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.