Many people view Easter as a time of renewal, rejuvenation, and hope. After all, it reminds us that no matter how long or cold the winter has been, we can always feel hope for the coming spring.
Not many people had a longer or colder winter than Davina and Shawn, two Edmontonians who say that Bissell Centre helped them get their lives turned around. Both have struggled with poverty, homelessness, and addiction for much of their adult lives.
Shawn and Davina were married in the summer of 2016, six years after meeting each other for the first time at an AA meeting. Their earliest days together were difficult, as both were living on a low income while trying to overcome their issues with addiction. After they’d been living together for a while, they were overjoyed to discover that Davina was pregnant—but their joy would be short-lived. “We ended up losing the baby,” says Shawn. “That was really hard.” Shawn and Davina suffered a relapse shortly afterward that lasted months. Davina knew that they needed to change their lifestyle if they wanted to make a home for Noah, her two-year-old son from a previous relationship. “We cleaned up,” she says. “We weren’t sure if we were going to make it.” Davina decided to enter a one-year treatment program for her addiction.
Shawn’s and Davina’s health began to improve, and before long, Davina was pregnant again. “But then,” says Shawn, “The cops came knocking on my door one day and arrested me.” Shawn was detained for a past infraction, and ended up serving several months in the penitentiary in Vancouver. “At my worst, I used to do a lot of bad stuff,” he explained. “The past [came] back to haunt me.” Shawn was flown out of Edmonton to serve his sentence, leaving Davina, pregnant and still undergoing treatment, alone. “It was hard,” says Davina. “It was really hard. Being in treatment and writing letters [to Shawn] and being pregnant. And then, not having anywhere to go after treatment.”
Many times, says Davina, living with poverty and addiction has made her feel “like the scum of society.” “I felt like, here’s the normal people, and then here’s me,” she says. “I didn’t really trust. I felt like I was looked down upon, like I was judged.” Bissell Centre was what helped Davina take the first few steps away from her old life. After her daughter was born, Davina brought her to Bissell Centre’s daycare for the first time. “The staff were so supportive,” she says. “I’ve shared my history with [them], and there were no judgements at all. It was open arms. Like, we’re so glad to be able to help you.”
“The staff were so supportive. I’ve shared my history with [Bissell Centre] and there were no judgements at all. It was open arms. Like, we’re so glad to be able to help you.”
The daycare service made a world of difference to Davina and Shawn. “We were able to go to [AA] meetings,” says Davina. “That was huge. And we were able to do counselling, make appointments…I got to finish treatment…” Shawn cuts in, “We got to put our lives back together.”
The daycare program has even allowed Davina to return to school, where she is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in sociology. “Fatima gives me two days a week so that I can do my schooling during the day,” says Davina. “She gives me extra time if I need to write a paper or study for an exam. And that has helped a lot. I don’t know what I’d do without Fatima.” Shawn adds, “It takes you from a place where you don’t really trust anybody to a place where you can believe in people again.”
Of course, things are still far from perfect for Davina and Shawn and their growing family. Although Shawn is thankful to have a steady source of income, his camp job takes him out of town for weeks at a time, leaving Davina alone much of the time to take care of their children. It will get easier, says Davina, once the kids are old enough to go to school. But for now, Davina and Shawn will have to do what they’ve always done: carry on together.
Your support enables young families to persevere by accessing the support they need most. Please donate
to help more people like Davina and Shawn.
Most people who visit Bissell Centre can immediately tell that the people we help have a special bond with one another. Carol, who performs once a month in our Drop-in Centre with her Aboriginal women’s drumming circle notes “They treat each other like brothers and sisters, moms and dads.” Diane, a long-time volunteer, also senses a special connection among the people here. “When I don’t come, I miss the people in the Drop-in Centre. They’re always stopping us and talking to us,” she says. “It’s like a family.”
The phrase “like a family” is often used by staff, volunteers, and especially by the participants themselves. But around Bissell, the word family does not always refer to people who are related by blood.
In honour of Family Day, we asked our participants about their understanding of the word “family.” Here are their answers.
Q: What does the word “family” mean to you?
“Family means being close and loving to your children, wife, or husband, and making sure that their needs are met.” – Candace
“Family is unity. It’s love. It’s not feeling lonely in this world.” – Dina
“Family is my world. My girls keep me strong and show me the value of life.” – Krystal
“I would say family is like a team. They know each other very well, they can depend on each other. These are the people whom you can depend on, and you can rely on them in any situation.” – Shalini
Q: How has being at Bissell Centre shaped your sense of family?
“Bissell Centre made me feel that I have another family outside my own… It gives me a sense of belonging.” – Billy
“Bissell Centre strengthens us as a family. [It] helps us build a better future.” – Davina
“My son and daughter have had an amazing experience [at the daycare]… My children see you all as family. I see so much good here.” – Angela
“Bissell Centre has given us a sense of belonging, tradition, and foundation to start from. The staff has encouraged us to grow and always gives us something to look forward to.” – Kayla
“I don’t know what I would have done without all of the staff [at Bissell]. Look! Now I am sitting in my own home. I consider ALL of the staff to be my family.” – Judy
“Bissell Centre is a big support for immigrants like us. We are a low-income family, and Bissell has given lots of resources, like clothing, diapers, and toys for the kids.” – Shalini
We’ve watched our family at Bissell Centre grow and change for over 100 years thanks to your support. Thank you for helping us assist families of all kinds in our community.
Happy Family Day, from our family to yours!
Haircuts are a luxury that many people in our community can’t afford. That’s why we’ve offered a free haircutting service for over 26 years at Bissell’s Drop-in Centre. Every Tuesday, participants can sign up to receive free haircuts and beard trimmings thanks to a group of volunteers who keep the program running.
Some clients visit the hairdresser to get themselves cleaned up before a job interview or housing appointment, but Diane, a long-term hairdressing volunteer, says participants request haircuts for all kinds of reasons. “One fellow came in with long, long hair and a big beard,” she recalls. “He told us, ‘Take it all off!'” She explained that the client hadn’t seen his daughter in two and a half years and that he wanted to “look nice” for her high school graduation tomorrow.
Diane has been cutting hair at Bissell Centre for over six years. “When I don’t come, I miss the people in the Drop-in Centre,” she says. “We know a lot of them. When we walk through the Drop-in, they’re always stopping us and talking to us. It’s like a family.” Diane says that her clients always appreciate the work that she does. “They come in and a lot of them don’t feel that good about themselves. But once they have a nice haircut, and they’ve spent a little bit of time talking with the ladies – when you show them their face in the mirror, it’s the difference between night and day. Their eyes have life.”
With a few volunteers moving away and a few others retiring soon, Diane hopes that some fresh faces will start to come by the haircutting centre. “Come and see,” she urges anyone thinking about volunteering. “Spend time with us! Come here and just take a look at what’s going on – take a look at the smiles and the happy faces that go out of here. You’re not making any kind of commitment if you just come by and visit.”
As for Diane, she knows that she’ll continue to cut hair for her clients at Bissell Centre for as long as she is able. “It makes me feel good,” she says, “knowing that I’ve in some way helped somebody feel a lot better about themselves. More people should try and volunteer.”
We’re recruiting haircutting volunteers!
Being homeless is difficult enough when the weather is fair, but when temperatures drop, it becomes a matter of survival. The threat of serious illness, loss of fingers or toes, or even losing one’s life become serious concerns when temperatures nosedive. These threats are particularly potent here in Edmonton, where winters are notoriously harsh and wind chills can be extreme.
Edmonton’s homeless are more likely than most to experience dangerous cold-related injuries such as frostbite and hypothermia. They have few spaces to retreat from the cold, nor can they afford proper winter clothing that will protect them from the elements.
Here at Bissell Centre, we believe every person has the right to have basic human needs satisfied. Our Drop-in Centre provides a safe, warm space for people to escape the elements and enjoy a hot meal. Inside the Drop-in, people can also access free, warm winter clothing through our Community Closet. The Closet is especially busy in the winter when we distribute jackets, sweaters, scarves, toques, mittens, boots to every person in need who visits.
Helping people take care of their basic needs is only the first, but a necessary step, in helping people access programs that will move them out of poverty.
None of this would be possible, however, without our community of supporters who donate time, funds, and resources to our operations. Thank you for supporting Bissell Centre, and for helping the most vulnerable people in our community stay warm and safe this winter.
2016 was an incredible year thanks to our dedicated supporters! Here are some of our favourite moments of 2016.
1) Thousands of Pairs of New Underwear Collected for People in Need
In June, we held our third annual Drop Your Gonch underwear drive, and we set out to raise 2000 pairs of new underwear. The people we serve are always in need of new underwear, an essential item that is rarely donated. Our supporters surprised and amazed us once again: altogether, we collected 3605 pairs for people in need! Visit our campaign page and learn more about the initiative.
2) Struggling Families Treated to an Unforgettable Summer Camp Experience
For decades, Moonlight Bay Centre, our lakefront property at Lake Wabamun, has been a place of solace, rest, and rejuvenation for struggling families. Through traditional summer camp activities, kids and adults alike made meaningful connections while enjoying a respite from the stress of city life. This year, 40 adults and 65 children attended camp at Moonlight Bay Centre. The photos and video footage that we compiled from this summer capture the spirit our one-of-a-kind camp. View the video and photos here.
3) Bissell Centre Opens Permanent Supportive Housing for People with FASD
On September 9th, we held a grand opening for Hope Terrace, a housing complex for people living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. At Hope Terrace, 24-hour assistance is available for the occupants, including help attending doctor’s appointments and opportunities for community integration. The project is the first of its kind in Canada, and has even inspired similar initiatives in other cities. Learn more about Hope Terrace here.
4) Thanksgiving Twice as Special this Year
We served over 3000 special holiday meals in 2016, but it was in early October that we were able to go the extra mile for our participants. Because of our generous donors, we served twice as many Thanksgiving meals! Your help provided warmth and community at a time of year where it’s needed most. Thank you! Was it a good time? The video we made speaks volumes.
5) Outreach Housing Team Smashes First Year Goal
In September 2015, our newly-created Outreach Housing Team hoped to house 200 people in its first year in operation. But the team surprised everyone by easily crushing their goal, helping 200 people transition off the streets by July 2016, and housing a grand total of 247 people in its first twelve months. Thanks to their efforts, 329 people now have homes, a fresh perspective, and—most importantly—new hope for the future.
6) Bissell Elves Spread Cheer and Raise Funds at Southgate Centre
More than 353 people volunteered as Bissell Elves this holiday season, serving meals, sorting donations, and helping us prepare for holiday festivities. But it was our gift-wrapping fundraiser at Southgate Centre Mall that needed the most support. Showing us what the true spirit of the season is all about, 190 volunteers logged more than 1,300 hours of gift wrapping, raising over $17,000 for people in need in our community. We are so grateful! Check out the Bissell Elf Campaign page to learn more.
7) New Year’s Day Dinner Saved!
For 25 years, the inner city community has been able to enjoy a holiday meal on New Year’s Day hosted by Bissell Centre. This year, the economic downturn threatened the success of this cherished New Year’s tradition. But when we reached out for help, our friends in the community came through for us once again, and the offers for support poured in. This Sunday, more than 600 community members are expected to attend the meal where there will be live music, a delicious turkey dinner, and gifts for each guest. Read more about how this year’s meal was rescued by awesome partners in the community.
As the year draws to a close and we remember all that we’ve accomplished in 2016, we look forward to the new year energized and inspired by your generosity. We are also reminded that the work that we do at Bissell Centre would never be possible without your support.
From the bottom of our hearts…..
Help create more memories like these by joining our family of supporters today. Make a donation by year-end to receive a 2016 tax credit. Thank you if you’ve already given this year, your support is changing lives!
“We need to be careful about using anecdotal evidence to dismiss the validity of the homeless count,” says Gary St. Amand, CEO of Bissell Centre.
The most recent survey and data analysis estimate that the number of people who are homeless in our city has decreased from 2,307 people in 2014 to 1,752 people currently.
“The homeless count is meant only to be one snapshot of homelessness and while we need to be reflective about its methodology, it is also important that we consider all the evidence before jumping to sweeping conclusions about its accuracy,” explains St. Amand.
For example, Bissell Centre has supported over 1,500 individuals and families since the last homeless count in 2014 through its housing and eviction prevention work. The organization has assisted 545 people to find housing and 1,009 people to avoid imminent evictions.
“Further to that, while we have experienced a rise in the usage of our services since the last homeless count, our data has shown that this was the result of new services that we implemented during that period,” explains St. Amand. “These new services connected us with people who are new to Bissell Centre and they capture the majority of the increased service use throughout our organization.”
Another consideration is the forced relocation of homeless people due to the recent significant development of Edmonton’s downtown core. When coupled with the seasonal increase of people sleeping outdoors in the summer months, a rise in the number of homeless people in various locations around the city, including the river valley, is to be expected.
This raises the question of whether the rise in numbers in certain locations is due to the movement of homeless people rather than a net increase of the homeless population in Edmonton, as some have argued.
“To call into doubt the methodology of the homeless count without a thorough and thoughtful review of the evidence diminishes the good work that is happening by many organizations and individuals in the community,” says St. Amand.
“We need to maintain our focus on housing, because whatever your view of the housing count is, we still have over 1,700 people living on the streets and that should be unacceptable to all of us. We need to continue to work together as a community to bring long-term solutions to this issue,” says St. Amand.
Join us this holiday season in our quest to eliminate poverty and homelessness in our community.
Here are 7 simple ways you can make a big impact!
1. Provide Life-Changing Gifts
Choose a meaningful gift from our Holiday Gift Guide to benefit people struggling with poverty in our community. Your gift will make a difference in someone’s life.
2. Have Your gifts Wrapped in Support of Bissell Centre
Between November 12th and December 24th, for a minimum donation of $2, get your Christmas gifts wrapped at Southgate Centre.
3. Volunteer with Us—Become a Bissell Elf!
We are looking for hundreds of volunteers to help us with a variety of special events. These “Bissell Elves” will take part sorting donations, wrapping gifts, serving meals, and spreading good cheer alongside enthusiastic Bissell Elf Captains, who will help lead the way.
4. Turn Your Christmas Event into a Fundraiser!
This Christmas season, when you host a staff event or dinner party, you can also give to people in need. Find everything you need to host a Bissell Giving Tree Party!
5. Donate Warm Winter Clothing
Every year, Bissell Centre hands out over 35,000 articles of clothing free of charge to people. During the cold season, items such as winter coats, hats, and boots can be the difference between life and death. Donate your gently used goods to help someone in need.
6. Make a Gift on Giving Tuesday (Nov. 29th)!
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are all about finding the deals. Consider donating the difference you saved to help people living in poverty. Your gift will impact those who rely on Bissell Centre for help. Please donate here today!
7. Share and Advocate!
Spread the word! 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!
What started as a casual pastime has now become one of Edmonton’s most anticipated yearly clothing drives. From November 1st until Christmas Day, Jasmine and her husband Ryan will spend their evenings and weekends collecting donations of warm winter clothing for #BundleUpYEG, an annual project that Jasmine initiated in 2013.
“I had just finished one job and I was moving into another, and I had this two-week layover period where I had no work to do,” she explains. “I’m not someone who can just do nothing when I’m bored.”
That’s when inspiration struck. After seeing a news story about the need for winter clothing among Edmonton’s homeless population, Jasmine knew how she wanted to spend her free time. Reaching out to her large following on social media, she asked if anyone had unneeded coats, hats, scarves, mittens, or sweaters, which she offered to pick up and drop off at organizations in the community that help homeless people, like Bissell Centre. Jasmine’s instincts were right. People often want to donate but find it difficult or inconvenient. “Time is the biggest thing,”” she suggests. “The world moves very quickly these days; everyone has something to do and somewhere to be.”
But time is not the only obstacle to donating. As Jasmine explains, “You can get caught up on who to donate to and where to go, and that can be very daunting. We try to remove that step for people.” Making it easier for people to donate has been met with more success than Jasmine anticipated; she says that she has been amazed at the generosity of her community. “I think it’s a huge testament to Edmonton and the people who live here,” she says.
The need in our community for warm clothing over the harsh winter months is as urgent as ever. Approximately 2,300 people living in Edmonton are temporarily or chronically homeless, and for them, winter can be deadly without proper clothing. “People on the streets are susceptible to frostbite, hypothermia, and sickness due to overexposure,” says Nichelle Bryant, In-Kind Coordinator at Bissell Centre. “During the winter, we can easily see upwards of 500 people every day accessing our Drop-in Centre, with a high majority of them needing winter clothing to keep them safe and warm overnight.” For places like Bissell Centre, Jasmine’s #BundleUpYEG initiative can mean the difference between having to turn people away or being able to offer warm clothing all winter long.
To date, #BundleUpYEG has donated roughly 370 bags—over 4,000 individual items—of clothing to homeless shelters and supported organizations in the community. This will be the fourth year that Jasmine and Ryan will organize #BundleUpYEG, this time with the goal of collecting 130 bags of clothing. You can help Jasmine reach her goal by contacting her via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), on Twitter (@JasFranklin09), online at bundleupyeg.com, or by dropping your donations off at any of the following locations.
- November 1st–December 2nd: 102.3 Now! Radio: Suite 102, 9894-42 Avenue
- November 1st–mid-December: Blitz Conditioning: 10575 115 Street
- November 25th–December 24th: Kingsway Mall, Giftwrapping Centre: 109 Street & Kingsway
It’s no surprise that being without a home can weigh heavily on the mind and heart. Homelessness implies more than simply lacking physical necessities; it can also have a debilitating effect on mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. People who are homeless deal with circumstances that most of us can hardly imagine, and it’s important to remember that not every side effect of homelessness is directly visible to the eye. Mental illness is experienced by roughly one-third of the homeless community, and is a major barrier to getting off the streets.
Homelessness is stressful.
For those who are homeless, every new day marks the beginning of another struggle to find a place to sleep, enough food to get by on, or shelter from the elements. The pressures that they face to secure their own survival every day are unimaginable for most of us, and can be incredibly stressful. Exposure to substance abuse, crime, and domestic violence is common among the homeless community only add to the stress.
Homelessness is isolating.
Many people become homeless as a result of the loss of a loved one or a relationship breakdown. People without strong support networks can have a difficult time overcoming such traumatic events, which can then lead to a cycle of isolation, and potentially towards homelessness. Since there are few places people who are homeless can go where they are welcome, a third of them spend their entire day alone.
Homelessness is depressing.
Rates of depression and suicide among homeless people are much higher than in the general population. According to the Canadian Population Health Initiative, up to 61% of homeless adults experience suicidal thoughts. Confidence and self-esteem are inevitably diminished by homelessness. The feelings of defeat and worthlessness that so often accompany homelessness can be crippling, and can prevent people from seeking help.
Homelessness hurts, but there are ways to help.
At Bissell Centre, we offer mental health services to people in our community who need it most. Our program provides immediate, short-term support for those with mental health concerns. For longer-term support, we partner with Alberta Health Services to connect participants with qualified psychiatrists, doctors, and other health professionals in our community, bringing them one step closer to getting off the streets.
The journey to health and recovery is not always an easy one, but here at Bissell Centre, we make sure that nobody has to walk it alone.
Learn more about our Mental Health Services.
Roger arrived in Edmonton 17 years ago, when he was 49 years old. A few years before he moved, he was hurt in a firefighting accident and spent a year in a body cast. After that, he couldn’t go back to firefighting, and started working for a soft drink company instead.
He worked there for nine years, while living in Edmonton. When he retired, he found that he could no longer make ends meet and quickly became homeless. That’s when he found out about Bissell Centre, and came for his first visit—about seven years ago.
Our staff could see right away that he had a kind heart, as he opened up about his story over coffee and a snack in our Drop-in Centre. We were pleased when he returned the next day, and overjoyed when he came back multiple times over the next week!
For the next five years, Roger lived on the streets of Edmonton’s inner city. He made a shelter out of a tarp, for himself, down in the river valley. He never carried personal items with him, like photos or mementos, for fear that they would be stolen or damaged. And whenever he could, he’d come visit us at Bissell Centre.
Even though his past has been difficult, the Roger that we’ve come to know and love is a man full of compassion and generosity. A few years ago, he lost his sister, a niece and a granddaughter to an impaired driver. But instead of letting bitterness overcome him, he puts his energy into loving the family he does have—as well as his family here at Bissell Centre.
He even manages to send his two remaining grandchildren some money to put towards their education fund—whatever he makes from odd jobs.
“I made a promise to a friend before she passed away. She asked me to help people if I could. I told her I would and I’ve done it up to this day.”
Not long after he started visiting Bissell Centre regularly, Roger also started volunteering with us. When we asked him if he wanted to help out, he was eager to start giving back. And since he already loved spending time with our community—building trust and friendships with everyone he met—he was the perfect fit.
Two years ago, after five years of trying to find a housing situation that was within his means, Roger found a new home with the ongoing help and support of Bissell Centre’s Housing Services. We’ve been so encouraged by the steady growth we’ve seen in this gem of a man, and are thrilled that at 66, he has a place to call home—both at his apartment and here at Bissell.
When we asked Roger why he’s so passionate about giving back, he said, “I made a promise to a friend before she passed away. She asked me to help people if I could. I told her I would and I’ve done it up to this day.” Getting housed was another part of this commitment—showing by example that it is possible for anyone coming in off the streets to get housed.
Roger has truly become a part of our family here, and we’re as delighted as he is, by the relationships he’s built. “I’m either Dad, Uncle, or Grandpa around here,” he says proudly, describing his role to the other community members at Bissell Centre.
As he continues to volunteer with us, he’s continually a beacon of friendliness, hope and understanding for everyone he comes in contact with, and we’re so grateful for his faithful willingness to help.
Please give to help more people like Roger by donating here: bissellcentre.org/donate