Spending a night outside in Edmonton’s harsh winters can take its toll on people. In 2021, it’s estimated that 222 people experiencing houselessness in Edmonton died – many from avoidable deaths such as from exposure. That is a 70 per cent increase from the year before. Between 2021 and 2022, there were 786 reported cases of extreme frostbite, with 91 leading to amputations.
For countless Edmontonians, there is a very real prospect that they may experience houselessness. The Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser walk through downtown gives a small glimpse into what experiencing houselessness can be like.
This Year’s Walk for Bissell
Our goal in 2023 is to raise upwards of $120,000, after last year’s successful walk where we raised $140,000. Walkers are coming together on February 25, 2023, for either the two or five kilometre walk through downtown Edmonton – with teams raising funds since December and continuing to raise funds until one month after the walk.
Not only is this a fun way to bring awareness to a serious issue in our city, but you can also see directly how those funds raised make a difference to the community. This is the sixth year that Bissell Centre is taking part in Coldest Night of the Year – and the first back in-person after the pandemic.
The funds raised for the downtown Coldest Night of the Year walk go directly back to Bissell Centre’s programs, ensuring that our city’s most vulnerable have the services they need to live with a better quality of life.
A History of Helping Those Experiencing Houselessness
Coldest Night of the Year was established in 2011 when three Ontario Ministries wanted to bring attention to what folks who are experiencing houselessness need to endure over Canada’s harsh winters. They started with a goal to raise $40,000 – by the end of the walk, they had raised well over $111,000.
This fundraiser was quickly adopted across Canada and the US, with 166 different locations hosting their own walks with funds going back to local community organizations. In 2022, more than $12 million was raised by more than 31,000 individual walkers in Canada and the US.
You can still contribute to this amazing fundraiser. Donate to a team (or start your own!), donate to someone walking, or support us directly at Bissell Centre by donating to the Walk with Bissell team. Check out our local event site and contribute today. With your help, we can reach our $120,000 goal and continue serving those most vulnerable in our city.
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 of days, we were seeing more than 500 people come to the EXPO. Since we couldn’t accept used clothes in the short-term due to distancing recommendations, we turned to the public for help.
Boyle Street Community Services and Bissell appealed to you, the community at large, for help to raise money to buy jeans, shirts, underwear, gloves, underwear, and more. In less than 1 week, you contributed $30,000. Even though we’ve often witnessed just how compassionate Edmontonians are—this blew us away! It’s a bit of a challenge for our staff to find clothing sources, but we’ve been able to fill gaps.
Other programs continue to run. The Outreach Housing Teams, in addition to providing housing opportunities, are providing bagged lunches to people who are still on the streets, providing information about distancing and the resources available, and encouraging them to go to the EXPO. Other Teams are bringing meals, cleaning supplies, and phones to people who are newly housed and our tenants at Hope Terrace. Supports are limited, but we are doing what we can to be reliable and ensure their well-being.
Back at Bissell our Childcare Staff are also working hard. Our Early Learning and Child Care Centre was selected to provide childcare services for essential service workers. The team eagerly shifted gears in order to support front-line workers. They changed some structures and procedures to meet pandemic-related health requirements, but the heart of the program remains. In fact, our dedicated, caring staff are highly experienced working with children and families experiencing stress. A big stress is simply finding affordable, high-quality childcare. It is not easy to come by for people experiencing poverty. We’re honoured to offer this service to essential workers, so they can rest easy that their loved ones are being cared for while they meet other extraordinary stresses.
Our Family Support Workers are doing their best to stay in touch with our own families. They are doing what they can to see that families have access to food and supplying diapers and formula where needed.
We are doing everything possible to work for those who turn to us, but, as the saying goes…
These are uncertain times.
We’ve all heard this phrase over the past few weeks, but for people experiencing poverty and homelessness, uncertainty is all too normal. Bissell has been one of the, too few, cornerstones they’ve been able to depend on.
No matter what goes on in the world or one’s own life, Bissell Centre has always been a trusted and safe space for people in need. It is a place of compassion, support and hope.
“I’m free from drugs and homelessness because of these individuals. I cannot ever repay the kindness, the support, the pain and the gain…I just want you all to know… I am so very thankful and pray your safe and fulfilled while you lead us to safety. Thank you so much” – Jien, former participant
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bissell remains wholly committed to serving the people that need and depend on us the most. But we can’t do it without you.
For over 100 years, support from the community has made it possible for Bissell to serve this city’s most vulnerable citizens. Bissell has helped people through World Wars, the Great Depression, recessions and other global medical challenges, such as Spanish Flu, HIV, SARS, and H1N1. We are dedicated to ensuring our participants are cared for throughout COVID-19 too.
“I can’t keep up with all these changes. It’s too much. But, I’m in the right place. I feel taken care by Bissell, and I know they can get me what I need.” – Chris, Community Space participant
We have had to make changes to the way we run our programs, like moving our Community Space to the Expo Centre, but we are still very much active and operational.
Today your support is needed more than ever. Your gifts make the following possible:
- Meals and bag lunches for those on the street
- Supporting people to get housing or stay housed so they can safely self-isolate
- Hampers with diapers and formula for Bissell families
- Protective items like masks and gloves for staff and participants
- Stability to ensure we come out of this crisis strong and can continue with projects such as the construction of the new childcare facility
In April, the National Month of HOPE, please provide hope during Covid-19 for individuals who are really struggling to see the light at the end of this very dark tunnel.
We will get through this if we continue to work together.
When Mike first came to Bissell Centre, he’d been living on the street for two years. You might have even seen him on the streets of Edmonton. Perhaps you were the woman who looked Mike in the eyes and said, “You need to get yourself help. There are resources to help you.”
Mike grew up in Edmonton in a family of eight. It wasn’t easy growing up in such a big family. They lived in a cramped three-bedroom house, made smaller because his mother was a hoarder, and his parents fought often.
Mike was similar to his father. He was trusting. He always saw the best in people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. If you asked, he’d give you the shirt from his back.
Once he turned 18, Mike worked and lived on his own, at times allowing his siblings, even his mother, to live with him when they struggled to get by.
Eventually, he made the journey from Edmonton to Calgary. There, he worked for years in the construction industry. Unfortunately, his business partner wasn’t trustworthy—he was underpaying and stealing work from Mike.
During this chaotic time, Mike lost his father, and it was like all the air was sucked from his lungs. The loss was devastating. With his life in shambles, he decided to return home.
Sadly, he didn’t receive the help he’d hoped to find back home. That’s when Mike became homeless for the first time. Each day was a constant struggle. No one believed in him and he certainly didn’t believe in himself.
“Give people a reason to believe in themselves again and see what they do with their lives.”
One day, a kind woman approached him on the street, and encouraged him to seek help. That was a life-changing moment for Mike. He began thinking that things could be different.
Mike found his way to Bissell Centre, where he finally got the help he needed. Scona High School had recently raised $115,000 for Bissell Centre, enabling them to form an Outreach Housing Team. Mike became their first ever participant!
With support from the new team, Mike found an affordable apartment, and got access to mental health services. He also found a rewarding sales job. He was so skilled that he soon won top sales awards and he continues to work there today.
Mike is also now working toward a business degree and is set to graduate at the end of this semester! He dreams of working with wood—he loves building things with his hands.
“Without Bissell Centre, I’d most likely be dead. Most people are on the streets because they don’t believe in themselves and no one believes in them,” Mike says. “Give people a reason to believe in themselves again and see what they do with their lives.”
Donors like you have made it possible for Mike to access Bissell Centre’s Outreach Housing Team, along with other resources. Thanks to your support, Mike has moved from poverty to prosperity.
Thank you for helping Mike and others like him to find affordable housing, and step into a brighter future!
Mike story is a feature in our May Newsletter. Read the full newsletter online now.
Josh Hudon, father and business owner, is humble about his achievements, but his collection of 1000 bags for Bissell Centre is anything but a humble feat. He working tirelessly over 9 months to collect the bags, mobilizing a large network to get the job done. The drive and passion to collect the 1000 bags stemmed from a time where he was experiencing financial hardships and could have lost his house and his business.
“It got me thinking about the homeless situation in Edmonton I wanted to do something to help,” explains Josh. “You don’t normally think about homelessness until it really affects you, and that’s what happened to me.”
“You don’t normally think about homelessness until it really affects you.”
Another thing that inspired his momentous clothing drive was his participation in the Coldest Night of the Year national fundraising walk last winter. Experiencing firsthand the cold of a winter walk in the dark gave him a deeper empathy for individuals experiencing homelessness in Edmonton and he wanted to do something more to help.
Josh worked closely with his sister to collect and transport the bags a two dozen at a time and met several supporters throughout the campaign who helped him reach his goal. After landing some media opportunities in the fall, bags really began to pour in. On November 19th, 2018, Josh dropped off his 1000th bag.
And he’s not stopping there.
Shortly after collecting “#1000bagsforBissell,” Josh and his friends entered as a team for the Coldest Night of the Year again, with sights set high. Josh’s team hopes to raise $60,000 for Bissell Centre as they participate in the walk. They are already well on their way to achieving this ambitious goal. At the time of writing, Josh’s team is the top fundraising team in Canada for the Coldest Night of the Year, having already raised $14,178.
When asked if he had any advice for teams looking to step up their fundraising efforts, Josh suggested being creative. He has hosted two silent auctions, sold raffle tickets for a large basket giveaway, and reached out to his network for corporate sponsorships. He also recommends dreaming big.
“No one has ever accomplished anything great by setting small, easily achievable goals—you need to reach higher than you might think possible,” explains Josh. He has high expectations of himself, and his drive and ambition are what help him accomplish his mountainous goals.
Support or join Josh’s team, here!
Or, start your own team
Christmas of 2017 was a tough time for my family. Having welcomed our second daughter in September, we were at the pinnacle of sleep deprivation as our youngest went through her three-month sleep regression. As a breastfeeding mom, I would wake every 2-3 hours to feed her, and this went on for weeks. We were so tried that we were barely getting through the every-day chores, let alone getting ready for Christmas.
With Christmas looming and a two-year-old at home, I bought all my gifts online, but had absolutely no time to wrap them. I contemplated buying paper bags to shove the presents in and calling it a day. Then I heard about the partnership between Bissell Centre and Southgate Centre for their gift-wrapping service. Not only would I not have to wrap my own gifts, but I’d also get to spend some time having a coffee while the baby napped in her car seat. It was a no-brainer for me. I went the next day and thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet the wonderful volunteers from Bissell, who cheerfully took my gifts to wrap, labeled them and returned them to me in under an hour. I got to walk the mall, enjoying a hot coffee for the first time in weeks.
I was looking for help during the holidays, and I found out that I was helping others.
Any mom of young children can attest to just how hard it is to get a moment to themselves. Bringing my gifts for wrapping at Southgate gave me some time to myself at such a critical time in my postpartum journey. Most importantly, I was surprised and delighted to learn about the impact that Bissell Centre has on the community, including supporting struggling families and children through their Childcare program, parenting classes, clothing donations and more. In fact, Bissell Centre supports over 600 families across Edmonton each year. I was looking for help during the holidays, and I found out that I was helping others. What a gift!
It was such a pleasant experience that I will be bringing my gifts every year. Life is still busy with a toddler and preschooler running around and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to bringing my gifts to be wrapped by “Bissell Elves” at Southgate Mall. It has become a welcomed holiday tradition for us.
*Submitted and written by local mom and business owner, Jacquie DuVal.
Between November 23th and December 24th, for a minimum donation of $3, have your Christmas gifts wrapped at Southgate Centre by Bissell Elves. All proceeds go to support Bissell Centre’s Childcare meal program.
Together, we can make a big difference for families and individuals living in poverty this Holiday Season.
Here are 7 ways you can help!
1. Shop Our Holiday Gift Guide
Choose a meaningful gift from our Holiday Gift Guide to benefit individuals and families in need. Shop now!
3. Volunteer with Us—Become a Bissell Elf!
As a “Bissell Elf” you will take part sorting donations, wrapping gifts, serving meals, and spreading good cheer alongside enthusiastic Bissell Elf Captains, who will help lead the way!
2. Have Your Gifts Wrapped in Support of Bissell Centre
Between November 23th and December 24th, for a minimum donation of $3, have your Christmas gifts wrapped at Southgate Centre by Bissell Elves. All proceeds go to support Bissell Centre’s meal program for children.
4. Fundraise on Our Behalf!
This holiday season, when you host a staff event, church gathering, or dinner party, you can also give to people in need. Find everything you need to host a fundraiser for Bissell!
5. Donate Warm Winter Gear
During the cold season, items such as jackets, gloves, mitts, and boots are critical to the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness. You can help by donating new or used winter gear as an individual, or, consider starting a clothing drive initiative! Check out our list of needed items.
6. Stay Tuned this Giving Tuesday!
Stay tuned this #GivingTuesday, November 27, 2018! We have something exciting to share with you.
7. Share and Advocate!
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!
We are thrilled to announce that ENMAX has renewed their partnership with our Community Bridge Program! Community Bridge is a rapid response intervention to stop an imminent eviction and provide interventions and services to ensure that the causes of the eviction are effectively addressed to ward off the re-occurrence.
The vision of the program includes strong partnerships across all sectors that leverage existing services while directing funds to the preventative efforts that stop homelessness before it occurs, and sets the stage for actions people and systems can undertake to improve lives and people’s futures. The vision is of a service that reduces the economic costs of poverty that all of us fund in one way or another.
Millie’s story helps explain the value of the program.
Two years ago, Millie’s rent was raised unexpectedly. She knew she needed help if she wanted to stay off the streets, so she applied for assistance from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program.
Community Bridge was able to help Millie afford her rent while she focused on her health and overcoming her alcohol addiction. Without the program, Millie believes she would have been evicted and left homeless once again.
Today, Millie spends her spare time volunteering with various organizations, extending a helping hand to others who are struggling in similar ways she was.
“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.” – Millie
Thank you ENMAX for your significant contribution and support of our Community Bridge Program. We are so grateful for your support and for the positive impact you’ve made and will continue to make in our program participant’s lives!
Thanks to our incredible supporters, we were able to implement positive changes and saw huge successes that truly impacted the people we served this year! Here are some of our favourite moments of 2017.
1) Struggling Families Treated to More Summer Camp Experiences
Moonlight Bay Centre, our camp site 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, we offered six 4-day camps, enabling us to host 143 people, including 51 children.
2) Financial Empowerment Program Launched
In partnership with E4C and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, Bissell launched its Financial Empowerment Services. This national program strives to improve the financial well-being of people with low incomes through education, coaching, and supports. We are seeing more people filing their taxes than ever before!
3) Bissell’s Expanded Outreach Housing Team Houses More People than Ever
Our Outreach Housing team alone helped 55 people, including 19 children, find permanent homes in October. This was a record number of people supported in a single month! To date, with the assistance of our housing services teams, approximately 345 people have been housed this year, and 318 adults, parents, and children avoided eviction with support from our Community Bridge team.
4) Neighbours Come Together to Commemorate National Indigenous Peoples Day
National Indigenous Peoples Day is held across Canada every year to celebrate and recognize the unique cultural heritage of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Peoples. Many of our friends and neighbours gathered at Bissell to enjoy singing, dancing, drumming from various indigenous backgrounds, along with stew and bannock meals, traditional arts activities, and more!
5) Renovations Commence to Improve Access to Supports
Bissell Centre has operated drop-in services for over a hundred years as a means of engaging with individuals who struggle with homelessness and poverty. We received funding to renovate our communal space in order to improve our clients’ ability to access the services they need to meet basic needs, obtain critical supports, develop skills, and build relationships. We’re excited to implement our service model and take another step toward eliminating poverty in our community.
6) Bissell Introduces FASD Medic Alert Bracelets
In October, our Fetal Alcohol Spectrum of Services team launched MedicAlert’s pilot FASD bracelet program at Bissell. The program aims to achieve more equitable treatment for persons living with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder by raising awareness among emergency first responders on how to approach these individuals as identified through their MedicAlert ID.
7) Bissell Donors and Volunteers Bring Joy to People in Need During the Festive Season
Five hundred and ninety three Bissell Elf volunteers helped make this Christmas season especially warm and friendly! Two hundred and fifty heaping plates of turkey, vegetables, stuffing, and salad were served at our Christmas meal, 143 families received gifts through our Festive Giveaway event, and 228 people helped wrap gifts to raise funds for Bissell’s programs and services during our Gift Wrap for Bissell events. Thank you to each and every person who helped bring comfort and joy to the people who lean on Bissell Centre for support over the holidays!
As we look back on 2017, we are reminded that the work that we do at Bissell Centre would never be possible without your support.
THANK YOU, from the bottom of our hearts!
Help create more memories like these by joining our family of supporters today. Make a donation.
We are currently recruiting for 8 new positions to complete our new 24/7 Crisis Service Diversion Team (CSDT). These positions are called Complex Support Workers and they will be responsible for providing support to referred participants through interventions and diversion services. The goal of the program is to decrease the inappropriate dependency of participants on medical services, police and judicial services.
Some of the Complex Support Workers’ responsibilities include:
â€¢ Develop personal plans with participants and empower them in the achievement of their goals.
â€¢ Make appropriate supported referrals to housing, health and community services and provide advocacy support services with, or on behalf of, individuals as needed.
â€¢ Provide flexible one-on-one case management depending on the needs of the individual.
â€¢ Ensure placement in shelters, detox and short-term/immediate housing as needed and transitioned into permanent housing as able.
Some of the qualifications for the role are:
â€¢ Degree or Diploma in Social Science or related discipline.
â€¢ Minimum of one year related employment experience.
â€¢ Alberta Class 5 License, satisfactory driver’s abstract and a vehicle.
â€¢ Strong interpersonal skills, results oriented, good time management, strong organizational and problem-solving skills.
â€¢ Good working knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel programs.
â€¢ Familiarity with issues of poverty, homelessness and Edmonton’s urban core.
â€¢ Familiarity working with high risk populations and an understanding of Aboriginal cultures, history and current issues.
Review of applications will begin on 6th February 2013. Selection and hiring will continue until all vacancies for this position are filled.
Interested candidates are invited to view the full job posting here – Complex Support Worker 240113 – and submit a resume and cover letter (see details in the posting).