When it was clear physical distancing was necessary for everyone’s safety, we immediately recognized that people who didn’t have a home to go to were at great risk. People without a home, a shower, laundry facilities, and all manner of basic amenities are already susceptible to health issues. The risks are then compounded by the fact that people with no home often sleep in the cold.
Our Community Space remained open so that people with nowhere to go could still meet some basic needs. But physical distancing was near impossible, and we couldn’t offer much-needed medical assistance for those with COVID-19 symptoms.
The City of Edmonton, Alberta Health Services, Homeward Trust and various social agencies, including Bissell Centre, quickly came together to turn the Edmonton EXPO Centre into an Isolation Centre and Day Shelter, where health supports are available, people without a home can access food, clothing, a shower, etc., as well as practice distancing. In about 7 days we uprooted our staff, operational equipment, and community members.
“I am so appreciative of how our team is pulling together at all levels to plan, coordinate and implement changes in such a short window. It has been quite a feat to behold, truly a herculean effort.
We remain steadfast in our resolve to ensure people experiencing homelessness and poverty are supported safely and with dignity in these uncertain times.” – Gary St. Amand, CEO
Government funding covers many of the costs for the Expo operations, but Bissell is still responsible for filling ongoing and emerging needs for active programs beyond the Expo Day Shelter.
We ran out of clothes almost immediately. Within a couple of days, we were seeing more than 500 people come to the EXPO. Since we couldn’t accept used clothes in the short-term due to distancing recommendations, we turned to the public for help.
Boyle Street Community Services and Bissell appealed to you, the community at large, for help to raise money to buy jeans, shirts, underwear, gloves, underwear, and more. In less than 1 week, you contributed $30,000. Even though we’ve often witnessed just how compassionate Edmontonians are—this blew us away! It’s a bit of a challenge for our staff to find clothing sources, but we’ve been able to fill gaps.
Other programs continue to run. The Outreach Housing Teams, in addition to providing housing opportunities, are providing bagged lunches to people who are still on the streets, providing information about distancing and the resources available, and encouraging them to go to the EXPO. Other Teams are bringing meals, cleaning supplies, and phones to people who are newly housed and our tenants at Hope Terrace. Supports are limited, but we are doing what we can to be reliable and ensure their well-being.
Back at Bissell our Childcare Staff are also working hard. Our Early Learning and Child Care Centre was selected to provide childcare services for essential service workers. The team eagerly shifted gears in order to support front-line workers. They changed some structures and procedures to meet pandemic-related health requirements, but the heart of the program remains. In fact, our dedicated, caring staff are highly experienced working with children and families experiencing stress. A big stress is simply finding affordable, high-quality childcare. It is not easy to come by for people experiencing poverty. We’re honoured to offer this service to essential workers, so they can rest easy that their loved ones are being cared for while they meet other extraordinary stresses.
Our Family Support Workers are doing their best to stay in touch with our own families. They are doing what they can to see that families have access to food and supplying diapers and formula where needed.
We are doing everything possible to work for those who turn to us, but, as the saying goes…
These are uncertain times.
We’ve all heard this phrase over the past few weeks, but for people experiencing poverty and homelessness, uncertainty is all too normal. Bissell has been one of the, too few, cornerstones they’ve been able to depend on.
No matter what goes on in the world or one’s own life, Bissell Centre has always been a trusted and safe space for people in need. It is a place of compassion, support and hope.
“I’m free from drugs and homelessness because of these individuals. I cannot ever repay the kindness, the support, the pain and the gain…I just want you all to know… I am so very thankful and pray your safe and fulfilled while you lead us to safety. Thank you so much” – Jien, former participant
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bissell remains wholly committed to serving the people that need and depend on us the most. But we can’t do it without you.
For over 100 years, support from the community has made it possible for Bissell to serve this city’s most vulnerable citizens. Bissell has helped people through World Wars, the Great Depression, recessions and other global medical challenges, such as Spanish Flu, HIV, SARS, and H1N1. We are dedicated to ensuring our participants are cared for throughout COVID-19 too.
“I can’t keep up with all these changes. It’s too much. But, I’m in the right place. I feel taken care by Bissell, and I know they can get me what I need.” – Chris, Community Space participant
We have had to make changes to the way we run our programs, like moving our Community Space to the Expo Centre, but we are still very much active and operational.
Today your support is needed more than ever. Your gifts make the following possible:
- Meals and bag lunches for those on the street
- Supporting people to get housing or stay housed so they can safely self-isolate
- Hampers with diapers and formula for Bissell families
- Protective items like masks and gloves for staff and participants
- Stability to ensure we come out of this crisis strong and can continue with projects such as the construction of the new childcare facility
We will get through this if we continue to work together.