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Bill’s Story – Finding a Fresh Start

My name is Bill and I received a second chance at life after finding out about Bissell and the supports they offer. Bissell does amazing work helping those Edmontonians like me who are struggling to get by after life has kicked them down. And I’m so thankful I was able to access Bissell Centre’s programs back when I needed them most.

Back when Covid-19 first hit, I had a job at a restaurant, and plenty of experience in the industry. Then the restaurant closed without warning. It was total chaos for restaurants, like so many jobs, so finding work at another was impossible.

I didn’t have any savings, and soon I could no longer afford my rent. I had to give up my apartment and I moved into a rooming house. I didn’t know the people I was living with and there was no privacy. But hey, I had a roof over my head. I was grateful for that much at least.

Someone at that point told me about Bissell as a place to warm up and find something to eat. I didn’t think I’d ever end up going to a place like Bissell, but I’m glad I did. That first visit changed my life and it all started with a warm plate of food.

The food tasted great and the staff was even better. Everyone was so welcoming. That kept bringing me back.

But still, I found myself bored without a job, as I grew up on a farm where hard work is required and my motto has always been “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” As soon as the staff at Bissell knew of my urge to get back to work, they sent me to their Employment Services team, who were able to find me a steady job almost right away.

I wish I could say that’s the end of the story and everything worked out just fine.

Just as everything seemed to be falling into place and I felt like I had a second chance, I was hit with another blow: the rooming house I called home burned down. Everything I owned was now dust. I can’t begin to describe how I felt. I was scared, lonely, sad and angry all at once.

For the second time in one year, I was homeless. This time, thankfully I knew where to turn for help.

When I was homeless, all I could think about was how I was going to stay out of the cold, and where to find my next meal. Bissell was a warm place to go and always had a meal for me. After getting to know some of the staff, I reached out and asked for help finding a place to live and work.

The staff at Bissell got me connected with temporary lodging. Then I found another rooming house, but I didn’t feel safe there. Bissell Centre staff were able to connect me with their Community Bridge program and I found an apartment of my own.

I also now work full-time at the Bissell Centre Community Space and it’s so rewarding to work in the same space I once turned to for support. I don’t know where I would be without Bissell Centre and I am glad I never had to find out.

For me, all the support from Bissell started from a simple meal. Please make a donation to Bissell’s Easter meal and help others find the holiday meal that could be just the fresh start they’re looking for. Bissell’s Easter meal is an annual event and serves hundreds of Edmontonians. Your generosity (a single meal costs just $3.20) ensures that others receive the same helping hand that Bissell offered to me.

Community Bridge and homelessness prevention.

We’re all seeing the news record-high utility costs, record-high inflation. To many of us, these headlines will cause some discomfort at the till or through the month but overall, we’ll be ok. We’ll start buying no-name products to help with the pinch and pull from our savings, say no to ordering dinner more often and look more closely at our budgets, but we won’t be at risk of losing our homes or having our utilities cut off.

This isn’t the same for families and individuals living in poverty. April 1st, utility companies can disconnect services for nonpayment. Food in the fridge and freezer will spoil, laundry will pile up, sponge baths with colds cloths become reality, with no way to quickly cook the food in the fridge and freezer before it goes bad. It’s all very bleak and living in poverty this cycle goes on and on. You get ahead just to fall behind.

In 2021 Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge program provided 201 loans totalling $276,713.75 for utility and rental arrears for families and individuals in Edmonton, supporting 476 people including children.  We were able to redirect $43,072.06 to other eviction preventions supports and with a little financial coaching, families were able to pay off $75,904.52 independently.

Take Mary for example. Mary did everything “right”. She went to school, became a nurse and worked hard and lived a nice life. Then a terrible accident left her disabled. After years of therapy, she was able to return to work part-time but part-time work isn’t enough to cover her monthly costs, so she started to get behind. With the support of our program, we helped her come up with a repayment program with her landlord, supported her with a $2000 no-interest loan and with some financial coaching Mary could pay back $517 of her debt on her own. Mary maintains her housing and has a sustainable plan to move forward.

Our Community Bridge (CB) program provides holistic housing-loss prevention supports with a supplementary loan component. CB’s goal is to prevent homelessness before it happens, as the repercussions of an eviction can be devastating.

Support Workers in our program take a client-centred case management approach to focus on the participant’s long-term housing and financial stability. Participants work with a CB Support Worker to create a sustainable financial action plan that includes an honest household budget. This plan is created by the participant with their unique financial goals in mind.

Support Workers coach clients in negotiating with landlords and utility companies and assist in applying for government benefits and accessing employment. During this period, 686 informational and supported referrals were completed to programs including employment services, mental health services, addiction support, family support, basic needs, and other community resources.

In 2022 we’re already slated to double our supports to families. In January and February, we’ve approved loans amounting to $67,146,  nearly 25% of the total quantity of loans we gave out all last year. Inflation and high utility costs are more than just headlines. They are real fear factors for families who are already choosing whether they should feed their families or pay their bills. But with our help, a little financial coaching and small contributions, families can be well on their way to sustainable living.

Our Community Bridge Program is a vital part of our vision to eliminate poverty in our community.

 

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