Recently out of jail, a man came to Bissell Centre looking to make a change in his life. He showed a great deal of motivation, but needed some assistance to gain additional skills and confidence to start a career and get a full-time job. He joined our Moving Up pre-employment program and looked to his peers and program facilitator for support. Through the course of the four week program we helped him develop a work plan, complete job searches, and pick an industry for work – construction!
Through the training (safety tickets), coaching, supported job searches, resume building, and interview skills he received, he now is working full-time in the construction industry and making $27/hour!
If you would like to support our work in helping people make positive changes in their life, and motivating them to move from poverty to prosperity, please visit our Donate page.
This story was written by one of Bissell Centre’s Homeless to Homes participants. *Name has been changed to protect the participant’s privacy.
My name is Jennifer*. I became homeless about four years ago. Prior to becoming homeless, I was in an abusive relationship with a common law partner for approximately 10 years. The moment that I made the decision to leave this relationship was the moment I became homeless. I knew that’s what I was choosing, but the experience that I had in this relationship was so bad that I felt like I had no alternatives.
Being homeless is pretty rough. There were many moments when I was homeless that I felt scared and angry. I found that the amount of alcohol I drank increased when I was homeless, and I spent time picking bottles to make enough money to purchase more liquor. I spent most nights at inner city shelters, and at times, when I had no other options I even stayed outside. Read More…
Bissell Centre employee Sissy Thiessen shares her story of assuming the various positions of volunteer, program participant and employee within Bissell. This is a three-part series that will be published separately.
By: Sissy Thiessen
PART 2: Me as a Participant of Bissell Centre
The next phase I entered in my journey at Bissell was on the other side of the table- as a program participant. While I was still a volunteer, the manager of Food Services offered me an opportunity to participate in a First Aid Course as part of a women’s program that was running at the time. It was a full day course, offering a certificate in Standard First Aid, as well as infant-level CPR c. Realizing an opportunity for professional development when I see one, I jumped at the offer. There were about 10 of us, all appearing to be of First Nations descent. Some were with child, others said they had to make stressful arrangements to coordinate child care for the day. Read More…
Yesterday a lovely family came into our Childcare Centre bearing gifts for our children – mini candy canes, a turkey for our Food Services program, and a beautiful Christmas card and typed letter for our Childcare staff. This family came from Russia a year and a half ago, and moved to Edmonton six months ago with little money and no jobs. They had brought their two daughters (ages 4 and 2) to our Childcare when they first arrived to Edmonton. They needed someone to watch their kids so that they could apply for jobs and do interviews. Once they found employment, they needed our services until they could get their kids into an affordable daycare. They came back yesterday with gratitude on their faces, in their hands, and written in their beautiful card.
This is what their letter said:
“Words alone can’t begin to thank you for all the love and care you have given us. We are very grateful to have had your faces to greet us every morning. Without you guys we don’t know how well we would have made it. You helped us in good times and bad and gave us the extra confidence we needed to go on. You were always there to tell us everything will be okay.
We are writing to let you know how much we have appreciated the excellent job you have done over the period while my daughters have been attending your daycare centre. They have really thrived in your centre, thanks to your nurturing and creativity.
Thank you very much for the services your daycare centre has extended to us during the period of crisis. Indeed, it is really your personal care that made us assured of our children, when we were forced to go for some job due to some pressing needs.
Though many services could not be measured in terms of money as compensation, we cannot forget your services and motherly affection to our children when they were with you. Even though it’s difficult to be away from them while we are working, we have peace of mind in knowing that they are in such good hands during those times.
From the bottoms of our hearts, we express our sincere gratitude to your service once again and thank you very much.
WISHING YOU ALL A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND THE HAPPIEST OF NEW YEARS.”
If you’d like to donate to our Childcare program, click here!
I wrote this little story – a blend of fiction and non-fiction – some years ago and just rediscovered it in my personal archives (which is a nice way of saying, among the stacks of papers kept in many boxes). It was written in the summer-time, but for me, it is a Christmas story about hope and change. I hope you like it.
Like you, I am frequently approached for a hand-out by someone on the street. Sometimes I hand over some change. Sometimes I don’t. When I don’t is when I find myself rationalizing that I don’t want to support someone’s drinking habit. Giving them a sandwich would be more appropriate, I tell myself. But of course, I don’t carry a sandwich in my pocket and I don’t go buy them one. I just walk away with my self-sustaining rationale.
I bet most of us do that more often than not. Yes, I know. Handing over a dollar won’t solve anything. What difference will I make? Maybe I will cause more harm than good. Who knows? Then I remember a fellow I knew years ago. His name was Ernie. He had been on the streets for twenty years – a heavy drinker, the personification of a “bum.” The kind of man you walk around if you see him coming down the street. All of my colleagues figured he would die on the streets.
Ernie comes to mind for a couple reasons. First, because he was always willing to share what he had – which wasn’t much – with anyone who asked. He was just that way, an all around nice guy (despite his rough appearance), even when drunk on Lysol or cheap wine. Second, one day Ernie just quit drinking and never started again — at least for as long as I kept track of him anyway, which was for several years.
One day I asked why he just stopped drinking.
He gave me a big smile and shook his head. “I don’t really know,” he said. “I just woke up one morning and said that’s it. I’m done. I threw out what little booze I had in my room, took the empties to the depot and headed to the Gold Nugget for breakfast.”
I guess I was looking for more of a watershed moment from Ernie, some kind of spiritual turning point – anything other than “I don’t really know.”
“Something troubling you, son?”
I shook my head. “I just thought you would know the reason.”
Ernie laughed. “I can think of some now, looking back. Like I didn’t want to die yet. But at the time, the honest truth is I didn’t know. I just quit.” He paused for a moment. Ernie had always been a thoughtful man and had an uncanny sense of other people. “You,” he said. “You were good to me – and the others at the drop-in, you know, the workers there.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I wasn’t fishing thoughâ€¦”
“Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t,” Ernie said. “But it’s true anyways. It wasn’t that you were social workers. You were just people, decent you know. You gave me change, bummed me smokes, gave me rides when my arthritis was bad. You just hung out and talked. I never got the feeling you were trying to save me. I hated that – people trying to save me.”
I didn’t know quite what to say, so I shifted gears. “So did you enjoy your breakfast that first day – you know, at the Gold Nugget.”
“Nope,” Ernie said. “I got sick like a dog, and then I gave all my change to Stanley – you know him, right?”
“He was in a bad way and needed a fix more than I needed my little bit of cash.”
“I understand,” I said.
Ernie looked at me. He smiled a little. “I imagine you do, son. I imagine you do.”
I don’t know where Ernie is today, but I have a feeling he is alive and sober. He’s still poor no doubt and living day to day on his disability checks. He’s probably still off the streets living in a small room in McCauley or somewhere along 118th Avenue.
But one thing I know for sure. When Ernie comes across an outstretched hand, he stops and gives them what he can. Knowing him, he likely has a chat as well. And when he finally does move along, he’s not wondering if he should have bought them a sandwich. Maybe he understands these things better than we do because he was there and then one day things just changed. I figure that if that can happen to an old alcoholic bum named Ernie, maybe it can happen to other folks, too, even folks like you and me.
The very last time I saw Ernie was a couple years after I left my job in the inner city. I was walking along Whyte Avenue on my way to Greenwoods to buy a book. He was headed the other way, moving slowly with his wooden cane.
“Hey, Ernie,” I said. “Long time.”
Ernie looked up at me and smiled. It took him a moment to recognize me. “Mark,” he said. “How’s things?”
“Good,” I said. “Real good. You?”
“Same as usual. My leg hurts a bit more lately than usual, but can’t complain really.”
We stood there for a few minutes, talking about other folks we knew, those who had died, others who had left town, the few who were still walking 96th Street each day. People streamed by us, oblivious to our reunion, except for a young man in a business suit who gave us a dirty look for being in his way.
Ernie smiled at the man. “To have old friends, son, you got to make a few first.”
I laughed. The young man didn’t, but he went away.
And then it was time. “Mark,” Ernie said. “I should be getting on.”
We said our goodbyes and then continued on our separate ways. A few steps later, I turned around. “Ernie,” I yelled.
Ernie turned half way toward me
“Good to see you,” I said.
Ernie nodded and gave me a little wave with his cane and then shuffled off through the crowd.
As I waved back I caught my reflection in the shop window. I stepped forward to get a better look but then thought better of it. I didn’t want to frighten people in the store gawking like some stalker! So I crossed the street and walked into the bookstore. I felt different somehow, but wasn’t sure why. All I know is I felt somehow changed by an old man with a bum leg who had quit drinking years ago for reasons he didn’t understand at the time.
Like most people, I wish for a lot of things in my life. I hope my children will be happy. I hope my wife loves me as much as I love her. I would like more money, who wouldn’t? I hope for less violence and pain in the world.
I also wish I could be more like Ernie. And on that day in the middle of summer, I wished for that more than anything.
Written By Rylan Kafara, Bissell Centre’s Inner City Recreation Coordinator
Anyone who has been in Bissell Centre has probably seen Ceno’s art. There are pieces displayed in almost every office, some are hanging in the hallways, and others are painted on the walls. If you’ve visited some of the businesses in the area, you may also have noticed the works Ceno has used for barter when he’s hungry.
Recently, one of Ceno’s pieces was submitted to the 4th annual Edmonton Timeraiser. The Timeraiser is a charity gala where local artists’ paintings are selected by a jury of their peers for auction. If chosen, the artist is paid the market value for their work. At the event, the pieces are given to the highest bidder.
Instead of paying money, however, the winner offers volunteer hours. These hours are worked over the course of the year at community agencies of their choice, and then they are given the artwork.
The Timeraiser is about creating connections, and building community. All across Canada, prospective volunteers are paired with the agencies they are best suited to work with, from Vancouver to St. John’s. Each year the event grows, as more cities host events, more artists are showcased, and more volunteer hours are raised.
This year, Ceno’s “Spirit of Chief” was showcased at the Timeraiser held on October 13th. So not only was his talent recognized by other Edmonton artists, but he was paid a fair price, and his art gave back to the community through a new volunteer.
Ceno’s art being featured at the Timeraiser helps remove barriers between the inner city and the wider community. Although he has never had a formal art education, Ceno has been able to nurture his talents at Bissell Centre, and through that support he has achieved something any artist would be proud of.
If you’d like to help community members like Ceno, visit our Giving Guide to see the many ways you can! Bissell Centre Giving Guide
Kayla, a mother of five, came to Bissell Centre at the end of 2011 while trying to acquire housing through our Homeless to Homes (H2H) program. Kayla had been going through very difficult times as she had lost a child three months prior; she had been physically assaulted which resulted in her hospitalization and two children being apprehended by Children Services.
With the help of Bissell Centre, Kayla was able to apply for Supports for Independence (SFI) benefits and access our Inner City Victim Services program. We are happy to report that Kayla and her children were housed in March and are doing quite well.
Click here if you’d like to help more people access our multiple services.
Shawn, a long time community member of Bissell Centre, used to live on the streets and struggled with an alcohol addiction.
Shawn got a job through our Casual Labour program last year with an ice manufacturing company in Edmonton. Due to the physically demanding work environment many of our previous Casual Labour placements couldn’t handle the work.
Shawn persisted in working with them and so they hired him on full time. He is now learning new skills and expanding his job duties (including driving a fork lift). The ice manufacturer has also helped Shawn find housing for a reasonable rent and they are also paying him a fair living wage at $23.00/hr!
This is why Bissell Centre exists: to ensure everyone has equitable access to opportunities that will enable them to have dignity and achieve a sustainable livelihood, meet their own basic daily needs, feel hope for a prosperous future, and feel engaged in life.
And this is why we need your help: We are not fully funded by the Government, and therefore we rely on our generous community to support our programs so that we can help more people like Shawn.
Show your support for our work by making a DONATION. Or call 780.423.2285 or mail in a cheque to Bissell Centre 10527 96 Street, Edmonton, AB T5H 2H6.
Thank you so much for your support!
Bryn MacDonald, a proud father, went from making $1,000 a day to an average of $1,000 a month, but he couldn’t be happier. When his daughter was born, he made the choice to work for himself as a graphic and website designer over working for a large corporation overseas. He explains, “She is my first child and I want to be the best parent I can be for her. I want to see her grow up and have stability.” He saw how important family values were in Asia and wanted to give his daughter the same caring and supportive environment to thrive in.
Since 2009, he has been spending his days working at home, while spending quality time with his daughter. When he needs a break, he brings his daughter to Bissell Centre’s Child Care centre. He drops her off twice a week at the day care so that he can have some time to relax and take naps. He is also taking the parenting courses offered by Bissell so that he can learn to be a better parent.
Bryn lives in the area, but it is not the only reason he enjoys coming to Bissell. “The staff are so nice. They really do care about the children. It is obvious by how they treat the children,” he tells me. And over the years, he has become good friends with some of the staff. They are so supportive and caring and are great role models for his daughter.
It is obvious that he is happy with where he is at right now. He doesn’t care about the money he could have made overseas. He is making ends meet, but he has a close relationship with his daughter and that is priceless.
Written by Guest Blogger Karen Lee.
By Guest Blogger, Karen Lee
James, a regular in Bissell Centre’s Drop-In, tells me that he is grateful for places like Bissell. For the past three months, he has been homeless. At night he sleeps in shelters, but he doesn’t like it. He has multiple health problems, including epilepsy and is prone to seizures, for which he needs to take medication, but he isn’t allowed to take them in the shelters. In addition to having three major seizures in the last year, James is also diabetic and has high blood pressure. And if you can believe it, he has problems with his eyesight also… he has double vision.
James is scared and emotionally distraught. He doesn’t feel safe in the inner city. He has seen numerous acts of violence and an act of suicide on the streets. He feels he has no support outside of Bissell. He lost contact with his friends and family and feels alone and hopeless.
James, like many homeless people, has been coming to Bissell daily for meals and a warm safe place to stay during the day. Today he feels especially thankful – he is able to get his laundry done and was given a change of clothes and can finally get out of the ones he’s been walking around in for the last few weeks.
As my conversation with him comes to an end, he has tears in his eyes and starts weeping. I tell him that his days ahead will get better. And I really do hope that’s the case.