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Bill’s Story – Finding a Fresh Start

My name is Bill and I received a second chance at life after finding out about Bissell and the supports they offer. Bissell does amazing work helping those Edmontonians like me who are struggling to get by after life has kicked them down. And I’m so thankful I was able to access Bissell Centre’s programs back when I needed them most.

Back when Covid-19 first hit, I had a job at a restaurant, and plenty of experience in the industry. Then the restaurant closed without warning. It was total chaos for restaurants, like so many jobs, so finding work at another was impossible.

I didn’t have any savings, and soon I could no longer afford my rent. I had to give up my apartment and I moved into a rooming house. I didn’t know the people I was living with and there was no privacy. But hey, I had a roof over my head. I was grateful for that much at least.

Someone at that point told me about Bissell as a place to warm up and find something to eat. I didn’t think I’d ever end up going to a place like Bissell, but I’m glad I did. That first visit changed my life and it all started with a warm plate of food.

The food tasted great and the staff was even better. Everyone was so welcoming. That kept bringing me back.

But still, I found myself bored without a job, as I grew up on a farm where hard work is required and my motto has always been “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” As soon as the staff at Bissell knew of my urge to get back to work, they sent me to their Employment Services team, who were able to find me a steady job almost right away.

I wish I could say that’s the end of the story and everything worked out just fine.

Just as everything seemed to be falling into place and I felt like I had a second chance, I was hit with another blow: the rooming house I called home burned down. Everything I owned was now dust. I can’t begin to describe how I felt. I was scared, lonely, sad and angry all at once.

For the second time in one year, I was homeless. This time, thankfully I knew where to turn for help.

When I was homeless, all I could think about was how I was going to stay out of the cold, and where to find my next meal. Bissell was a warm place to go and always had a meal for me. After getting to know some of the staff, I reached out and asked for help finding a place to live and work.

The staff at Bissell got me connected with temporary lodging. Then I found another rooming house, but I didn’t feel safe there. Bissell Centre staff were able to connect me with their Community Bridge program and I found an apartment of my own.

I also now work full-time at the Bissell Centre Community Space and it’s so rewarding to work in the same space I once turned to for support. I don’t know where I would be without Bissell Centre and I am glad I never had to find out.

For me, all the support from Bissell started from a simple meal. Please make a donation to Bissell’s Easter meal and help others find the holiday meal that could be just the fresh start they’re looking for. Bissell’s Easter meal is an annual event and serves hundreds of Edmontonians. Your generosity (a single meal costs just $3.20) ensures that others receive the same helping hand that Bissell offered to me.

Community Bridge and homelessness prevention.

We’re all seeing the news record-high utility costs, record-high inflation. To many of us, these headlines will cause some discomfort at the till or through the month but overall, we’ll be ok. We’ll start buying no-name products to help with the pinch and pull from our savings, say no to ordering dinner more often and look more closely at our budgets, but we won’t be at risk of losing our homes or having our utilities cut off.

This isn’t the same for families and individuals living in poverty. April 1st, utility companies can disconnect services for nonpayment. Food in the fridge and freezer will spoil, laundry will pile up, sponge baths with colds cloths become reality, with no way to quickly cook the food in the fridge and freezer before it goes bad. It’s all very bleak and living in poverty this cycle goes on and on. You get ahead just to fall behind.

In 2021 Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge program provided 201 loans totalling $276,713.75 for utility and rental arrears for families and individuals in Edmonton, supporting 476 people including children.  We were able to redirect $43,072.06 to other eviction preventions supports and with a little financial coaching, families were able to pay off $75,904.52 independently.

Take Mary for example. Mary did everything “right”. She went to school, became a nurse and worked hard and lived a nice life. Then a terrible accident left her disabled. After years of therapy, she was able to return to work part-time but part-time work isn’t enough to cover her monthly costs, so she started to get behind. With the support of our program, we helped her come up with a repayment program with her landlord, supported her with a $2000 no-interest loan and with some financial coaching Mary could pay back $517 of her debt on her own. Mary maintains her housing and has a sustainable plan to move forward.

Our Community Bridge (CB) program provides holistic housing-loss prevention supports with a supplementary loan component. CB’s goal is to prevent homelessness before it happens, as the repercussions of an eviction can be devastating.

Support Workers in our program take a client-centred case management approach to focus on the participant’s long-term housing and financial stability. Participants work with a CB Support Worker to create a sustainable financial action plan that includes an honest household budget. This plan is created by the participant with their unique financial goals in mind.

Support Workers coach clients in negotiating with landlords and utility companies and assist in applying for government benefits and accessing employment. During this period, 686 informational and supported referrals were completed to programs including employment services, mental health services, addiction support, family support, basic needs, and other community resources.

In 2022 we’re already slated to double our supports to families. In January and February, we’ve approved loans amounting to $67,146,  nearly 25% of the total quantity of loans we gave out all last year. Inflation and high utility costs are more than just headlines. They are real fear factors for families who are already choosing whether they should feed their families or pay their bills. But with our help, a little financial coaching and small contributions, families can be well on their way to sustainable living.

Our Community Bridge Program is a vital part of our vision to eliminate poverty in our community.

 

Close Call: Scott and Amy Avoid Eviction Thanks to ‘Community Bridge’

It was an injury at work that knocked Scott’s world off balance. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did, leading Scott down an uncertain path. He and his wife, Amy were not able to make ends meet; they were facing an eviction notice and the power and heat were getting disconnected. As self-sustaining people, Scott and Amy were looking for an opportunity to weather the storm they were in, to find a loan and pay it back. They didn’t want social assistance and didn’t know where to turn until they were referred to the Community Bridge program at the Bissell Centre in Edmonton.

“The program is a Godsend,” says Scott. “It is the difference between some people giving up and thinking they would end up on the street and actually giving it another shot and getting back on your feet.”

He made his first re-payment on the 1st of August, which went directly towards a late payment for rent to stave off an eviction notice. It was right down to the wire too and just helped them avoid eviction. A family member was going to lend them the money right before they applied for the Community Bridge program; however, circumstances led to the family member being unable to lend the money. Without the Community Bridge program, Scott and Amy would have been evicted from their apartment.

“When the money came through, it was literally a life saver.” -Scott

Scott feels that it’s easy for people to generalize how difficult it is for others; and often, those who are better-off don’t realize that people going through a tough time don’t have the time or the resources needed to fix problems themselves. They can get bogged down by the system, and Scott feels that it gives peace of mind knowing that there is a program that can help people climb out of the stress and situations they are facing.

“It’s nice to know that you can get help, without going through the wringer to get it,” says Scott. “Dealing with the Bissell Centre, it’s more ‘if we can help you, we will.’ It wasn’t so detail or procedure-oriented, but more ‘let’s get you back on your feet oriented,’ which, at the end of the day is often what people need to hear to not feel like the world is coming to a quick end on them.”

He wishes more people knew about the Community Bridge Program. Having benefitted so much from Bissell Centre’s help, he wants to volunteer and help raise awareness of the incredible work that Bissell does to help people in the community get back on their feet.

Thanks to the support of funding partners like ENMAX, we have been able to help hundreds of people like Scott and Amy avoid eviction.

Visit Bissell Centre’s Housing Services to learn more about the Community Bridge Program and our efforts to provide stable housing and financial support for people living in poverty.

7 Memorable Highlights of 2018

This past year brought a lot of positive change and much to be celebrated. Each change has brought us one step closer to our goal of eliminating poverty in our community. Thanks to our incredible supporters, we saw some huge successes and were able to better serve our participants’ needs. Here are 7 of the most notable happenings of 2018.

1) Supporters Raise $78,000 in Winter Walk Fundraiser – Sponsored by DistributionNOW

On February 24th, Edmontonians walked 2, 5 or 10k in the shoes of those experiencing poverty and homelessness for our first year hosting the Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) national fundraising walk. Over 340 walkers and 61 teams came together and walked in freezing temperatures to help us raise over $75,000 for our programs, while local businesses like LOVEPizza and The Nook Café provided warmth and treats for our walkers. #WalkForBissell again on February 23rd during this year’s Coldest Night of the Year.


2) Newly Renovated Community Space Opens

On June 11th, we officially opened the doors of our newly renovated Community Space! Our new space has dramatically improved people’s ability to access services to meet their basic needs, connect to supports, develop skills, and build relationships, all of which are essential to overcoming poverty and homelessness. Our thanks goes out to Inter Pipeline and other amazing supporters that provided the funds for this project. Learn more and watch the video tour here!


3) Over 20,000 Bottles of Water Donated During Heatwave

This past summer in Edmonton brought record high temperatures and relentless heat waves. In response to our social media callout, generous individuals and numerous companies donated over 20,000 bottles of water to keep people on the streets hydrated, in addition to summer clothing and other readily available supplies like hats and sunscreen. Thanks to the support of our community, our participants were able to keep cool and hydrated during the hot, summer days.


4) Funding Received to Continue Eviction Prevention Program

In November, we were thrilled to announce that funding had been renewed for our Community Bridge Program! This program helps our participants prevent imminent eviction and provides interventions and services to ensure the causes of the eviction are effectively addressed to prevent re-occurrence. Thanks to the generosity of our partners ENMAX, Edmonton Community Foundation, and EndPovertyEdmonton, participants like Millie and Wendy will continue to have a safe home to return to at night.


 5) Over 9,000 Pairs of Underwear Collected During Annual Drive

In July, we held our 5th annual Drop Your Gonch Underwear Drive. Underwear is one of the most highly requested, yet least donated items for our participants. This year, the local community blew us away with their support. We originally set out with a goal of 5,000 donated pairs, but once the donations started coming in, we increased it to 6,000, then 8,000, and ending up collecting over 9,000 pairs! The underwear donations helped us bring dignity to those experiencing homelessness, and we couldn’t have been more grateful.


6) Initial Funding Received to Expand and Relocate Childcare Centre

After 45 years in operation, our Childcare is expanding to meet the needs of even more families in Edmonton. We will be creating 30 new full-time spots for our accredited childcare services, in addition to the 40 free respite spots already available. Our current facility is too small to accommodate the expansion, so we will be moving to a new location in the heart of the McCauley community. While the initial funding has been secured to move forward with the project, we are still in need of additional funds to complete the renovation. Check out the initial design renderings of the new Centre here. Interested in supporting and learning more? Please contact Kelly Hoskins.


7) Participants get Cooking in New Community Kitchen

In October, we opened the Community Kitchen in our new Community Space. After identifying a lack of basic cooking knowledge as a barrier to keeping newly-housed individuals in their homes, we developed programming that allows participants to build skills, improve health, and foster relationships through cooking classes, workshops and community meals. Our participants have made some delicious meals together, including Ham and Corn Chowder with Bannock, Roasted Chicken with a Pineapple Ginger Glaze, and Shepherd’s Pie. Yum! Learn more about our Community Kitchen here.


 
We are humbled by the continued support of our amazing community. The work we do at Bissell Centre wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of people like you!

From all of us here at Bissell, THANK YOU for helping empower people to move from poverty to prosperity! We can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring!


Help create more memories like these by joining our family of supporters today.  Make a donation.

 

ENMAX Renews Support of Eviction Prevention Program

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!

Community Bridge Program Helps Wendy Avoid Homelessness

Wendy has fond memories of her childhood on Sugar Lake in British Columbia. She describes fishing and collecting clams with her brothers and sisters and canning salmon with her mother in their old house. She says she can usually rely on those memories to get her through the tough times.

Now, at sixty-four, Wendy says things haven’t been exactly easy since those carefree summer days. In an effort to repress memories of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in her childhood, Wendy struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for a number of years.

After she got married, Wendy moved to Edmonton, where her husband was transferred for work. It was only a few years later that she and her husband divorced, leaving her alone in an unfamiliar city.

Especially hard for Wendy was the death of her mother, which happened shortly after Wendy moved away from the family home in BC. “She passed away quickly,” said Wendy. “We just had a family get together. Her ashes were spread out by Sugar Lake.”

Despite the hardship, Wendy made things work. Independent and resourceful, she even managed to thrive in her new city, working multiple jobs; at times as a journalist for the paper, at times cleaning carpets or working at the sandwich shop or the bingo hall. She made many friends and got treated by a psychiatrist for the pain she still dealt with. Wendy has always loved riding horses, and she said they helped her heal.

But Wendy’s luck ran out one day when her bad knees forced her to retire from her job at the paper. Her living situation was far from ideal at the time. “The stove was old, falling apart,” she said. “The counters were old and had a wooden board on them; you pull that out and there were flower bugs there.”

The neighbourhood she lived in was unsafe and difficult to access. And, having lost her main source of income, she suddenly faced eviction.

“I was on the verge of being on the street.”

 

Soon after, Wendy was connected with Kathy from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge program. Community Bridge offers support to people at risk of becoming homeless by supplementing rent or utilities payments and providing educational workshops.

With Community Bridge’s support, Wendy found a new apartment in a safe neighbourhood. “I love where I am now,” she said. “I can walk down to my bank and to the library. That place is clean, it’s safe… I’m very happy there.”

Besides accessing Community Bridge, Wendy also visits Bissell Centre to take advantage of the Women’s Lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for occasional community meals. She’s taken Bissell’s Ready-to-Rent workshop and has become “great friends” with Kathy, her case worker.

Wendy can’t help but feel fortunate when she thinks of all the people in her city who don’t have a place to call home. “I don’t think anybody should live like that,” she said.

Wendy still thinks back to those summer days with her family on Sugar Lake. Although it will never quite be the same again, she takes comfort from her past and feels hope for the future. She talks about riding her horses again when her knees improve, and continuing on her journey to health and healing, knowing all the while that she won’t have to do any of it alone.


Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program is funded by a collaboration of numerous supporters, including ENMAX who helps to cover the costs of utility bills and rent payments to ensure individuals and families struggling with poverty remain housed.

Please visit our Housing Services webpage to learn more about our Community Bridge Program.

 

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.

Millie Finds Peace in her New Home

Millie has been battling addiction, violence, and poverty all her life. The child of low-income parents who grappled with alcohol addiction, Millie grew up in a turbulent, sometimes violent household. The man that she later married also had an alcohol addiction and violent tendencies.

After seven years of unhappy marriage, Millie found herself the single mother of two young children. It had become unsafe to stay under the same roof as her ex-husband, so Millie and her kids slept in her car for several nights until they could get in to a shelter.

“My son was three, my daughter was five. That was the first time I became homeless.”

 

Most single parents would say that raising children on your own is the challenge of a lifetime, but Millie felt uniquely unprepared for the job. “I didn’t know how to raise children,” she said. “I didn’t have that stepping stone in my family. I had to learn how to do that.”

Her greatest fear was that her children would be unable to break out of the cycle of poverty and addiction that she had been born into. “I did a lot of research on the internet, resource books and that,” said Millie. “My kids had balanced diets. I made my baby food right from scratch. Now, they both have structured eating habits.”

Millie worked in the oil & gas industry for over eight years and believed that her stable employment during that time helped to provide a foundation of positive growth for her children. Her son would go on to become a personal trainer; her daughter would later get her Masters in Education and become a teacher for children with special needs. Millie is unable to conceal the pride in her voice when talking about how well her children have done for themselves.

However, Millie’s journey has been far from easy. After years of refraining from drinking for fear of following in the footsteps of her parents, Millie succumbed to alcohol, triggering a lifelong addiction. Alcohol became the only way Millie could cope with her painful past. Although there were times in her life when it seemed to lift, Millie’s addiction always returned.

“I think situations and life experiences put you back into addiction thinking that it will comfort you, but it doesn’t.”

 

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 helps individuals in danger of eviction pay for rent and utilities and offers additional support in the form of education and workshops.

Community Bridge was able to help Millie afford her rent while she focused on her health and overcoming her addiction. Without the program, Millie believes she would have been evicted and left homeless once again.

The years since Community Bridge’s intervention in her life have been difficult, but today Millie is finally living in a stable home: a two-bedroom condo that she shares with her daughter.

“It’s so peaceful. I wake up every day not having to worry about where I’ll find a meal. I’m at peace with me and my world.”

 

Currently, Millie is a Peer Outreach Worker and a Board Member for Aawear through Streetworks that provides street-level support for people dealing with addictions. She has been volunteering at Bissell Centre, the Co-op, and the Edmonton Native Healing Centre. She has been sober for almost a year.


Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program is funded by a collaboration of numerous supporters, including ENMAX who helps to cover the costs of utility bills to ensure individuals and families struggling with poverty remain housed.

Please visit our Housing Services webpage to learn more about our Community Bridge Program.

 

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