allowed us to understand new options and now we are building a business plan to move forward in that direction.

Three years ago, the Alberta Solicitor General saw fit to fund a unique to Canada partnership between Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services – called Inner City Victim Services. This program has been successful in helping inner city victims of crime, often violent crime, work through their trauma, escape family violence, and, when warranted, receive restitution.

For the past three years, Alberta Human Services has provided additional funding each year to help increase the capacity of Bissell Centre and other service providers under contract with the government to provide market increases to the dozen or so Bissell staff working in the programs they support.

These sources of major funding and contract dollars, along with the earned income and fundraising we generate each and every year are what fuel our mission and vision work, both of which are about ending poverty and helping people — one person at a time — move from poverty to prosperity.   Everyone who plays a part in such support is critical not only to our current operations but also to our capacity to do more in the future.

I hope this helps put things into perspective for you. If you have any questions, let me know.

And, if you can, please donate to Bissell Centre. Every gift of every size makes a difference.

Thank you.

About the 2014 Homeless Count

The results of the October 16th Homeless Count indicate a small increase in the number of homeless individuals and families in Edmonton.  While we hoped for better numbers, Bissell Centre is not surprised by the results.

In the past two years we have seen a much tighter housing market and a continued increase in rents. In a tight housing marketing, landlords have more choice about who they select as a tenant, and this often means that access to rental accommodations for the chronically homeless becomes more difficult. Housing First teams across the city, of which we are one, do an excellent job of identifying, placing, and supporting the chronically homeless in appropriate, safe housing. At Bissell Centre, we house more than 300 homeless people each year, through our Housing First services as well as through other Bissell programs.

The Edmonton community is seen as a beacon of hope for many who migrate here in the hope of finding good employment, but not everyone’s hopes pan out. As Edmonton grows, we will continue to experience proportional growth in the numbers of people requiring assistance and support, including help in obtaining affordable housing.

Bissell Centre is concerned about the rising number of people staying in shelters;  we are worried about the trend in the rising number of youth who have no home; and we continue to be concerned about the over representation of Aboriginal people among the homeless. While making up 5.4% of Edmonton’s population, Aboriginal people make up 48% of the homeless.

There are many organizations in town who not only provide housing placement and support services, but also operate affordable and supportive housing. The City of Edmonton provides subsidized housing as well, but the wait list is three-years long.

To fully address homelessness and also ensure that community members can access affordable, safe housing will require continued commitment to investment in programs like Housing First, but more housing and social programs will not solely solve homelessness for our community.

In order to add more affordable and supportive housing in Edmonton, we need to explore cross sector partnerships among governments, the private sector, and human service organizations in order to identify innovative solutions to homelessness and housing affordability.

We also need to explore economic solutions that include discussions about living wage, the provision of stable employment, and the inclusion of benefits. Too many workers are living hand to mouth, and too many of our younger workers are unable to afford accommodation on their own. They end up living with others, often 4 to 6 people in a house they rent. This creates tenuous housing for them, given that if one or two of the tenants lose their jobs, everyone could lose their home.

We need to increase the community’s capacity to address mental illness and addictions, both of which are major reasons why people end up without a home. We need to continue working together as agencies to deliver assertive outreach programs aimed at locating, supporting, and ultimately housing the homeless.

More attention to prevention is indicated as well. At Bissell Centre we are piloting a service aimed at preventing evictions, especially for families who are facing the loss of their home for the first time in their lives. Stopping one instance of family homelessness keeps parents and children together and avoids the high cost of child welfare apprehension, shelter costs, and the costs of other emergency services.

Issues and problems of homelessness and poverty cannot be solved by any one strategy or any one organization or sector. These are community problems and we need to continue to seek out, as a community, ways for all of us to work together to put an end to the suffering and hopelessness too many of our citizens experience each and every day.

I am encouraged that the Mayor’s Task Force on Ending Poverty sees housing as one of the major priorities in its work ahead, and I am honoured to be a part of that effort. I am encouraged to see so many excellent Housing First teams working with the chronically homeless.   And I believe our community will continue to come together to remedy what troubles all of us – people sleeping in back lanes, children hungry and homeless, families living in deep poverty.   Bissell Centre’s vision is of a poverty-free Edmonton. Many others share that vision. I imagine you do, too.

Mark Holmgren, CEO

Welcome to the new

Our new website was just launched and I hope it meets your needs as a visitor and supporter of Bissell Centre. As the CEO of Bissell Centre, I believe we need to be fully engaged with the community, not only about the work we do, but about the significant issues and challenges our community faces with respect to poverty, homelessness, mental illness, addictions, and so forth.

That engagement is not only here on our website but through social media, where we are present and active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you don’t follow us there, click on one of the links and please do.

Our new website is here for people seeking help, professionals who are trying to help a client, for community members who are interested in volunteering, donating, and learning more about social issues and solutions.

We will be continuing to develop the site to make additional improvements as well as expand upon resources and opportunities that may interest you and your family, colleagues, and friends. Please encourage others to visit us.

Bringing a new website to the Internet is no small feat. It involves so many working collaboratively to come up with the design, the functionality desired, and the content (narrative and images). It is also an exercise in branding and how to structure something that works for you.

I am so very grateful to the following:

Lift Interactive
On their website, the folks at Lift Interactive call themselves a “multidisciplinary team of strategists, designers, storytellers, & creative coders.” Well, it’s true. They are that, but much more. They are colleagues, friends, and collaborators par excellence! In my career, I have been involved in numerous web projects and worked with many fine people. Lift Interactive is by far the best group I have worked with. I send many thanks and our deep respect to the talents and work ethic of the entire team at Lift. I am also grateful, as is my entire team, for the generosity of the principals, Micah and Kristi Slavens for the significant “free-of-charge” contribution they committed to getting this website from a dream of ours to a reality. Bissell Centre did pay for some of the development, but Lift’s pro bono contribution went far beyond my expectations and represents the lion’s share of what the true cost was of this website. They rock! Check them out.

Devin Komarniski
Many of you might know Devin from Twitter and our other social media sites. He came to us earlier this year and is Bissell Centre’s social media specialist, though I might just change his title to “social marketing guru.” He led the way in forming our partnership with Lift Interactive, and has been our lead visionary here at Bissell in the creation of our website. Without his leadership, not to mention his hard work and stellar commitment to quality, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Rob Fragoso
Rob is our lead fund development specialist and was a key partner, with Devin and Lift, on getting this website up and running. I charged him with ensuring the online donation process was clean, easy, and secure and provided a good experience for those who wish to support us. He also played a substantive role in the design vision of the web site. He provided his time and expertise while meeting all of the many other expectations of his job here at Bissell.

Darren Brennan
Darren is a key component of our marketing and fundraising teams, and has been involved in the website design project all along the way.   He’s provided his keen insight to the team, and has been quick to take on the many challenges presented by such a large undertaking.   Darren will continue to play a large role in the maintenance and evolution of our new website.

Mary Higgs
To call Mary versatile would be an understatement. She is my Executive Assistant, provides unparalleled support to my board of governors, and also serves as our Special Projects Manager. As we got closer to our deadline, I asked her to help the team get all of the content up. This meant learning a new back end and project managing the significant work in providing you with the content you see on every page.

We have done our best to launch with an error-free website. You won’t find any “Under Construction” pages here (I just hate sites like that, don’t you?). However, if you see a problem or a glitch, please let us know. While we strive for perfection, we know that sometimes things go wrong and your help in knowing when that happens would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

Mark Holmgren, CEO

Warmer Winter for People in Need

Bissell Centre, along with other organizations in Edmonton, has received Winter Warming funding from Homeward Trust as part of their Winter Emergency Response (WER)  program, which will extend the operation of support services in our Drop-in Centre for people on the streets during the upcoming winter months. Starting November 1st, our Drop-in Centre will be open from 6:00am – 9:00pm until April 30th, 2015 (seven days a week, including holidays) as an essential destination for temporary respite for people who are experiencing homelessness during the harsh, winter conditions.

The Drop-in Centre will provide a warm, safe place for people who are outside in the cold, and will continue to provide for their basic needs such as: access to warm clothing, bathrooms, showers, and snacks during the extended hours of service.

The public also plays a vital role in the well-being of people on the street who are facing the harsh, winter weather. Bissell Centre’s 24/7 MAP crisis intervention team can be dispatched by calling 211 and will connect people with emergency shelters in the community to ensure their safety.

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