The beginning of a new school year can be exciting, but for some families it can also be a stressful, expensive time of year. Absorbing the yearly cost of new school supplies, like back-to-school clothes, is challenging for some and impossible for others.
Corenda, a mom of five kids between the ages of two and 11, knows this reality all too well. When she moved from Saddle Lake to Edmonton in 2005, she was quickly overwhelmed by how high her living costs were. She was pregnant with her first child at the time, and as her family grew, she found herself struggling just to afford the essentials. “The cost of food and formula was crazy,” she said. “It was very tough.”
She was also dealing with an alcohol addiction and an abusive partner, and she often worried that she would end up living on the street. She lacked social supports most of us take for granted. “I guess I’ve always been kind of isolated,” she admitted. “I was fearful.”
That was when she reached out for help. “It all started off as a mental crisis,” she recounts. “I thought, I need support so I don’t feel so alone.” Corenda found Bissell Centre by searching online for affordable daycare, and discovered our free child care program.
“The staff just opened their arms to us and brought us in. That’s when I started feeling welcome and accepted in our community.”
Three of Corenda’s five children are heading to school in September. All of them use the Family Closet, a clothing donation program at Bissell Centre that offers free clothing to adults and children in need. Corenda is grateful that her kids will have the clothes they need to go back to school. “It’s important to me for them to have what they’re comfortable in and what they’re going to be proud to wear and show off to their friends,” said Corenda. “They’re so confident! They stand taller.”
With access to child care, formula and diapers, and clothes from the Family Closet, Corenda has also found an affordable home for her family and returned to university to finish her Bachelor’s degree. She and her kids now give back to those in need whenever they’re able. In fact, they frequently donate their gently used items back to the Family Closet.
“One year, we used [the Family Closet] because we didn’t have money to buy jackets that year,” she explained. “So now every year, I give my winter jackets back. Some parents don’t even have a dollar to their name. They don’t have nothing to give their kids. So I do my best to give our gently used stuff, too. That way, we kind of share with each other.”
Donate today to help more families like Corenda’s!
The summer months are here at last! Many Edmontonians are relieved to see the return of sunny days to our characteristically chilly North Alberta city. At last, we can pack away our parkas and snow boots for the season and soak up some rays! Of course, there are times when the summer heat causes discomfort, but most of us can simply retreat into our cool, air-conditioned homes when the heat gets to be too much. But for our homeless friends, who have few indoor retreats, the heat can be more than simply a source of discomfort—it can be deadly.
When you think about the expression, “exposure to the elements,” you might imagine bitterly cold temperatures, or about braving snow, hail, and rain. But exposure to less dramatic weather conditions, like warm summer days, can be equally deadly. This exposure often leads to dangerous heat related injuries, like sunburn and heat exhaustion. In serious cases, it can cause heat stroke, which occurs when the body temperature exceeds 40 C. Symptoms of heat stroke include nausea, seizures, disorientation, and loss of consciousness. Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency, and you should call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone is around you is experiencing these symptoms.
When spring and summer replace the cold weather of the holiday season, donations to charitable organizations like the Bissell Centre tend to decline. However, the need for donations is just as urgent at this time of year. Here are five life-saving items you can donate to Bissell Centre to help keep our homeless friends cool this summer:
- Sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen can dramatically reduce the risk of skin cancer, and can also minimize the risk of painful heat-related afflictions like sunburn. For people who spend their days outdoors, sunscreen is an absolute must-have.
- Hats. Wearing a hat in the sun shields the face, head, and neck from harmful UV rays. It affords protection to the sensitive skin on the scalp and behind the ears, places where it is difficult to apply sunscreen. Hats with a wide brim are ideal because they also cover the ears, which baseball caps and brimless hats leave vulnerable to the sun’s rays.
- Bottled water. Dehydration is a serious threat to people who are homeless in the summer, and is also a significant risk factor for heat stroke. Providing bottled water to people on the streets will ensure that they can stay hydrated and safe.
- Summer-appropriate clothing. Clothes that are light-coloured and loose-fitting are ideal for summer weather. A loose fit allows for easier airflow, and lighter colours reflect light and heat rather than absorbing it, keeping the wearer cool.
- Sunglasses. Eyes can suffer serious damage from prolonged exposure to the sun. When unprotected, they may develop cataracts and other serious conditions that damage vision. A pair of sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection goes a long way towards protecting these vulnerable parts of the body.
Summer can be an exceedingly enjoyable time of year in a place with winters as long and as cold as Edmonton’s. With your help, our friends who are homeless can also revel in the arrival of summer sunshine while staying safe and cool.
Help people in need this summer.
Camping is one of the most popular summer pastimes in Canada. This year, it’s more popular than ever before, with a record number of Albertans planning to enjoy the great outdoors while spending some quality time with loved ones. But for many families in our community, camping is a luxury they cannot afford, and many kids have never been given the opportunity to experience it.
When Desmond, a father of three young children, applied to bring his family to one of Bissell Centre’s family camps at Moonlight Bay, he didn’t know what to expect. His family had never gone camping together before. “Money was tight,” he recalls, explaining that he had recently been laid off from work. “I had to hang on to every cent I saved. Before my friend mentioned the camp, I’d never even thought about doing anything camp-related together.”
Desmond, his wife, and his three children were invited to attend a three-day family camp at Moonlight Bay Centre, Bissell Centre’s lakefront property on Wabamun Lake. “I didn’t expect we would get our own cottage,” says Desmond. “I didn’t expect the food to be so good. And I didn’t expect so many activities. The camp was beyond my expectations.” During their three-day getaway, Desmond and his family were able to take a break from the stresses of everyday life. “It gave us the chance to get out of the city, be together, enjoy nature, enjoy the company of other families.”
The trip was full of new experiences, especially for Desmond’s children. “It gave them so much to do with the park, the basketball court, the fire pit, the lake…they loved it all!” Going to camp may have even allowed Desmond’s son to discover a new passion. “He really loved the little basketball court that was there,” Desmond explains. “Before, he didn’t play too much. But when we got home, we bought him a new basketball.” His daughter loved meeting new friends and participating in the arts and crafts, while his wife’s favourite part of the trip was the drumming around the fire pit every evening. Desmond himself was able to go canoeing for the first time in his life.
Being away from the noise of the city also allowed Desmond some time to step back and reflect. “I think we’re always learning something while being a parent. All the time. [I learned] just how grateful I am to be a dad. Sometimes, I forget how grateful I am to have three beautiful kids.”
Desmond’s camping experience was so unforgettable that he hopes to do it again this year. He would ask anyone considering supporting the program to think of how much it means to families like his. “I’d let them be aware of the impact they would have on the lives of all those families who have gone to camp,” he said. “It’s giving them a chance to experience something they may not have experienced before. [It] makes a difference.”
Please give to help more people
like Desmond and his family.
More than 1,200 people volunteer with Bissell Centre every year. They contribute over 15,000 hours of time in total! So much of what we do is only possible because of these wonderful, generous people. That’s why we are celebrating National Volunteer Week this week!
We will be honouring over 100 volunteers this week during our celebratory lunches and appreciation activities. It’s a privilege to show them how much we love them!
Below are a few quotes from some of our amazing volunteers about why they are inspired to work with us:
“This is a chance to give back to the community in any way I can!” – Xavier
“I volunteer to participate in and improve my community as I was homeless in my youth. I now want to help provide opportunities for others’ successes” – Mike
“As a volunteer, I am empowered to do so much and because of that I have a real sense of purpose!” – Yovella
“You really become part of the team and staff are so friendly!”
“I love the welcoming environment, you always feel accepted at Bissell Centre” – Ivy
“I volunteer to be involved with a diverse and beautiful community of people.” – Jessica
“Bissell Centre helped me realize I wanted to work with children as a career and gave me insight to my life’s purpose.” – Shannon
“It always feels like time well-spent, I feel purposeful.”
“I volunteer to give back to a community that was there for me. To also put smiles on the faces of others.” – Constance
“Volunteering at Bissell Centre has allowed me to learn new skills, meet new people, and enhance core leadership qualities.”
Join our Volunteer Community!
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.