From the Street to School – Mike’s Story

When Mike first came to Bissell Centre, he’d been living on the street for two years. You might have even seen him on the streets of Edmonton. Perhaps you were the woman who looked Mike in the eyes and said, “You need to get yourself help. There are resources to help you.”

Mike grew up in Edmonton in a family of eight. It wasn’t easy growing up in such a big family. They lived in a cramped three-bedroom house, made smaller because his mother was a hoarder, and his parents fought often.

Mike was similar to his father. He was trusting. He always saw the best in people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. If you asked, he’d give you the shirt from his back.

Once he turned 18, Mike worked and lived on his own, at times allowing his siblings, even his mother, to live with him when they struggled to get by.

Eventually, he made the journey from Edmonton to Calgary. There, he worked for years in the construction industry. Unfortunately, his business partner wasn’t trustworthy—he was underpaying and stealing work from Mike.

During this chaotic time, Mike lost his father, and it was like all the air was sucked from his lungs. The loss was devastating. With his life in shambles, he decided to return home.

Sadly, he didn’t receive the help he’d hoped to find back home. That’s when Mike became homeless for the first time. Each day was a constant struggle. No one believed in him and he certainly didn’t believe in himself.

 “Give people a reason to believe in themselves again and see what they do with their lives.”

 

One day, a kind woman approached him on the street, and encouraged him to seek help. That was a life-changing moment for Mike. He began thinking that things could be different.

Mike found his way to Bissell Centre, where he finally got the help he needed. Scona High School had recently raised $115,000 for Bissell Centre, enabling them to form an Outreach Housing Team. Mike became their first ever participant!

With support from the new team, Mike found an affordable apartment, and got access to mental health services. He also found a rewarding sales job. He was so skilled that he soon won top sales awards and he continues to work there today.

Mike is also now working toward a business degree and is set to graduate at the end of this semester! He dreams of working with wood—he loves building things with his hands.

“Without Bissell Centre, I’d most likely be dead. Most people are on the streets because they don’t believe in themselves and no one believes in them,” Mike says. “Give people a reason to believe in themselves again and see what they do with their lives.”

Donors like you have made it possible for Mike to access Bissell Centre’s Outreach Housing Team, along with other resources. Thanks to your support, Mike has moved from poverty to prosperity.

Thank you for helping Mike and others like him to find affordable housing, and step into a brighter future!

Mike story is a feature in our May Newsletter. Read the full newsletter online now. 

Cooking, Comradery, & Community: A Recipe for Hope

Bissell Centre’s Community Kitchen, part of the larger Community Space renovation, opened in October 2018 and has since been providing individuals who are experiencing homelessness and newly-housed program participants with the skills and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals.

Bissell Centre’s Jennifer McDonald-Robinson has been running the programming in the kitchen since it opened, and she is excited about the impact the community kitchen is making on the lives of the participants so far.

“For a lot of people who are living in poverty, it can become an all-encompassing thing. Poverty affects their emotional, mental, physical and every part of their well-being,” explains Jennifer. “The folks that access our services at Bissell are people coming from food insecure households and because of that they’re more likely to suffer from emotional, mental and physical health difficulties.”

Jennifer believes that by teaching program participants the skills to create nutritious and delicious food for themselves, it can help break that cycle of poverty and isolation.

“Just because they’re experiencing homelessness doesn’t mean they don’t like good food.”

 

“With most of the food for the community kitchen coming from the food bank, it gives participants an opportunity to learn what they can create from the food bank items,” explains Jennifer. “We can show them different ways to use a can of beans, because eating just a can of beans can be boring. Just because they’re experiencing homelessness doesn’t mean they don’t like good food.”

Jennifer goes on to explain that with poverty, there is also an isolation component. Having participants out and interacting in a positive space really helps ward off social isolation.

One of participant Barry’s favourite things about the community kitchen is getting to meet new people and to not be alone.

“There were two gentlemen who are accessing the program who were a bit withdrawn at first,” explains Jennifer. “But now they meet at the library to look up recipes for the program.”

Jennifer feels that having the opportunity to gather together in the kitchen gives people a boost to their social lives, which can be just as much of a benefit as the culinary skills they walk away with each week.

Barry is particularly excited about what he’s learning.

“It’s teaching me how to cook for myself and how to follow a recipe,” Barry explains.

For many program participants, inter-generational trauma has prevented them from acquiring the kitchen skills they need in their lives.

“They missed out on a lot of those basic teachings that perhaps a lot of other people have because of their trauma,” explains Jennifer. “And if they were taught those skills and experienced homelessness for a period of time, those skills lay dormant and they can forget them.”

“There were things I wasn’t taught… So now I’m learning them and I can cook for people.”

 

“There were things I wasn’t taught,” says participant Rocky. “So now I’m learning them and I can cook for people.”

This is why the simple act of creating a meal or a dish gives participants so much joy.

Bissell will be inviting local chefs to come in and teach program participants various kitchen techniques. Community Kitchen programs run on Mondays and Thursdays, as well as an indigenous walk-in program every 2nd Friday. Here, program participants are learning invaluable kitchen skills and building supportive relationships that will help them move out of poverty and feel empowered while doing so.

Got kitchen skills you’d like to share with our participants? We want to hear from you! Email Jen here.

Guest post by Jacquie DuVal