My name is David and the holidays are a lonely time for me. You see, I lost my entire family in three tragic accidents.
I couldn’t cope with the grief, so turned to substances to find peace. Thankfully, Bissell Centre was there to pick me up when I needed help.
So how did I get here? Ten years ago, my wife and I were living our dream, running a successful catering business in Vancouver. But that was before a drunk driver took my wife’s life. My wife was my partner, my best friend—I didn’t know how to go on without her.
The heartbreak was still fresh for me when six weeks later a work accident claimed the life of my 23 year-old son. His harness broke during a brutal storm when he was checking mobile towers. In the blink of an eye, he was gone.
I thought things couldn’t get any worse, but I was wrong.
A few months later, I got a call that my daughter’s car had veered from the road on her way to Whistler. The snow flurries made it nearly impossible to see. By the time she was found, she’d frozen to death in her car.
It was unthinkable. In five months, my entire family was gone.
For a long time, I used alcohol to numb the pain of losing my wife and children. Eventually, I got really sick and was sent to Edmonton for rehab.
But with sobriety came more darkness. So I turned to heroin.
Whenever I used, I was depressed and alone—must trying to forget my reality.
My rock-bottom came when I was arrested for carrying drugs. In jail, I had a lot of time to think about the man I wanted to become. I knew I needed to make some huge changes if I wanted to be happy again and become the man my beloved wife and kids knew me to be.
Bissell Centre was the first place I went after being released.
The staff greeted me with kindness. Instead of judging me, they smiled, welcomed me and handed me a warm plate of food. The staff told me about their mental health and housing support programs, and I was blown away.
For the first time, I realized that I didn’t have to rebuild my life alone.
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much – Helen Keller
Collaboration is not new to Bissell Centre and our fellow social service agencies. We have often sat at the same tables advocating for the individuals we serve; providing a unified voice for those who may not otherwise be heard. We work together to provide services that meet the needs of those experiencing poverty and homelessness, trying to ensure there is enough supply to meet the demand.
The COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously increased the need and reduced our ability to supply services to meet the growing demand of an estimated 180 people becoming homeless each month. As the cold weather approaches, the City of Edmonton has taken action to provide housing options for everyone.
We are proud to once again partner with the City of Edmonton, in collaboration with Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed, and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, to provide a warm safe space where individuals experiencing homelessness can go this winter.
From October 30 the 24/7 Emergency Response Accommodation, operating from The Edmonton Convention Centre, will offer round the clock support and services for up to 300 people overnight and up to 400 people during the day. Individuals who come to the 24/7 Emergency Response Accommodation will have essential services like food, clothing and a warm place to sleep, but will also have access to health and wellness support, including harm reduction services.
As the doors opened this weekend, the mood was warm and welcoming as hundreds of participants were able to access the services they need.
“The solution to homelessness is housing and support services…”
All partners recognize that temporary housing is not the solution to homelessness. The solution to homelessness is housing and support services, and all participants at the 24/7 Emergency Response Accommodation will be connected with a housing support worker who will help them find longer term housing.
Bissell Centre is responsibility for managing the day shelter and housing services at the 24/7 Emergency Response Accommodation, ensuring that there are provisions and staff for laundry, showers, meals, storage and security measures as well as coordinating the housing services.
The 24/7 Emergency Response Accommodation stands for everything Bissell stands for; a welcoming space where everyone is important, every story is worth hearing and every life is meaningful. Bringing this to life is a tall order, but one we are prepared to fill. To focus on these efforts, the drop-in services at the Community Space at Bissell Centre have been temporarily suspended.
Just a short walk away, back at home base, other essential Bissell Centre programs continue to support participants experiencing poverty.
Employment Services is sourcing and providing casual labour placements for those looking for work. They are also offering job skills training and other job ready programs.
Financial Empowerment workers will continue to provide individuals and families with financial literacy education, assistance with tax filing and accessing government benefits, and support to access basic banking.
Housing support workers will be onsite at the convention centre AND continue to reach out into street communities, learning about participant needs and addressing them with housing solutions.
The Family Support team continues to visit families in their homes, providing diapers and formula and clothes as well as support with food and transportation.
Bissell’s Early Childhood Development Program Opened our new doors on Nov 2, ready to provide high quality care for nearly twice as many children as the previous space.
We are excited to be a partner in the convention centre, as we continue to evolve our programming while keeping everyone safe.
Together we are stronger, together we are safer, together we are happier. Thank you for standing together with us towards a future without poverty.
September is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) month. Since 1999, FASD activists have held World FASD Awareness Day events on 09/09 to represent the nine months of pregnancy, often highlighted with a bell ringing ceremony at 9:09 am. FASD is a lifelong disorder that affects people from all walks of life. It occurs as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and can result in a range of disabilities. In Alberta alone, approximately 46,000 individuals are currently impacted by FASD. Adults living with FASD face challenges daily due to the invisible nature of the disability impacting executive functions in the brain. Individuals with FASD often experience challenges with motor skills, daily living skills, emotional regulation, physical health, learning, attention, communication, memory, and social skills. Community support and on-site services can help them live independent and sustainable lives. Here at Bissell Centre we use a Person-Centered Planning approach in a holistic manner to provide a variety of services to support men and women with FASD.
FASD is a spectrum disorder that affects each individual differently.
Bissell Centre understands that FASD is a spectrum disorder that affects each individual differently. We strive to offer a variety of supports that accommodate the uniqueness of each person. Our Parent Child Advocacy Program (PCAP) is for pregnant women or those up to 6 months postpartum who are at high risk of using substances. PCAP helps them have healthy pregnancies, healthy babies, and healthier post-partum outcomes. The PCAP model is focused on harm reduction and is not abstinence based, though that may be a goal. The Adult Advocacy program provides outreach services to individuals with FASD, meeting them where they are at, brokering connections to government and community resources, and encouraging familial connections. Both programs follow a three year progression – the first year is building a therapeutic relationship with the advocate, the second year is interdependence, and the third year is successfully transitioning in to the community at large. Hope Terrace is a Permanent Supportive Housing program (PSH) where trained and equipped Bissell Centre staff provide a respectful, collaborative, and non-judgmental approach when interacting with residents under a harm reduction philosophy. The goal of Hope Terrace is to provide stable housing for individuals that have experienced chronic episodes of being houseless. Through on-site supports such as 24/7 Personal Support Workers, a Mental Health and Addictions Coordinator, and an Occupational therapist we are able to provide a holistic approach in order to achieve stable, permanent housing for our individuals that experience being houseless due to the complex nature of FASD.
Bissell Centre also focuses on increasing FASD knowledge and understanding within the community of support workers and other stakeholders, such as the police and emergency services. We organize and facilitate monthly FASD Frontline meetings where workers can bring challenges, issues, and concerns to the table to brainstorm around best strategies and practices to support people with FASD. These meetings help prevent information silos and enable networking opportunities. As well as have presenters come in to speak about programs and topics that are relevant to the work that the frontline workers do, which may supplement their resource knowledge.
It is through these programs that we can empower individuals who are living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
We are excited to open the doors to our Community Space on August 17, once again providing an inviting, engaging and welcoming environment for the community. Operations will look a little different, but participant needs always come first at Bissell Centre. While we adapt our activities to meet health and safety requirements set out by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we remain committed to our community and meeting their needs in a friendly space.
How will operations change in the Community Space?
Screening and Sanitizing: We will be conducting health screens at the door. Individuals without COVID-19 symptoms will wash / sanitize their hands upon entry.
Food Safety: We will continue to provide healthy food and beverages, which will be served to participants in individual packaging, and there will not be any sharing of food.
Reduced Capacity: To maintain physical distancing requirements, the Community Space will have a maximum capacity of 30 people at any one time. We will be monitoring numbers at the door so that as many people as possible can gain access to services throughout the morning.
Tracking: We will also be tracking attendees that come to the Community Space. Should a case of COVID-19 be present in the future, this information can be used for potential contact tracing.
Reduced Hours: This applies only to “drop in” services, allowing time to maintain cleaning and sanitizing procedures in our building. This also provides staff more one-to-one time with participants to help them move out of poverty.
Face Coverings: Are mandatory to access the space although exceptions are allowed as per the City of Edmonton Bylaw 19408
How will these changes affect the community?
Eliminating poverty remains our vision and our top priority. The “drop in” nature of the Community Space provides immediate essential needs and also served as a platform for Bissell staff to engage with participants to help them achieve long term success. Reducing capacity in the community space means we can have more intentional conversations with participants and build even stronger relationships, to help people access the supports and resources they need to move out of poverty.
Bissell Centre’s programs are designed to provide a holistic approach to supporting individuals and families to get out of poverty. We will increase the integration of services so that participants can more easily access employment, housing, and financial supports.
The reduced hours for drop in services creates more time for individual appointments providing intentional support for moving people out of poverty. Non “drop in” hours will be used for appointment and program-based supports.
Life under the threat of COVID-19 is challenging for everyone. Bissell Centre remains fully committed to meeting the needs of participants while working with government and local partners to find alternate solutions so we can continue to ensure safety for everyone in our community now and in the future.
#HomelessAmidCOVID is a video series highlighting Edmonton’s collaborative response to protect people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19.
Video made in partnership with Bissell Centre, Boyle Street Community Services, Boyle McCauley Health Centre, and Homeward Trust. Video production: PlanIT Sound.
Episode 1: The Day Services
Take a tour through the Day Drop-in located at the Edmonton Expo Centre to learn about the critical services provided and how collaboration has kept people safe and supported through the pandemic.
Episode 2 – The Isolation Shelter
In the second episode of this series, we’ll take a walk through the Isolation Shelter, a temporary facility that was set up to provide screening, testing, health services and self isolation space for Edmonton’s most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Episode 3: A Way Home
In the third episode of this series, we meet Rob, a Boyle Street client who details his story from homelessness to housing through the bridge housing offered at the Coliseum Inn. This was made possible by the coordinated service delivery available to people experiencing homelessness through Edmonton’s collaborative response during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Episode 4: Behind the Data
In the fourth episode of this series, we learn about the key role Edmonton’s innovative and data-driven systems play in supporting and moving people out of homelessness, and how these systems have been able to adapt during the pandemic.
Episode 5: A Safe Place
In the fifth and final episode of this series, we learn how the quick, sector-wide response of more than 20 organizations and all levels of government, led to impactful front-line efforts that provided a much-needed safe space for those experiencing homelessness in Edmonton during the pandemic.
While the Expo Centre was a short-term solution to provide these supports and services, the work of keeping this vulnerable population safe continues. Ultimately, the solution to homelessness is housing.
Funding support from the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home program, the Government of Alberta – Ministry of Community and Social Services and the City of Edmonton.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.