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

From Nothing to Everything – Dave’s Story

If Bissell Centre didn’t exist, I’d be dead—I know I’d be dead. Before they helped me, I had nothing, and now, I have everything. My name is Dave and I’m originally from BC, but moved to Yellowknife, a colder and darker city than Edmonton. Believe it.

Although I was living in Yellowknife for work, the city didn’t work for me. I was drowning there. My alcohol abuse landed me in and out of jail, and I reached a point where I said to myself, “Dave, you’ve gotta go, this city’s killing you.” So I left. I hoped moving to Edmonton would give me a new start after the hard times I’d faced up north.

When I got to Edmonton, things didn’t turn out how I planned. I didn’t know anyone in the city, and I couldn’t find a place of my own. Immediately, I ended up on the streets living rough.

I didn’t own much, but I kept my few possessions in garbage bags and carried them with me. You don’t know what it means to struggle for survival until you’ve carried everything you own in garbage bags. I got to know other characters on the Edmonton streets. It can be rough and you can’t believe or trust everyone, but I consider many of them family and friends I can trust—good people who fell on hard times.

I went to Bissell Centre pretty quickly after coming to Edmonton, and eventually it became the closest thing that I had to a home. They’ve got staff who really care about you—they became my good friends too.

Bissell Centre staff connected me with an addictions and mental health worker. They also assigned a housing worker to help find me a place. I was homeless in Edmonton for about 10 years before I was ready to look for housing. Through the Homeless to Homes program at Bissell Centre, I have a home of my own, after 10 years on the street—10 years without a place that’s warm, safe, and mine.

I had lots of friends on the street, but I wouldn’t share with anyone where I was living because I didn’t want anything to happen that might encourage old habits. I’ve worked hard to recover from alcohol addiction and I’m proud to say that I’m 18 months sober!

I’ve worked hard to recover from alcohol addiction and I’m proud to say that I’m 18 months sober!

 

In May of 2018, I was at home by myself and something happened to my sight. Everything looked distorted and blurry. My right side felt numb and weak. I couldn’t walk and I slumped to the floor. It was two days before a neighbour found me and called 911. I didn’t think I would make it. But thanks to my neighbour, the paramedics came and took me to the hospital where they told me that I’d had a stroke.

Somehow, Bissell Centre staff learned that I was missing and found me in the hospital. While I was in the Glenrose Hospital, they worked with my landlord to find me a new apartment—my old place was on the third floor and would’ve been impossible for me to access. The new apartment that they found for me is in a building with an elevator, so I can get into my home.

Bissell Centre’s staff have gone above and beyond for me. They do a whole bunch for me. They’re currently helping me to get into a lodge that can help me with my rehabilitation.

Before I got sober, I didn’t care. But now, I can spend my money on things that I actually enjoy, like books and DVDs. Getting housed was right on! I’ve even reconnected with my son.

I am grateful to Bissell Centre and to the people who give to them and make their work possible. They’re doing good work in our city—I wish more people knew about Bissell Centre and what they do. They got to know me and they’re still helping me where I’m at today. Without the help of the Bissell Centre, I would have died on the street. I had nothing, and now I have everything.


Donations from the community help people like Dave find a fresh start in life, feel loved and cared for, and build important connections with others. Please consider providing essential, life-changing services to people in need this Easter season.

Donate Now >

Walking the Walk – One Man’s Mission to Help Vulnerable Edmontonians

Josh Hudon, father and business owner, is humble about his achievements, but his collection of 1000 bags for Bissell Centre is anything but a humble feat. He working tirelessly over 9 months to collect the bags, mobilizing a large network to get the job done. The drive and passion to collect the 1000 bags stemmed from a time where he was experiencing financial hardships and could have lost his house and his business.

“It got me thinking about the homeless situation in Edmonton I wanted to do something to help,” explains Josh. “You don’t normally think about homelessness until it really affects you, and that’s what happened to me.”

“You don’t normally think about homelessness until it really affects you.”

 

Another thing that inspired his momentous clothing drive was his participation in the Coldest Night of the Year national fundraising walk last winter. Experiencing firsthand the cold of a winter walk in the dark gave him a deeper empathy for individuals experiencing homelessness in Edmonton and he wanted to do something more to help.

Josh worked closely with his sister to collect and transport the bags a two dozen at a time and met several supporters throughout the campaign who helped him reach his goal. After landing some media opportunities in the fall, bags really began to pour in. On November 19th, 2018, Josh dropped off his 1000th bag.

And he’s not stopping there.

Shortly after collecting “#1000bagsforBissell,” Josh and his friends entered as a team for the Coldest Night of the Year again, with sights set high. Josh’s team hopes to raise $60,000 for Bissell Centre as they participate in the walk. They are already well on their way to achieving this ambitious goal. At the time of writing, Josh’s team is the top fundraising team in Canada for the Coldest Night of the Year, having already raised $14,178.

When asked if he had any advice for teams looking to step up their fundraising efforts, Josh suggested being creative. He has hosted two silent auctions, sold raffle tickets for a large basket giveaway, and reached out to his network for corporate sponsorships. He also recommends dreaming big.

“No one has ever accomplished anything great by setting small, easily achievable goals—you need to reach higher than you might think possible,” explains Josh. He has high expectations of himself, and his drive and ambition are what help him accomplish his mountainous goals.

Support or join Josh’s team, here!

Or, start your own team

 

7 Memorable Highlights of 2018

This past year brought a lot of positive change and much to be celebrated. Each change has brought us one step closer to our goal of eliminating poverty in our community. Thanks to our incredible supporters, we saw some huge successes and were able to better serve our participants’ needs. Here are 7 of the most notable happenings of 2018.

1) Supporters Raise $78,000 in Winter Walk Fundraiser – Sponsored by DistributionNOW

On February 24th, Edmontonians walked 2, 5 or 10k in the shoes of those experiencing poverty and homelessness for our first year hosting the Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) national fundraising walk. Over 340 walkers and 61 teams came together and walked in freezing temperatures to help us raise over $75,000 for our programs, while local businesses like LOVEPizza and The Nook Café provided warmth and treats for our walkers. #WalkForBissell again on February 23rd during this year’s Coldest Night of the Year.


2) Newly Renovated Community Space Opens

On June 11th, we officially opened the doors of our newly renovated Community Space! Our new space has dramatically improved people’s ability to access services to meet their basic needs, connect to supports, develop skills, and build relationships, all of which are essential to overcoming poverty and homelessness. Our thanks goes out to Inter Pipeline and other amazing supporters that provided the funds for this project. Learn more and watch the video tour here!


3) Over 20,000 Bottles of Water Donated During Heatwave

This past summer in Edmonton brought record high temperatures and relentless heat waves. In response to our social media callout, generous individuals and numerous companies donated over 20,000 bottles of water to keep people on the streets hydrated, in addition to summer clothing and other readily available supplies like hats and sunscreen. Thanks to the support of our community, our participants were able to keep cool and hydrated during the hot, summer days.


4) Funding Received to Continue Eviction Prevention Program

In November, we were thrilled to announce that funding had been renewed for our Community Bridge Program! This program helps our participants prevent imminent eviction and provides interventions and services to ensure the causes of the eviction are effectively addressed to prevent re-occurrence. Thanks to the generosity of our partners ENMAX, Edmonton Community Foundation, and EndPovertyEdmonton, participants like Millie and Wendy will continue to have a safe home to return to at night.


 5) Over 9,000 Pairs of Underwear Collected During Annual Drive

In July, we held our 5th annual Drop Your Gonch Underwear Drive. Underwear is one of the most highly requested, yet least donated items for our participants. This year, the local community blew us away with their support. We originally set out with a goal of 5,000 donated pairs, but once the donations started coming in, we increased it to 6,000, then 8,000, and ending up collecting over 9,000 pairs! The underwear donations helped us bring dignity to those experiencing homelessness, and we couldn’t have been more grateful.


6) Initial Funding Received to Expand and Relocate Childcare Centre

After 45 years in operation, our Childcare is expanding to meet the needs of even more families in Edmonton. We will be creating 30 new full-time spots for our accredited childcare services, in addition to the 40 free respite spots already available. Our current facility is too small to accommodate the expansion, so we will be moving to a new location in the heart of the McCauley community. While the initial funding has been secured to move forward with the project, we are still in need of additional funds to complete the renovation. Check out the initial design renderings of the new Centre here. Interested in supporting and learning more? Please contact Kelly Hoskins.


7) Participants get Cooking in New Community Kitchen

In October, we opened the Community Kitchen in our new Community Space. After identifying a lack of basic cooking knowledge as a barrier to keeping newly-housed individuals in their homes, we developed programming that allows participants to build skills, improve health, and foster relationships through cooking classes, workshops and community meals. Our participants have made some delicious meals together, including Ham and Corn Chowder with Bannock, Roasted Chicken with a Pineapple Ginger Glaze, and Shepherd’s Pie. Yum! Learn more about our Community Kitchen here.


 
We are humbled by the continued support of our amazing community. The work we do at Bissell Centre wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of people like you!

From all of us here at Bissell, THANK YOU for helping empower people to move from poverty to prosperity! We can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring!


Help create more memories like these by joining our family of supporters today.  Make a donation.

 

From Rock Bottom to Recovery: Mary Joe’s Story

During the winter, living in poverty is hard. When the temperature drops, the need for relief from the cold increases, and more people seek assistance from Bissell Centre for essential needs like nourishing meals, winter clothing, housing support, and more. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, Mary Joe found hope and tangible help at Bissell Centre.

She moved to Edmonton to be closer to her children and grandchildren only a few years ago. Her first stop, once she arrived, was to Bissell Centre for a shower and clean clothes. Mary Joe had been living on the streets and drinking a lot, trying to survive the bitter cold nights.

“If it wasn’t for Bissell Centre, I’d probably have frozen out there.” -Mary Joe

 

“A group of us slept in a gazebo together. We had electrical blankets covered with other blankets we’d collected, and then a big orange tarp over the whole thing,” says Mary Joe. “We slept under there, huddled together, just hoping to wake up in the morning.”

One evening, while she was drinking outside, she was violently robbed and left to freeze to death in the extreme cold. Thankfully, a kind young man found her and got her out of a dangerous part of town, saving her life. This was the wake up call she needed to make a change. She quickly returned to Bissell Centre for help to get clean and sober.

Bissell Centre’s staff helped Mary Joe look for an affordable apartment, and start piecing her life back together. “There were some nights when I wasn’t sure if I’d survive. If it wasn’t for Bissell Centre, I’d probably have frozen out there,” says Mary Joe. “But now I’m okay. I have my kids and family back. I have a lot of support. And I have a beautiful home to call my own.”

Mary Joe now has a roof over her head, a job, and she gives back by volunteering at Bissell Centre. “I’m grateful that I’m part of this community. I’m thankful for what happened and where I’m at now,” she says. Because of the support she received, Mary Joe has hope for the future, and has a community of people around her that is akin to family. “I’m thankful for Bissell Centre because there aren’t a lot of places that I feel comfortable hanging out and am accepted for who I am,” says Mary Joe.


Donations from the community help people like Mary Joe find a fresh start in life, feel loved and cared for, and build important connections with others. Please consider providing essential, life-changing services to people in need before year-end and get a 2018 tax credit!

Donate Now >

New Mom Looking for Holiday Help, Surprised to Help Others

Christmas of 2017 was a tough time for my family. Having welcomed our second daughter in September, we were at the pinnacle of sleep deprivation as our youngest went through her three-month sleep regression. As a breastfeeding mom, I would wake every 2-3 hours to feed her, and this went on for weeks. We were so tried that we were barely getting through the every-day chores, let alone getting ready for Christmas.

With Christmas looming and a two-year-old at home, I bought all my gifts online, but had absolutely no time to wrap them. I contemplated buying paper bags to shove the presents in and calling it a day. Then I heard about the partnership between Bissell Centre and Southgate Centre for their gift-wrapping service. Not only would I not have to wrap my own gifts, but I’d also get to spend some time having a coffee while the baby napped in her car seat. It was a no-brainer for me. I went the next day and thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet the wonderful volunteers from Bissell, who cheerfully took my gifts to wrap, labeled them and returned them to me in under an hour. I got to walk the mall, enjoying a hot coffee for the first time in weeks.

I was looking for help during the holidays, and I found out that I was helping others.

 

Any mom of young children can attest to just how hard it is to get a moment to themselves. Bringing my gifts for wrapping at Southgate gave me some time to myself at such a critical time in my postpartum journey. Most importantly, I was surprised and delighted to learn about the impact that Bissell Centre has on the community, including supporting struggling families and children through their Childcare program, parenting classes, clothing donations and more. In fact, Bissell Centre supports over 600 families across Edmonton each year. I was looking for help during the holidays, and I found out that I was helping others. What a gift!

It was such a pleasant experience that I will be bringing my gifts every year. Life is still busy with a toddler and preschooler running around and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to bringing my gifts to be wrapped by “Bissell Elves” at Southgate Mall. It has become a welcomed holiday tradition for us.

*Submitted and written by local mom and business owner, Jacquie DuVal.


Between November 23th and December 24th, for a minimum donation of $3, have your Christmas gifts wrapped at Southgate Centre by Bissell Elves. All proceeds go to support Bissell Centre’s Childcare meal program.

7 Ways to Support Bissell Centre this Holiday Season

Together, we can make a big difference for families and individuals living in poverty this Holiday Season.

Here are 7 ways you can help!

1. Shop Our Holiday Gift Guide

Choose a meaningful gift from our Holiday Gift Guide to benefit individuals and families in need. Shop now!


3. Volunteer with Us—Become a Bissell Elf!

As a “Bissell Elf” you will take part sorting donations, wrapping gifts, serving meals, and spreading good cheer alongside enthusiastic Bissell Elf Captains, who will help lead the way!


2. Have Your Gifts Wrapped in Support of Bissell Centre

Between November 23th and December 24th, for a minimum donation of $3, have your Christmas gifts wrapped at Southgate Centre by Bissell Elves. All proceeds go to support Bissell Centre’s meal program for children.


4. Fundraise on Our Behalf!

This holiday season, when you host a staff event, church gathering, or dinner party, you can also give to people in need. Find everything you need to host a fundraiser for Bissell!


5. Donate Warm Winter Gear

During the cold season, items such as jackets, gloves, mitts, and boots are critical to the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness. You can help by donating new or used winter gear as an individual, or, consider starting a clothing drive initiative! Check out our list of needed items.


6. Stay Tuned this Giving Tuesday!

Stay tuned this #GivingTuesday, November 27, 2018! We have something exciting to share with you.


7. Share and Advocate!

Advocacy in all its forms helps ensure that vulnerable people get the support they need to move from poverty to prosperity. So tell your family, friends, and colleagues about these easy ways to support Bissell Centre this season!

 

ENMAX Renews Support of Eviction Prevention Program

We are thrilled to announce that ENMAX has renewed their partnership with our Community Bridge Program! Community Bridge is a rapid response intervention to stop an imminent eviction and provide interventions and services to ensure that the causes of the eviction are effectively addressed to ward off the re-occurrence.

The vision of the program includes strong partnerships across all sectors that leverage existing services while directing funds to the preventative efforts that stop homelessness before it occurs, and sets the stage for actions people and systems can undertake to improve lives and people’s futures. The vision is of a service that reduces the economic costs of poverty that all of us fund in one way or another.

Millie’s story helps explain the value of the program.

Two years ago, Millie’s rent was raised unexpectedly. She knew she needed help if she wanted to stay off the streets, so she applied for assistance from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program.

Community Bridge was able to help Millie afford her rent while she focused on her health and overcoming her alcohol addiction. Without the program, Millie believes she would have been evicted and left homeless once again.

Today, Millie spends her spare time volunteering with various organizations, extending a helping hand to others who are struggling in similar ways she was.

“Now I have a safe home to go to every night, and for that I’m so grateful. I wake up every day not having to worry about where I’ll find a meal.” – Millie

Thank you ENMAX for your significant contribution and support of our Community Bridge Program. We are so grateful for your support and for the positive impact you’ve made and will continue to make in our program participant’s lives!

Russell’s Story of Hope and Renewal

When Russell came to us, he had been sleeping under trees, struggling to find work. After spending a decade stuck in a cycle of addiction and poverty, he knew it was time to make a change.

Life had not been easy for Russell. As a child growing up in a family of eight, he recalls getting teased because of his hand-me-downs and for the holes in his clothes. Food was limited, as his dad worked to support six children. As a teen, Russell was incredibly talented at baseball—it was something he could have pursued as a career. But his family just didn’t have the money to support his dream.

As an adult, Russell lived and worked in Fort McMurray with his wife. However, times became difficult when his relationship came to an end. He sold his house and moved to Edmonton where he struggled to find work and a place to live. Unable to cope with the past and deal with his current situation, Russell turned to alcohol to numb his pain. For the next 10 years, homelessness became a way of life for Russell as he struggled with addiction and loneliness. Russell recalls the most difficult part of living on the streets was being so isolated: “There was nobody. Just me.”

There was nobody. Just me.

 

One day, Russell saw someone in coveralls heading to work and asked them where he could go to find a job. That’s when he first heard about Bissell Centre. He quickly reached out for help. Although overcoming his addiction wasn’t easy, with Bissell Centre’s help, Russell managed to find and maintain steady work as a landscaper. Today, he still works for the same company after nine years of employment.

Our generous donors have directly impacted people like Russell, and for that he is so grateful. “It gives me the opportunity to start growing up like a tree,” he shares. “Look at me, I’m 100% happy!”

Not only did a steady income give Russell the confidence to sustain a livelihood, the housing program helped him to find a home and a family. “I know when I’m coming home, I’m coming home,” shares Russell. He is so grateful to have security and to be leading a dignified life—a life of growth and transformation that he hopes can spread to others who are struggling.

“I can get up and put a cup of coffee on and I go up there in the cupboard to get something to eat,” he says. “I don’t have to stand in line-ups.”

As the season of gratitude approaches, Russell looks forward to sharing his gratitude at Bissell Centre’s Thanksgiving dinner. He reminisces about how wonderful it was to be a part of something when he was feeling alone.

“Everything looked so perfect—from the cloths on the tables to the flowers in the pots,” he says. “It was so well organized and well done.” It is these meals that are often the first steps towards growth and transformation for those who are struggling.

Like Russell, we are so incredibly grateful for your gifts that have supported so many people throughout the years. Thank you for supporting our programs that have done so much for our Edmonton community!