Finding Peace: Millie’s Story

My name is Millie and today I’m thankful to have a home, my health, and one year of sobriety.

Two years ago I was facing eviction and homelessness. Without Bissell Centre’s hot meals, I would have gone hungry, and without help from their caring staff, I would have ended up back on the streets.

I’ve been battling addiction, violence, and poverty all my life. I grew up in a turbulent, sometimes violent household.

After watching and experiencing the cycle of substance abuse in my family, I vowed I’d never drink, but things didn’t go the way I planned.

At 24, I fell in love, got married, and had two children. After a few years together, my husband’s behaviour became all too familiar. He had an alcohol addiction and was becoming increasingly violent. I started coping by drinking as well.

Soon, I was forced to pack up my kids and move into my car until we could get into a shelter.

Life as a single-parent was never easy, but I was determined to give my kids a good life. My kids and I have had many successes together, but sadly, the pain of my childhood and married years was always there in the background. Achieving sobriety has become a lifelong battle, adding extra challenges to my already complicated life.

“I was struggling to put food on the table. Without Bissell Centre’s daily meals, I would have gone hungry.”

 

Two years ago my rent was raised unexpectedly. This increase meant that after paying for rent, my phone bill, and a bus pass, I was left with $30 per month for all other costs. Needless to say, I was struggling to put food on the table.

Bissell Centre’s program, Community Bridge helped me with rent and utilities in my time of emergency. I was so incredibly relieved to get help, and not be struggling by myself anymore.

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

Today, I’ve been sober for almost a year. Every day sober is an achievement. I am also a Peer Outreach Worker providing street-level support for people dealing with addictions and I’m finally at peace with myself and my world.

Read our full February Newsletter, including a special message from our CEO.

Success! Outreach Housing Team Meets Ambitious Target Early

We’re proud to announce that our Outreach Housing Team has met its ambitious goal of housing 200 people–and they did it 3 months ahead of schedule!

In early 2015, students from Strathcona High School raised $190,000 for Bissell Centre as part of their Treehouse Project fundraiser. These funds went towards establishing our Outreach Housing Team (OHT), a new program dedicated to locating, engaging, and housing people who are homeless. Since then, the OHT has successfully housed 200 people, a figure that continues to climb with each passing week.

One of the people helped by our Outreach Housing Team is “Steven,” who up until last year was homeless and sleeping in the River Valley. Steven’s social anxiety stopped him from accessing the help he needed. “At the time I was very bad with communicating with people,” he says. “I didn’t like phone calls.” But Steven knew he needed to make a change, and decided to contact Bissell Centre. He was quickly put in touch with our Outreach Housing Team, who found him a house in August 2015.

Since then, Steven has returned to school and is working on a marketing degree. He has plans to start his own business after graduation. Even though he was at first afraid to ask for help, he encourages anyone who is in the same position to reach out to someone. “You have to do it,” he says. “Life is damn scary. But you have to walk into the dark a bit sometimes to find the light.”

“Life is damn scary. But you have to walk into the dark a bit sometimes to find the light.”

– Steven, Housing Participant

Because there are few strict criteria that a candidate must meet to be eligible to access OHT services, people who do not qualify for similar housing initiatives can almost always get help through OHT. The team’s focus on keeping the paperwork to a minimum has made the housing process simple and streamlined, allowing them to house more people with fewer resources than other housing programs.

“It’s amazing how much you guys help,” says Steven. “Anyone who needs help – phone the Outreach Housing Team. They’re the ones that care, and they’ll do what it takes to get you off the streets. There are organizations who get thirty or forty million dollars in funding a year who don’t do as much.”

We are proud of the work the OHT has done over the past several months. But now, as funds dwindle and resources become scarcer, the support of the community has never been more important. It began with a group of extraordinary high school students and has resulted in 200 people like Steven finding homes and new hope for the future. Our hope is that the OHT will continue to grow and evolve with the help of our caring, dedicated community.

Thank you for your support!

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Thanks to all who attended our AGM; Annual Report available!

We were excited to host our 105th Annual General Meeting on Thursday, July 7th. Thank you to the Board of Governors, supporters, and staff for attending!

This was the first AGM for our new CEO, Gary St. Amand and for our new Board Chair, Ken Ristau. For our long-standing Board Member, Bobbie Wildgoose, this was her last AGM after six years on the Board being instrumental with supporting our vision to eliminate poverty in our community.

Also, this was the last AGM attended by Reverend Lynn Maki, who is with the United Church of Canada, Alberta & Northwest Conference, as she is retiring after her long and dedicated support of Bissell Centre and other organizations.

Highlights of our 2015-16 Annual Report include:

  • In October 2015, we opened up Canada’s first housing complex to provide around-the-clock support for people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
  • Our Community Bridge prevented 215 evictions from occurring, ending the threat of homelessness for individuals and families in Edmonton.
  • 132 adults and children were housed through our Outreach Housing Team, which was launched in July 2015 with the purpose to engage with people who are homeless in our city and find them stable housing.

 

DOWNLOAD FULL REPORT

 

Thank you to everyone for making 2015-16 a successful year for helping people living in poverty. We look forward to another year with providing the necessary supports and care for people in our community.

Our Summer Camp Staff on the Importance of Recreation

Summer is finally here! Bissell Centre’s camps and recreation team have been working hard to plan for the approaching summer months. Spearheading the effort are Alyssa, a fourth year recreation, sport, and tourism major at the University of Alberta, and Zoée, a King’s University graduate who is now pursuing her degree in social work at MacEwan University.

Alyssa and Zoée have been busy preparing for Bissell Centre’s annual summer camps. The camps will take place at Bissell Centre’s lakefront property, Moonlight Bay, which is located an hour west of Edmonton on Wabamun Lake. Beginning on July 4, Moonlight Bay will host a series of summer camps for adults and children of all ages. Camp trips range from one to four days and include an array of fun activities including teepee weaving, popcorn and s’mores by the fire, swimming, and canoeing.

For many participants, the trip will be a brief respite from otherwise persistently stressful life circumstances. Many adults and children participating in the camps come from environments of domestic violence, drug addiction, and poverty. “Everyone needs time away to spend with family and to rejuvenate, relax, and get away from those stresses,” Zoée says. Camps also provide opportunities for individuals to forge friendships, build community, and strengthen social supports.

Both Zoée and Alyssa are adamant that recreation is not a luxury or a privilege: it’s a physical and emotional need. “There needs to be recreation,” says Alyssa. “That shouldn’t be denied to anyone.”

Since 1929, Bissell Centre’s Moonlight Bay facility has been a destination for low-income families to enjoy some respite from the daily life stresses that face them. The program relies on donations and volunteer support to remain in operation. Thank you for helping us give adults and children living in poverty a summer experience they will never forget!

Meet Carolyn, our Volunteer of the Month!

Meet Carolyn, a mother and retiree who channels her love for children by lending a helping hand around the community. Carolyn says she has always volunteered in some capacity or another, and she began volunteering for Bissell Centre around five or six years ago after being referred by a friend. Since then, she has been an indispensable part of Bissell’s childcare team, which offers free daycare to low-income and in-crisis families Monday through Friday. Carolyn always looks forward to her weekly Monday morning shifts caring for the children. “My role is to cuddle them, feed them, play with them,” she explains. “It’s the best of everything.”

Carolyn says that the staff is what makes Bissell Centre special. “You have a very good staff in the children’s area,” she says. “They’re very devoted. It’s not an easy job, because there are such a variety of children that are all from different families and expecting different things.” Carolyn adds that parents who drop their kids off at Bissell’s daycare need never worry about their little ones – they are in very capable hands.

Although there is no single memory Carolyn would tout as her favourite, she says that the small, simple things are what she remembers most. “Things like the joy you have when you’re holding a baby and it falls asleep in your arms,” she says, “or if it’s upset and you’re able to settle it down. Those moments are what make it special – when you’ve made them happy for a little while.”

Volunteering is also a powerful perspective changer for Carolyn. “You really start to recognize that everybody here – they’re just people too. It really puts a different light on a lot of things.” Carolyn feels gratified to know that she is making a difference in the lives of people who need it most, but insists that she also benefits from the experience: “I find I’m learning lots all the time. I thoroughly enjoy it.”

Bissell Centre relies on volunteers like Carolyn to keep programs like the daycare centre in operation. Thank you to Carolyn and all of our amazing volunteers for helping us to keep the wheels of Bissell Centre turning!

Interested in making a difference? Click here  to find out how you can get involved.

Happy National Aboriginal Day!

Every year on June 21st, the summer solstice, Canada observes National Aboriginal Day in recognition of Aboriginal culture, honouring its vast richness and diversity. This year marks a special milestone as it is the twentieth anniversary of National Aboriginal Day.

The solstice was selected for this special day because of the significance that it holds for many Indigenous groups as the longest day of the year. Bissell Centre hosts annual celebrations on this day to honour our historic ties to the Aboriginal community and to promote its deep and beautiful culture.

“Aboriginal” is an umbrella term that includes the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples of Canada. A large proportion of the people who access Bissell’s services are of Aboriginal heritage because this population disproportionately struggles with homelessness and poverty. The causes of this phenomenon are complex and rooted in a history of systematic marginalization and discrimination.

Today, one in fifteen Aboriginal people in Canada is homeless, compared to around one in 128 of the general population.

Bissell Centre is a tireless advocate for Edmonton’s Aboriginal community, as it has been for many years. Celebrating Aboriginal culture at Bissell Centre is an important part of the work we do in support of the Indigenous community. It allows us to connect more deeply with our participants and offers them a space to celebrate their heritage.

This National Aboriginal Day, we are serving a special meal of stew and bannock at 10:00am, as well as running a number of activities in our Drop-in Centre, including:

  • Blessing and smudging led by an Elder at 9:30am.
  • Traditional drumming and dance at 11:00am.
  • Indigenous art in the afternoon.

We are excited for these activities and hope that our friends in the community can join us to celebrate.

From all of us at Bissell Centre,  Happy National Aboriginal Day!

Fatherhood and Second Chances: Ché’s Story

It’s hard enough being a single dad, but it’s even harder when you struggle with poverty and periodic homelessness. The idea seems unthinkable, but it’s a reality that many dads in our community must face every day.

One of those dads is Ché, a single father who has faced more than his fair share of troubles. His past struggles with alcohol addiction leading to crime and temporary homelessness left him feeling hopeless.  “I’ve been at the bottom many times,” he says, “and it was pretty much my baby girl who was my saving grace.”

Ché recently reconnected with his four-year-old daughter, who is currently living in foster care. “The first time she called me Daddy, I melted,” he says. “When I hear her yell, ‘Daddy, come help me…’ I know that’s my purpose.”

While still in the midst of his struggle with addiction and poverty a number of years ago, Ché accessed Bissell Centre’s Employment Services. With the help of our dedicated support workers, he was able to complete his tickets and secure the employment he needed to get himself off the streets for good.

Since then, Ché has gotten sober, secured a place to live, completed his high school diploma, and enrolled in college in pursuit of an Addictions and Community Services Worker diploma. He has plans to pursue his Master’s degree in the future.

“I’ve been at the bottom many times and it was pretty much my baby girl who was my saving grace.”

Ché has also started an initiative for a support group for men getting out of prison and re-integrating into the community, an endeavour that he began working on while he himself was still incarcerated. “This is a group for guys getting out and getting back into the community,” he says. “I know from the past that it’s hard to find people to relate, hard to get people to listen.”

Ché ’s group, Second Chance Fellowship, is still in the early stages of development and is not yet meeting regularly. However, Ché is excited for it to get off the ground.  “Besides my daughter, this is the biggest accomplishment of my life.”

Ché has already been granted guardianship of his daughter, but his living situation stops him from being able to take full custody. His biggest challenge has been finding a suitable and affordable home in which to raise his child. “If I go up to [the foster care workers] and say, ‘I’m ready to take her,’ they’re gonna want to see where I live. How can I do that when I don’t have a two-bedroom place?” Ché hopes that when he completes his diploma and finds steady employment, he will find an affordable two-bedroom apartment in no time, finally allowing him to be a full-time dad.

The transformative power that Ché ’s daughter has had on his life is evident. Even though there was a time when alcohol controlled his life, Ché knows that, now that he’s sober, he won’t ever fall off the wagon again. He explains his reason for staying sober as though it were the most obvious thing in the world: “I can’t break my little girl’s heart, right?”

From Needing Help to Helping Others – Roger’s Inspiring Story

“I’m either Dad, Uncle, or Grandpa around here.” That is the way that Roger, a long time Bissell Centre volunteer, likes to introduce himself around the community. As he puts it, “I’ve got around two hundred street sons and daughters, and about five hundred street grandchildren.” To many community members and visitors to Bissell, Roger is more than a trusted friend – he’s practically part of the family.

Roger has a stocky build, iron gray hair that is nearly white around the temples, and a ready smile that creases his face with little provocation. He has been volunteering for Bissell Centre for over two years, but before that, he was a regular visitor to our Drop-in Centre. “I used to come here for coffee and that on the weekends, and one day they asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the Community Closet. I said, yes I would!”

Before he became a volunteer, Roger’s life was not without its share of troubles. “I lost a sister and a niece to an impaired driver,” he says. “And I lost a granddaughter to an impaired driver. And I got no use for that, people coming too close to kids when they’re drinking.” In the past, Roger has also struggled with homelessness and poverty, going back and forth between temporary homes before he at last got a place of his own in the inner city. Now that Roger has a reliable place to live, he devotes most of his free time to helping others in need.

“When I used to visit Bissell, a lot of people would ask me for something. And if I could help them in any way, I just did it. It’s something I was taught by my family.”

Roger’s desire for helping others was what drove him to start volunteering at Bissell Centre, offering support and assistance to people who now struggle with the same difficult circumstances that he once faced.

When he’s not at Bissell, Roger is also involved in a volunteer street patrol. All of his volunteer work keeps him busy, but Roger shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m coming up on sixty-seven years old,” he says, laughing, “but I don’t think I’ll retire until I’m about one hundred and eight.”

It is truly an inspiration to see someone like Roger, who has witnessed far more than his fair share of tragedy and personal struggles over the course of his life, devote himself so completely to improving the circumstances in his community.

We are proud to call Roger part of our Bissell Centre family.

5 Reasons Why EVERYONE Needs Clean Underwear

…Especially those who are homeless.

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

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

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

1. Hygiene

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

2. Health

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

3. Comfort

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

4. Self-confidence

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

5. Dignity

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

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

You can help!
Donate underwear today!

Meet Marla, our Volunteer of the Month!

For the month of May, our volunteer spotlight falls on Marla, a two-year veteran volunteer whose smiling face can be reliably found at Bissell Centre every Tuesday. She has worked with the arts and crafts Community Participation program since January, before which she worked in the Community Closet distributing free clothing to people in need.

Marla makes time to volunteer around her part-time job at a charitable organization that seeks to alleviate poverty in South and Central America and parts of Africa. “It does great work,” she says of the organization, “but I also wanted to help out locally. That’s why I came to Bissell. My children are all grown now, and I’m at a point where I’d really like to give back to the community.”

When she’s not working or volunteering, Marla also loves to travel. Her volunteer work has taken her as far as Ecuador and Guatemala; in the future, she hopes to travel to even more new places, and is in the process of learning Spanish. She also has a strong artistic background that comes in handy during her Tuesday afternoon painting sessions, where she helps to instruct participants in arts and crafts.

“Some people are just going through a rough patch in their lives, and are just happy to share, happy to have an ear to listen”

– Marla

When asked about her favourite memory with Bissell Centre, Marla recalls serving New Year’s Day dinner. “My family was volunteering with me,” she says. “My daughter and her boyfriend came along to help, and we were serving meals at the Drop-in Centre. That was very special.” Marla’s pleasant, approachable personality makes her well-suited to her volunteer role. As she explains, “I treat people here the same way as I treat my own friends. Some people are just going through a rough patch in their lives, and are just happy to share, happy to have an ear to listen.”

One of Marla’s favourite things about Bissell Centre in particular is the people she gets to work with. “Every staff member I’ve met here has been phenomenal,” she says. “The staff make such a huge difference – they are very caring people, all of them.”

And when asked what she would say to someone considering volunteering, Marla’s answer is immediate: “I would say go for it! Especially if you like people. For me the most rewarding part is actually working with the people you are helping. You really get more out of it than you put in.”

Thank you Marla for your continued dedication with helping people.

Want to volunteer?! Please click here to get started!