How you can offer hope during COVID-19

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 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

In April, the National Month of HOPE, please provide a ray of hope for individuals who are really struggling to see the light at the end of this very dark tunnel.

We will get through this, if we continue to work together.

Protecting the Safety of our Community Amid COVID-19

April 11 Update

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

Read more about the lastest happenings at Bissell Centre and how you can offer hope during COVID-19

March 25 Update

EXPO Centre / Service Changes

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to physically separate people all over the world, we also see individuals, communities and organizations banding together in their efforts to look after one another.

The new Isolation Shelter for Covid-19 relief and Drop-In Day Services at the Edmonton Expo Centre is a perfect example of how many entities are working together to respond to the current public health need.

Bissell Centre and our partners at Boyle Street Community Services have been identified as co-leads by Homeward Trust Edmonton, the organization tasked with coordinating the non-medical services side of the Expo Centre supports.

Boyle McCauley Health Centre has been identified as co-leads with Alberta Health Services to provide the medical services at the site. The City of Edmonton together with the Expo Centre team are providing logistical supports. Other partners include, The Mustard Seed, George Spady Society, The Salvation Army & more.

 All of these groups are coming together to support and serve those individuals in greatest need in our community; individuals who don’t have a home to isolate in, and are at risk of experiencing greater complications from Covid-19 due to an increase in compromised immune systems.

The 2 main functions of the EXPO Centre

While the Expo Centre will offer a variety of services for struggling community members who are experiencing homelessness, there are two main areas to the centre: medical and nonmedical. The medical side is a 24/7 shelter for folks with symptoms who need to be tested and have a supported space where they can isolate and be treated as needed.

The non-medical side is a large space where folks can access vital services throughout the day such as, showers, meals, coffee, clothing, hygiene products etc. The site will soon also include, housing, cultural, mental health, and a number of other relevant supports, The day services runs from 8am to 8pm.

Programming Changes at Bissell Centre

We are in an environment of constant, rapid change and the Bissell Centre team has shown incredible resilience in their ability to shift into crisis care. Here are a few updates to programming at Bissell Centre:

  • Our Community Space operations have been moved to the Expo Centre
  • Our vital housing programs remain operational
  • Our Thrift Shopis closed for the time being BUT we are working on a plan for in-kind donations to support the ongoing needs of folks accessing our services at the Expo Centre

Together with our partner agencies, we will be constantly reviewing and assessing the impact of the changes we make to ensure we are best supporting our participants in this rapidly changing situation.

Thank you for checking in with us during this time. As the horizon changes, Bissell Centre will always work towards protecting the most vulnerable in our mission of eliminating poverty in our community.

How you can help

If it is in your means to give, we need your support more than ever. Please consider making a monetary donation and stay tuned for additional ways to support our work at this time.


March 20 Update

Please note: We are no longer accepting in-kind donations downtown.

For the safety of our staff and community, we are no longer accepting in-kind donations such as food, clothing, personal care items etc. at our main facilities downtown (10527-96st & 10530-96st).

The best way to support Bissell Centre at this time is by making a financial donation.

Donate Now

Please check back here for updates and new information, as things are changing rapidly.


March 16 Update

As recommendations rapidly change, Bissell Centre is adhering to the guidelines set out by the GoC, GoA and the City of Edmonton. There have been closures, recommended and issued, that greatly affect people experiencing poverty and homelessness.

Bissell Centre is coordinating with other social service agency partners, orders of Government and coordinating entities and we are working closely, sharing resources and training as well as staying in close communications with each other during this time. No one has all the answers but following the guidelines and working together has become apparent when making decisions that could affect many people.

For now we can tell you that all volunteer activities and group programming have been suspended, along with the closing of our licensed daycare centre. We will continue to provide access to critical supports for people in need in a safe and supportive manner.

We want to assure our supporters, staff and community members that we are doing everything in our power, organizationally, to be on top of the changes. Our number one priority is keeping people accessing our services and employees, safe and supported.

Many people are wondering how they can help and we are incredibly grateful for the offers of support. We are encouraging financial donations at this time as we continue to assess emergency resources needed for community members and staff.

Gary St. Amand
Chief Executive Officer, Bissell Centre


March 12 Response

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Bissell Centre is deeply concerned that the effects of this virus adds another risk to those experiencing poverty and homelessness. We know that those individuals are among those most vulnerable to health concerns like COVID-19, as some may have compromised immune systems and pre-existing health conditions, along with precarious living situations and urgent basic needs like shelter and meals.

We are proactively planning to assist people as effectively as possible as the situation progresses. We remain committed to supporting those who are experiencing poverty and homelessness, many of whom rely daily on Bissell Centre for meals, basic needs and other important services.

While currently we are not aware of any confirmed cases amongst our staff, volunteers, or people who access our services, we are preparing for a variety of possible scenarios.

How are we helping protect the safety of our community? At this time, Bissell Centre is implementing the following:

  • Sharing information with staff, volunteers and people accessing our services on how to prevent and recognize COVID-19 and connect them with appropriate health supports
  • Taking extra sanitation measures to clean all surfaces thoroughly and more frequently within Bissell Centre
  • Regularly updating and implementing measures under our Business Continuity Plan
  • Striking a Pandemic Response Team to coordinate our actions under our Business Continuity Plan
  • Coordinating with partner agencies, government and health authorities to establish a proactive and collective COVID-19 strategy

Bissell Centre has been and will continue to carefully monitor and follow the guidance set out by the Canadian Health Authorities to facilitate the prevention, early detection and containment of the virus.

In the coming weeks, we recognize that we may need to equip our staff and community members with extra supplies and resources. Your continued support and encouragement is greatly appreciated as we navigate this uncertain time.

Gary St. Amand
Chief Executive Officer, Bissell Centre

7 Memorable Highlights of 2019

We are so grateful for the opportunities that were made possible in 2019 thanks to our community of supporters!

Here are just 7 of the many memorable moments and significant happenings in 2019:

1) Community Delivers Mountain of Warm Clothing During Cold Snap

Just as we are experiencing right now, last February was dangerously cold. Donations of warm clothing, food, and funds rushed in, allowing us to meet the increased needs due to the extreme weather. Because of the generosity and compassion of our community, those trying to survive on the street found relief from the stress and harm that the bitter cold can cause.


2) Supporters Raise 120k in Winter Walk-A-thon

Our 2nd Annual Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) fundraising walk was a huge success! Edmontonian’s walked 2, 5 or 10k in the shoes of those experiencing homelessness in our city. To our amazement, over 450 walkers and 64 teams came together to help us smash our goal of $100,000 to raise a total of $121,000! Local businesses LOVE Pizza and Nook Café once again provided warmth and treats for our walkers along their trek. We were also grateful for the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation for stepping up to be our lead sponsor! #WalkForBissell again on February 22nd during Coldest Night of the Year, 2020!


3) Community Art Project Showcased at Art Gallery of Alberta

Sept 17th – October 27th, 2019, Artwork by Bissell Centre program participants was showcased in the Community Gallery at the Art gallery of Alberta. Cycles & Circles was a project created to help people understand the effects of the opioid crisis from the inside. Numerous participants attended workshops to learn how to express their experience with addiction; whether it be written or through visual art. Each expression was vulnerable, unique and honest. To see these works on the walls of the AGA was an uplifting, affirming, and healing experience for all involved.


4) Bissell Participants Challenge EPS to Chili Cook-off

October 17th, 2019 was a very special day at Bissell Centre, our participants challenged the EPS beat crew to a chili cook-off in our Community Kitchen! The beat crew accepted the challenge and showed up, uniforms and all! It was a morning of laughter and teamwork that helped ease past tendons and facilitated healing by finding common ground. We look forward to this becoming an annual event!


 5) Construction Begins on New Early Learning and Child Care Centre

This past fall, construction on our new Early Learning and Child Care Centre began! The new centre will allow Bissell to offer more programming and supports to families experiencing poverty. Until now, we have provided 40 free respite childcare spots and we are thrilled to soon offer an additional 30 full-time spots when the new centre opens. We expect to provide care and support for over 400 individual children each year, so as you can imagine we are very excited to open the doors and get busy! To do so, there are still more funds to be raised — you can learn more about our project and share your support here. THANK YOU to the many individuals, groups, and businesses who’ve contributed so far! We are grateful!


6) Longtime Bissell Centre Staff Honoured by Province

December 9th, 2019 at the Government House of Alberta, dignitaries and family members gathered to recognize Albertans that personify excellence in the community. Fatima Bellahmer, longtime employee of Bissell Centre, received the Ministers Award for Excellence in Childhood Development. For 33 years, Fatima has dedicated her life to caring for the children that come through Bissell Centre’s Doors. Thousands of children have been in Fatima’s care through the years, and she’s never forgotten a single one. We are so proud of what Fatima has accomplished during her years at Bissell Centre and are so honoured she chose Bissell Centre to carry out her good work. Congratulations Fatima and thank you!


7) Community Steps up to Save Christmas by Donating hundreds of Toys

The tables in our Festive Giveaway room were only half full when we took to social media to ask the public for toy donations in December. Within an hour of the post, toys started rolling in by the dozens! Over a 3 day span, person after person made their way through our doors with toys for our families. The annual program usually operates for 3 days, but we received so many donations that we were able to offer 2 whole additional days for parents to find the perfect gift for their little ones! More than 500 children received toys from our program! An overwhelming way to wrap up an excellent 2019 with Edmonton proving once again why we are known as the City of Champions.

Thank you for your incredible generosity in 2019! Your support makes a big difference in the lives of people living in poverty! ♡


Help create more memories like these in 2020 by joining our family of supporters.
Make a donation.

 

Melanie’s Story of Transformation

On any given day you can find Melanie busy in Bissell’s Community Kitchen or visiting with friends or laughing and supporting others. She helps out with holiday meals, delivering plates to the elders with mobility issues or filling cups with juice or coffee. She enjoys keeping busy, it helps her stay out of trouble. “Lord knows I can find me in some trouble,” Melanie laughed.

When Melanie and I sat down a few months ago I wasn’t entirely prepared for what she would tell me. Her story isn’t terribly unique to many of our community members but her vulnerability and willingness to open up to me, a stranger, and tell me some her darkest moments carried some significant weight and responsibility. Needless to say, I was honoured to hold that space with and for her.

This is Melanie’s story that developed out of our conversation…

For years, Melanie lived on the streets and made a living as a drug dealer. But dealing was a dangerous job. Soon violence became part of her daily life. “I was vicious and angry all the time, always yelling and screaming, even beating people up,” Melanie says. “I didn’t know I needed help with mental health back then.”

When risky behaviour got her banned from other agencies, she found herself hungry and ready for change. Bissell Centre had offered her help before, so she headed there, hoping for a hot meal and a fresh start.

“When she arrived, a staff member named Martin greeted her at the door and asked, “Are you ready to change your life today?”

This was the moment, she believes saved her life.

After her meal, Martin introduced Melanie to the mental health program where she met a psychiatrist for the first time.
Melanie finally received the mental health support she needed. She no longer experienced an uncontrollable roller coaster of emotions. She gained control over her reactions and learned to identify the things that trigger her.

Receiving mental health support transformed Melanie. But it was the sense of community that had the greatest impact on her life. The connections she made here tethered her to something real and helped her find the sense of family she had always wished for.

“Here, everyone is cared for and we’re treated like family no matter what.”

 

“The programs at the Bissell Centre are so important to me. And the staff always take time out of their day to ask what’s wrong and sit down and talk to you. Here, everyone is cared for and we’re treated like family no matter what,” Melanie says.

Today, Melanie contributes to Bissell Centre by mentoring young people who lacked family support, just like she did. She helps them learn how to survive on their own and how to get help when they need it.

“Bissell helped straightened out my life,” Melanie says tearfully. “It took years, but I changed my lifestyle and have stayed off the streets for over 5 years. I’m so grateful to be alive and kicking. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead by example while working with the kids.”

This is an abridged version of what Melanie had to tell me that day. We both shared a few tears and a couple of silent moments. Her story is heavy, riddled with addictions and abuse and in many ways this life was forced upon her. But what wasn’t forced upon her was the yearning for a better life. Melanie has good and bad days, but she doesn’t stop fighting. Not for one second.

Some people question how many chances a person should be given. Hearing Mel’s story, one might argue that she used all her chances up. But ask me that question after meeting Melanie and watching her flourish and succeed in our community? My answer is simple: As many as it takes.

– Scarlet, Communications Coordinator

Dale Overcomes Illness and the Threat of Homelessness

After seeking medical attention for a persistent cough, Dale found out that he had contracted tuberculosis from a friend who was living with him. It wasn’t until Dale’s friend succumb to the the condition that he realized the severity of TB. In isolation for a month, Dale missed his bill payments. Unable to leave the hospital due to quarantine, his nurse knew about a program that could help. Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program; dedicated to helping people keep their homes during tough times.

Once cleared from isolation Dale contacted Bissell for more information on the program. He was introduced to Ola a caseworker with the program. They booked an appt and walked through what Dale needed to do, step by step. The program helped Dale pay his bills, as he was a couple of months behind due to the long hospital stay.

In addition to the help with the bill payments, Dale was able to secure a bus pass at Bissell, something he was very grateful for at the time. More importantly, his case worker Ola gave him confidence, some nice advice and a lot of moral support.

“He gave me a lot of moral support at a time when I was a little low on that. I’m grateful.”

 

“Ola is a very nice man,” says Dale. “He told me to keep my head up and gave me some great advice. He gave me a lot of moral support at a time when I was a little low on that. I’m grateful.”

Dale recently returned from a second hospital visit, this time for surgery. Through his recovery, he is grateful that the program is there to help him while he is awaiting approval for his application to the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program.

Dale is hopeful for the future, and with the confidence he gained by working with his case worker in the Community Bridge Program, he feels that things may start to head in the right direction.

“Things are starting to look up,” smiles Perry.

Why does Dale feel the Community Bridge program is so important for the community? For the main reason that “it really helps people.” He appreciates Bissell Centre and all that the Community Bridge program has done for him.

Without funding partners like ENMAX, we don’t know how Dale’s story would have turned out. What we do know is that Dale is warm in his home and has optimism about the road ahead.

——-

Visit Bissell Centre’s Housing Services to learn more about the Community Bridge Program and our efforts to provide stable housing and financial support for people living in poverty.

Finding Courage For New Beginnings

My name is Fred, and Bissell Centre was a godsend for me. 

For many years, I was a welder. When I lost my job, I was completely blindsided. For months, I searched for a new position in my field, but there simply wasn’t work to be found. If you’ve ever lost  your job, you know how devastating that experience can be. It’s hard not to take it personally.

I suspect many of you have an inkling of what I went through, spending endless hours applying for jobs, only to be turned away, or worse, not to receive any kind of response at all.

To top everything off, my marriage was on the fritz. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, no matter how hard I tried. Being part of a dying marriage was incredibly lonely.

I’d hit rock bottom once again. I found myself deeply depressed. I couldn’t stay in that house any longer. I needed space, so I left.

Leaving was important, but I had nowhere to go.

Becoming homeless was overwhelming and very confusing. Was I going to sleep on a park bench tonight? Would I be mugged while I slept? What’s my next step? Thankfully, I was in contact with Alberta Jobs Corps, and they referred me to Bissell Centre for help.

When I walked through Bissell Centre’s doors, I was more than a little uncertain. I didn’t know who to talk to or where to go, and I think the staff noticed that because they approached me, asked my name, and introduced themselves.

I told them a little bit about my situation, and they said, “Well Fred, you’ve come to the right place. Bissell Centre can help.”

 

That was about a year ago. At Bissell Centre, I’ve found the support of a family. I found people who really care. They gave me food, clothing and helped me find temporary shelter, so I wouldn’t be on the street. Before long, they helped me find affordable housing, too.

Today, I’m a regular participant at the Community Kitchen. It’s almost always a social event. We share our life stories, where we’re going and where we’ve been.

I’ve also attended several of Bissell Centre’s holiday meals. Sometimes, when I was lonely, I came to share dinner with people who treated me well. Every time I did, I felt like I was part of a family. That’s why I’m looking forward to the Thanksgiving dinner.

I’ve come a long way since showing up at Bissell Centre’s door. I’m now a volunteer with Bissell, so I can pay back all the good things they’ve done for me. I recently was awarded full custody of my son, and that’s been the best development of all.

Thank you for your important contributions to Bissell Centre. They’re doing great work in the community and I know that my life is heading in a new direction, all thanks to them.

Close Call: Scott and Amy Avoid Eviction Thanks to ‘Community Bridge’

It was an injury at work that knocked Scott’s world off balance. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did, leading Scott down an uncertain path. He and his wife, Amy were not able to make ends meet; they were facing an eviction notice and the power and heat were getting disconnected. As self-sustaining people, Scott and Amy were looking for an opportunity to weather the storm that they were in, to find a loan and to pay it back. They didn’t want social assistance and didn’t know where to turn until they were referred to the Community Bridge program at the Bissell Centre.

“The program is a Godsend,” says Scott. “It is the difference between some people giving up and thinking they would end up on the street and actually giving it another shot and getting back on your feet.”

He made his first re-payment on the 1st of August, which went directly towards a late payment for rent to stave off an eviction notice.
It was right down to the wire too. A family member was going to lend them the money right before they applied for the Community Bridge program; however, circumstance led to the family member being unable to lend the money. Without the Community Bridge program, Scott and Amy would have been evicted from their apartment.

“When the money came through, it was literally a life saver.” -Scott

 

Scott feels that it’s easy for people to generalize how difficult it is for others; and often, those who are better-off don’t realize that people going through a tough time don’t have the time or the resources needed to fix problems themselves. They can get bogged down by the system, and Scott feels that it gives peace of mind know that there is a program that can help people climb out of the stress and situations they are facing.

“It’s nice to know that you can get help, without going though the ringer to get it,” says Scott. “Dealing with the Bissell Centre, it’s more ‘if we can help you, we will.’ It wasn’t so detail or procedure oriented, but more ‘let’s get you back on your feet oriented,’ which, at the end of the day is often what people need to hear to not feel like the world is coming to a quick end on them.”

He wishes more people knew about the Community Bridge Program. Having benefitted so much from Bissell Centre’s help, he wants to volunteer and help raise awareness of the incredible work that Bissell does to help people in the community get back on their feet.

Thanks to the support of funding partners like ENMAX, we have been able to help hundreds of people like Scott and Amy avoid eviction.
Visit Bissell Centre’s Housing Services to learn more about the Community Bridge Program and our efforts to provide stable housing and financial support for people living in poverty.

Would You Rather: Wear Dirty Underwear, Or Go Without?

…Sadly, this is a decision people experiencing homelessness have to make every single day.

For people who are homeless in Edmonton, gaining access to new, clean underwear is difficult. Some individuals may wear the same pair of underwear for months at a time, and some may go without underwear for just as long.

Underwear is one of the most requested items by the people who use Bissell Centre services, but one of the least donated items.

“It doesn’t feel comfortable when you’re not wearing any underwear, and no one likes to put dirty underwear back on after a shower. Women have accidents; they need access to clean undergarments.” – Angie

So, let’s pass the question onto you. Would you rather wear dirty underwear, or go without?

Let’s weigh each of the options:

Wear Dirty Underwear

Wearing dirty underwear may not seem like a big deal at first, but as the weeks pass, bacteria and microbes will accumulate causing an embarrassing odour, irritating rash, and infection on your skin down there!

If you’re a woman and you have a leak or accident during that time of the month, you’ll have no choice but to continue wearing the dirtied underwear, which can contribute to even more bacteria and microbe growth.

Not to mention, after you shower and get all squeaky clean, you won’t have a fresh pair of undies to slip into and will have to pop on the smelly, old, bacteria-ridden pair.

 Go Full Commando

Going without underwear sounds fun —“freeing” even —but what happens when the inevitable chafing and skin irritation come along with it? You’ll have to deal with that gnarly skin rash for weeks on end!

If you’re a woman and do not have access to female hygiene products, this decision could result in the use of unsanitary or improvised hygiene products, which could lead to an infection.

Without the barrier of underwear, there’s a higher risk for foreign bacteria to make contact with your skin. Among other issues, there’s also a greater chance of fungi development because your underwear isn’t there to absorb your sweat.

Wearing underwear is something that we often take for granted, but when faced with a decision like this, it is easy to see why clean underwear is so important to those who don’t always have access to it.

For many people, especially homeless populations, the availability of fresh, clean underwear makes all the difference.

This is why we created our #DropYourGonch campaign: so that no one in our community would have to make the decision between wearing dirty underwear, or going without.

The Drop Your Gonch campaign aims to fill gaps in the Bissell Centre community closet by reaching out to our supporters to help stock it full of new underwear.

The clean underwear donated by our supporters helps to provide our community with better personal health and hygiene, and a restored sense of dignity and self-worth.

5 Reasons Why EVERYONE Needs Clean Underwear

…Especially those who are experiencing homeless.

New underwear is one of the most requested items by people who use our services, but one of the least donated. People are often denied their request for undergarments because we simply have none to give.

Women are especially likely to be denied since women’s underwear is less frequently donated than men’s. When possible, they are offered the alternative of wearing men’s underwear, an experience that, apart from being physically uncomfortable, causes embarrassment and a reduced sense of self-worth. Our #DropYourGonch campaign aims to fill this desperate need by stocking our Community Closet full of clean, fresh underwear for participants to use.

We all know that it’s important to change our underwear every day, but some of the reasons why may surprise you. Here is a list of five reasons why clean underwear is critical for a person’s physical and emotional well-being.

1. Hygiene

Not changing your underwear regularly causes microbes and other bacteria to accumulate and fester, often causing an embarrassing odour and an itchy rash on the skin. To maintain hygiene and cleanliness, fresh underwear is a non-negotiable essential.

2. Health

Wearing the same underwear for an extended period of time can also have severe consequences for your personal health. The microbes and bacteria mentioned above can cause dangerous infections if they stay in contact with the skin for long periods of time, and the most serious of these can even lead to deadly conditions like kidney failure or bladder cancer. Clean underwear is more than a convenience; it is imperative to one’s health, and can even save lives!

3. Comfort

We offer free shower services in our Community Space, meaning participants who come in can get soap, shampoo, a razor, and other personal hygiene items, enjoy a hot shower, and leave feeling squeaky clean. And what’s the best part about taking a shower? Slipping into that nice, clean, fresh pair of undies when you’re done, of course! Our objective is to be able to provide every participant who uses our shower services with a clean pair of underwear. With your help, we can offer every participant that “just-showered-and-slipped-into-a-fresh-pair-of-undies” feeling, lending at least one small comfort to the people who need it most.

4. Self-confidence

The unpleasant odours and other adverse health effects caused by dirty undergarments can create something of a psychological barrier between the wearer and other people. Inevitably, the individual’s self-esteem and comfort in social interactions may suffer as a result. This impediment can be especially detrimental when it comes to significant interactions, like job interviews – situations that are already stressful enough without any added worries! A clean pair of undies allows the wearer the confidence they need to have successful relationships and social interactions.

5. Dignity

A clean pair of underwear can go a long way toward restoring an individual’s sense of dignity. The emotional toll of having to wear the same set of dirty undergarments for days, weeks, or months on end can be debilitating. A clean pair of underwear is more than a physical necessity – it can provide the recipient with a rejuvenated sense of dignity and self-worth. What gift could be more meaningful?

It’s easy to take for granted something as always having clean undergarments to wear every day. But for many people lacking basic life necessities, something so small really can make all the difference.

You can help!
Donate underwear during our annual
Drop Your Gonch drive!

National Indigenous Peoples Day – More Than A Celebration

Colourful regalia. Delicious food. Traditional performances. Laughter between friends. These were just a few of the sights and sounds to behold at Bissell Centre’s celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on Friday, June 21, a day which also marks the summer solstice. The solstice is notable for providing the longest stretch of daylight of the year, which was fitting, as the 10 am to 1 pm celebrations saw a reprieve from the relentless stretch of rainy days. As members of our community gathered in the street together to honour the rich and diverse culture and contributions of the Canadian First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, the clouds parted and the sun made a welcome appearance on a day that Indigenous people have devoted to celebrating and rejoicing in our connection to the sun and the Earth for thousands of years.

But National Indigenous Peoples Day is about more than just celebration. It’s an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect on the history of mistreatment and adversity that Indigenous people have faced in Canada for hundreds of years, ever since the endless miles of Canadian soil that had belonged solely to them from the beginning of time became inhabited by groups of people who did not share their beliefs or ways of life. The Canada we know today is a beautiful cultural tapestry, brightly woven with colourful threads from cultures, ethnicities and nationalities from all over the world, and we are known internationally as a country that will welcome those who need refuge or who seek a better life for their family with open arms. Even so, it’s important to acknowledge and reflect upon the fact that Canada became the nation it is today at great cost to Indigenous people and their storied heritage. And this history is far from ancient – the last Canadian residential school did not close its doors until 1996. For many Indigenous Canadians, the scars borne of decades of intergenerational trauma and the societal inequity that First Nations, Inuit and Metis people continue to face today often makes the healing process a long and difficult one. 

While National Indigenous Peoples Day is an opportunity for both celebration and reflection, it also offers the promise of community. As the sun rose to its highest point in the sky over Bissell Centre on Friday, it shone down upon traditional performances of drumming, singing, and dancing, Indigenous art forms that continue to be passed down from generation to generation as visceral representations of the beauty, passion and deep spirituality of Indigenous culture. It alighted down upon friends, families and loved ones of all different cultures sitting down to a delicious traditional meal of stew and bannock, sharing stories and laughter as they ate together. It cast its dazzling light upon a day meant not only to celebrate the countless contributions that First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples have made to Canada, but also for us as a wider community to show our solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and the adversity they continue to encounter every day.

Bissell Centre, founded in 1910, has always been an ally to the Indigenous community. In the days when Indigenous religious ceremonies and cultural practices were illegal in Canada, Bissell Centre provided a safe haven for Indigenous leaders to practice and keep their rich culture alive. We continue to strive today to be an organization where Indigenous traditions and practices are not merely accepted, but celebrated – not only on National Indigenous Peoples Day, but every day of the year.