My name is Fred, and Bissell Centre was a godsend for me.
For many years, I was a welder. When I lost my job, I was completely blindsided. For months, I searched for a new position in my field, but there simply wasn’t work to be found. If you’ve ever lost your job, you know how devastating that experience can be. It’s hard not to take it personally.
I suspect many of you have an inkling of what I went through, spending endless hours applying for jobs, only to be turned away, or worse, not to receive any kind of response at all.
To top everything off, my marriage was on the fritz. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, no matter how hard I tried. Being part of a dying marriage was incredibly lonely.
I’d hit rock bottom once again. I found myself deeply depressed. I couldn’t stay in that house any longer. I needed space, so I left.
Leaving was important, but I had nowhere to go.
Becoming homeless was overwhelming and very confusing. Was I going to sleep on a park bench tonight? Would I be mugged while I slept? What’s my next step? Thankfully, I was in contact with Alberta Jobs Corps, and they referred me to Bissell Centre for help.
When I walked through Bissell Centre’s doors, I was more than a little uncertain. I didn’t know who to talk to or where to go, and I think the staff noticed that because they approached me, asked my name, and introduced themselves.
I told them a little bit about my situation, and they said, “Well Fred, you’ve come to the right place. Bissell Centre can help.”
That was about a year ago. At Bissell Centre, I’ve found the support of a family. I found people who really care. They gave me food, clothing and helped me find temporary shelter, so I wouldn’t be on the street. Before long, they helped me find affordable housing, too.
Today, I’m a regular participant at the Community Kitchen. It’s almost always a social event. We share our life stories, where we’re going and where we’ve been.
I’ve also attended several of Bissell Centre’s holiday meals. Sometimes, when I was lonely, I came to share dinner with people who treated me well. Every time I did, I felt like I was part of a family. That’s why I’m looking forward to the Thanksgiving dinner.
I’ve come a long way since showing up at Bissell Centre’s door. I’m now a volunteer with Bissell, so I can pay back all the good things they’ve done for me. I recently was awarded full custody of my son, and that’s been the best development of all.
Thank you for your important contributions to Bissell Centre. They’re doing great work in the community and I know that my life is heading in a new direction, all thanks to them.
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.
I am excited to announce that renovations to our downtown facility are underway with a grand re-opening scheduled for February 2018.
Our newly, upgraded space will enable more people to connect with the essential resources they need to break free from the cycle of poverty and find hope for the future.
Our team is ecstatic to be able to take this important step further towards our vision of eliminating poverty in our community.
In 2014, we conducted a major review of our Drop-in Centre with the intention of improving and expanding our services to those who come to us for assistance. The report revealed that we needed to re-imagine our space to better connect participants with the support services they need and to adopt a new service delivery model that further aligns to our vision and mission.
This means that people can, not only access the basic items they need like clothing and showers, but also be connected to other services that allow them to move out of poverty and achieve prosperity in their lives.
I can’t wait for the larger space. It will be easier for me to use the showers, bathrooms, and laundry. It’s going to be good! – Sam, Bissell Centre Participant.
The new centre will significantly improve people’s ability to access housing supports, employment opportunities, skills training, and vital programs and services.
I’m also happy to inform you that we are partnering with The Mustard Seed as they have graciously freed up space so that our team can continue to offer drop in services in their facility during the renovations.
For approximately 14 weeks we will continue to provide daily meals, hygiene and clothing items, and recreation programming there while we renovate the interior of our building. Our Employment Services and Casual Labour will remain operating out of Bissell Centre’s facilities.
To learn more, please check out our Renovations Plan.
We look forward to updating you as the project develops.
Gary St. Amand
CEO, Bissell Centre
Haircuts are a luxury that many people in our community can’t afford. That’s why we’ve offered a free haircutting service for over 26 years at Bissell’s Drop-in Centre. Every Tuesday, participants can sign up to receive free haircuts and beard trimmings thanks to a group of volunteers who keep the program running.
Some clients visit the hairdresser to get themselves cleaned up before a job interview or housing appointment, but Diane, a long-term hairdressing volunteer, says participants request haircuts for all kinds of reasons. “One fellow came in with long, long hair and a big beard,” she recalls. “He told us, ‘Take it all off!'” She explained that the client hadn’t seen his daughter in two and a half years and that he wanted to “look nice” for her high school graduation tomorrow.
Diane has been cutting hair at Bissell Centre for over six years. “When I don’t come, I miss the people in the Drop-in Centre,” she says. “We know a lot of them. When we walk through the Drop-in, they’re always stopping us and talking to us. It’s like a family.” Diane says that her clients always appreciate the work that she does. “They come in and a lot of them don’t feel that good about themselves. But once they have a nice haircut, and they’ve spent a little bit of time talking with the ladies – when you show them their face in the mirror, it’s the difference between night and day. Their eyes have life.”
With a few volunteers moving away and a few others retiring soon, Diane hopes that some fresh faces will start to come by the haircutting centre. “Come and see,” she urges anyone thinking about volunteering. “Spend time with us! Come here and just take a look at what’s going on – take a look at the smiles and the happy faces that go out of here. You’re not making any kind of commitment if you just come by and visit.”
As for Diane, she knows that she’ll continue to cut hair for her clients at Bissell Centre for as long as she is able. “It makes me feel good,” she says, “knowing that I’ve in some way helped somebody feel a lot better about themselves. More people should try and volunteer.”
We’re recruiting haircutting volunteers!
This is the story shared with Bissell Centre by one of our supporters, Patti Jones. Thank you for passing it along to us and allowing it to be shared! We hope it encourages you, your family, your community and/or your place of work to talk about how we view our most vulnerable and what we might be able to do to help.
My mom always said, “help should begin at home.”
My dad was divorced from my mom when I was six months old. He was an alcoholic most of his life and struggled with his own demons. He lived in the inner city of most of his life – the last few in a rooming house not far from the downtown station. He didn’t give us a lot of opportunity to see him often, but it’s organizations like yours [Bissell Centre] that gave him some hope to get through another day. It also gives families, who are in situations similar to our families, the peace of mind that there are places their loved ones can go to for help.
You truly build a community with those in need, either impoverished or homeless, and it still makes me smile.
I recall one visit my sister and I made to our dad not long before he passed away. He took us on a walk through the neighbourhood late at night, which was a little scary for me and my sister. We went to the liquor store to buy him alcohol, because that was easier to bear than the alternative (that he might pick through garbage to find bottles to exchange for cash to pay for his booze). It was one way we could show him love – understanding that he wasn’t going to change or stop drinking. When we walked with him, many of the street people knew him, (as Freddy McDougall), and we had the opportunity to say hello to his friends. It didn’t take us any longer than that walk to learn they truly look after each other.
A few months after that night, my father had not been seen for a few days around the rooming house and it was one of those friends who called the police to report it. The police broke down his door to get in his room and that is when he was found. He had passed away from what they believe was heart failure. Had it not been for such a tight community in that rooming house and neighbourhood, he could have been left unfound much longer. 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 ONE: Volunteering at Bissell Centre
I was sitting in Social Studies class in high school when I first heard about Bissell Centre. An employee from the centre came to talk about what the organization does for Edmontonians in need, and what it means to truly give back to your community. For the life of me, I cannot remember who the person was or what they did at Bissell, but the message of hope in their words is one that has stayed with me since I first heard them in 2005. I remember feeling so impacted by the warm heartedness and compassion I was hearing about. I was so amazed at how an organization could do so much for so many- how much help was really out there. And how much need for these services there really was.
It wasn’t until 2009 that I finally got around to volunteering for Bissell Centre. I had recently watched a movie called “Yes Man,” starring Jim Carrey, a movie about staring fear and apprehensions right in the face and saying “Yes” to any opportunity that comes your way. Giving what you have and going along for the ride. In the movie, Jim’s character volunteered serving soup to the homeless. And just like my mother will tell you, if I see something I want to do being done, I will find a way to do it. So, my mind was made up. I was going to serve soup to the homeless. Read More…
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.
By Guest Blogger: Karen Lee
Meet Paul – a 52 year old man I met at Bissell Centre’s Drop-In. Once upon a time Paul was financially comfortable. He worked for nine years as a journeyman tinsmith making $34 an hour. He had a place to live and didn’t have to worry about the next meal. But all that changed when he got into an unfortunate accident at work in 2008, which left him with severely injured hands and an amputated finger. After six major reconstructive surgeries over the past three years Paul still doesn’t have full usage of his hands, and today he is one of the many homeless people living in the inner city.
Paul blames the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) for his current situation. Paul is currently receiving $648 a month from them for his accident, which he says will run out in July. Understandably, he is angry and frustrated. Paul has been working all of his life but now he isn’t able to afford a place to live. For about a year Paul has been living on the streets and using inner city organizations like Bissell Centre to just get by on a daily basis. At Bissell he relies on the Casual Labour Program to make some extra money.
Up until recently Paul was receiving $1,856 per month for the past three years until WCB told him he is ready to return to work. According to Paul, he is unable to return to work as a tinsmith because he lost the dexterity he once had in his hands. He estimates that he can only do a third of the work he once did. He was also diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) about a year and half ago.
Paul is uncertain about his future. He doesn’t know if he can recover from his PTSD. Finding work has been difficult for him, he even tried training for other types of work through Bissell’s Employment Program, but his PTSD makes it challenging for him to remember the skills and information taught to him.
As my meeting with him concludes, I wonder how Paul’s story will end. He told me he will continue to fight the WCB’s decision to cease his compensation. I hope it works out for him. Until then, he will continue his daily visits to Bissell to eat, do laundry, make phone calls, for emotional support and other necessities.
Find out more about Employment Services.
Here’s what you can do.
By Guest Blogger: Karen Lee
Did you know Bissell Centre organizes drop-in watercolour classes for the community members in their Drop-In Centre every Tuesday from 2:30pm until 4pm?
It is a popular activity that attracts clients of all ages and talents. It is a creative outlet for clients to develop and explore their inner artist.
All of the watercolour supplies are provided by Bissell Centre. People just need to bring their imaginations and see what unfolds!