Kari’s eviction notice came swiftly. She had a month to find new accommodations for her and her adult sons with special needs. Unsure how she could find a place on such short notice, Kari considered all her options, from living in a storage unit to even living in her car. Then she remembered a community organization.
“I knew about Bissell Centre—I worked with Bissell Centre while teaching a crafting course,” Kari says. Despite her prior knowledge of the organization, Kari was surprised to learn about the Community Bridge program and how it could help her secure a new home.
As part of the Community Bridge program, Kari was given a $2,000 open-ended, interest-free loan to cover her damage deposit and rent, which she paid back proudly. “I wanted to make sure that resource was there and ready for the next person who needed help.”
A Kokum’s Giving Spirit
This giving spirit is typical for Kari – whose community frequently refers to her as the Community Kokum, or grandmother, providing love, support, and guidance whenever and wherever she can. Even when her pantry was empty and her power shut off, Kari still looked after others and considered her situation manageable.
“I’ve had to flee domestic violence,” says Kari. “While in the shelters, I saw many women in similar situations and how much worse off I could have been. I never saw myself as a victim. I have a lot of resilience that’s helped me through some tough times.”
Prior to reaching out to Community Bridge, Kari faced many uphill battles – especially when it came to where she called home. Kari has moved four times in four years through low-income housing and encountered varying levels of domestic violence and abuse. She’s also struggled with her adult children’s special needs, experienced houselessness while seven months pregnant and underwent multiple medical procedures. Kari tried to push through it without any outside help, but when she needed assistance, she knew Bissell Centre would be there with solutions. However, Kari wasn’t expecting this amount of support from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge.
“Everything with Community Bridge was no pressure and fell into place seamlessly,” Kari explains. “It took two weeks to learn I had a loan and two weeks after that, I secured my place. I took possession of my new home before I moved out of the last place.”
How Community Bridge Helped Kari
The Community Bridge program is essential to Bissell Centre’s operations. Between April 2022 and March 2023, the Community Bridge program prevented 511 individuals from housing-loss, resulting in 214 households served, with another 202 households assisted with loans. Ensuring people don’t lose their homes and experience houselessness is the team’s top priority – so the first place they look to help folks out is with their current landlords. The team negotiates on behalf of the people they’re helping to prevent any untimely evictions.
When landlords are unable to negotiate any further and eviction is imminent, Community Bridge Support Workers then work directly with the people who need a new place to live, helping make the transition to their new place as seamless as possible.
Partners Make These Programs Possible
A program like this wouldn’t be possible without our partners in the community, like ENMAX. Their support has been crucial for Community Bridge to help people find places to call home.
And as Kari points out, it’s not just finding and funding new spaces that makes this program indispensable – it’s the regular follow-ups and wraparound services that have helped keep her and her family in their new home.
“I think more people should check out Bissell Centre to know what it has to offer,” says Kari. “Without Community Bridge, I would be experiencing houselessness. I never thought I would be in that position. Bissell Centre made sure I still had a place my sons and I could call home.”
Here’s some quick math: If one person had 15,000 pairs of underwear, they could wear a new pair every day for close to 30 years.
At Bissell Centre, we give out 15,000 pairs of new underwear to our Community Members every six months – and the need is still growing.
Underwear isn’t often the first need most people think about when they want to support folks experiencing poverty. Oftentimes, clean underwear makes a huge difference not only in someone’s personal feelings and outlook. It can also help with physical and mental health issues that can be life-changing.
Physical Health Benefits of Clean Underwear
Underwear accumulates a lot of microbes from your body and collects bacteria that can fester without washing. Not only is that an awful odour to try to live in, but it also sticks to the skin and, if left for too long, can lead to infections. It’s even a direct cause of kidney failure and bladder cancer.
Changing into clean underwear is the only way to reduce that risk. If we have no underwear to give out to folks, it’s likely that many more people will be going into emergency rooms and dying from something so easily preventable.
Mental Health Benefits of Clean Underwear
A lot of difference can be made with a little more comfort. A stop by our Community Space includes a hot shower, a meal, some time to do laundry, and a stop by the Community Closet for some fresh clothes. Those four steps are crucial to folks deciding to take the next step and look for help to find their way out of poverty. When you’re working through hard times, fresh underwear is priceless.
This is where we build trust and watch their self-confidence grow. They’re not afraid to talk to people anymore. They’re okay opening up about what their goals look like. Then they start to feel dignity and understand they are worth more than their challenges or their situation. This is when they reach out for help with their mental health, addictions, housing, and employment.
15,000 Pairs of Underwear Donations are Needed
For as long as Bissell Centre has been giving clothes to folks who need them most, underwear has been the single most requested item – but it’s also the least donated. That’s why, each year, we run the Drop Your Gonch campaign. Folks don’t often think about underwear – it’s an embarrassing topic. It’s also an important topic – especially for folks in our community.
Make sure to check out the Drop Your Gonch information page for drop-off locations, donation wish lists, and lists of items we can’t accept.
And think of underwear the next time you get a bag of donations together. Pick up a fresh pair on your way and drop them in the bag. A quick extra step could change a life.
At Bissell Centre, our mission is to end poverty and houselessness in the community. In order to achieve this we need to fully understand what barriers people experience receiving care, the stigma they are forced to wear, what injuries are they suffering with and how we can best build programs to support individuals while they work their way out of houselessness and poverty.
Injuries can happen to anyone, at any time, creating new obstacles to daily living and changes in circumstances. What if you’re already facing barriers and obstacles to prosperous daily living? What if new injuries will further decrease your chances of leaving poverty and improving your circumstances?
The Injury Prevention Centre gathered information from 2019 & 2020 to look at more than 11,600 emergency room visits. This report, Houselessness and Injuries in Alberta: 2019-2020, dives into what injuries are sustained and shows us which injuries are preventable. While no one can prepare and prevent all injuries, we can look at the data to determine priorities in programming.
One thing the data makes clear is that Housing First and harm reduction practices would prevent more than half of these injuries. We need to ensure we’re communicating this to the public, so that we can all work towards a community where people are safe no matter their circumstances.
We invite you to read the report below to learn more and see the data for yourself.
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 in Edmonton 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 and clothing and helped me find temporary shelter, so I wouldn’t be on the street. Before long, they helped me find affordable housing, too.
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. Becoming homeless in Edmonton wasn’t something I ever expected. 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.
…Sadly, this is a decision people experiencing houselessness have to make every single day.
For 6these folks in Edmonton, gaining access to new, clean underwear is difficult. Some individuals may wear the same pair of underwear for months at a time, and some may go without underwear for just as long. Underwear is an issue we don’t often consider but can be a serious problem for those in the community.
Underwear is one of the most requested items by the people who use Bissell Centre services, but one of the least donated items.
“It doesn’t feel comfortable when you’re not wearing any underwear, and no one likes to put dirty underwear back on after a shower. Women have accidents; they need access to clean undergarments.” – Angie
So, let’s pass the question on to you. Would you rather wear dirty underwear, or go without?
Let’s weigh each of the options:
Wear Dirty Underwear
Wearing dirty underwear may not seem like a big deal at first, but as the weeks pass, bacteria and microbes will accumulate causing an embarrassing odour, irritating rash, and infection on your skin down there!
If you’re a woman and you have a leak or accident during that time of the month, you’ll have no choice but to continue wearing the dirtied underwear, which can contribute to even more bacteria and microbe growth.
Not to mention, after you shower and get all squeaky clean, you won’t have a fresh pair of undies to slip into and will have to pop on the smelly, old, bacteria-ridden pair.
Go Full Commando
Going without underwear sounds fun —“freeing” even —but what happens when the inevitable chafing and skin irritation come along with it? You’ll have to deal with that gnarly skin rash for weeks on end!
If you’re a woman and do not have access to female hygiene products, this decision could result in the use of unsanitary or improvised hygiene products, which could lead to an infection.
Without the barrier of underwear, there’s a higher risk for foreign bacteria to make contact with your skin. Among other issues, there’s also a greater chance of fungi development because your underwear isn’t there to absorb your sweat.
Wearing underwear is something that we often take for granted, but when faced with a decision like this, it is easy to see why clean underwear is so important to those who don’t always have access to it.
When a person experiences houselessness, underwear issues can contribute to a multitude of larger health problems and discomfort. For many people, especially folks experiencing poverty and houselessness, the availability of fresh, clean underwear makes all the difference.
This is why we created our #DropYourGonch campaign: so that no one in our community would have to make the decision between wearing dirty underwear, or going without.
The Drop Your Gonch campaign aims to fill gaps in the Bissell Centre community closet by reaching out to our supporters to help stock it full of new underwear for folks experiencing poverty.
The clean underwear donated by our supporters helps to provide our community with better personal health and hygiene, and a restored sense of dignity and self-worth.
When Russell came to us, he had been sleeping under trees, struggling to find work. After spending a decade stuck in a cycle of addiction and poverty, he knew it was time to make a change.
Life had not been easy for Russell. As a child growing up in a family of eight, he recalls getting teased because of his hand-me-downs and for the holes in his clothes. Food was limited, as his dad worked to support six children. As a teen, Russell was incredibly talented at baseball—it was something he could have pursued as a career. But his family just didn’t have the money to support his dream.
As an adult, Russell lived and worked in Fort McMurray with his wife. However, times became difficult when his relationship came to an end. He sold his house and moved to Edmonton where he struggled to find work and a place to live. Unable to cope with the past and deal with his current situation, Russell turned to alcohol to numb his pain. For the next 10 years, homelessness became a way of life for Russell as he struggled with addiction and loneliness. Russell recalls the most difficult part of living on the streets was being so isolated: “There was nobody. Just me.”
There was nobody. Just me.
One day, Russell saw someone in coveralls heading to work and asked them where he could go to find a job. That’s when he first heard about Bissell Centre. He quickly reached out for help. Although overcoming his addiction wasn’t easy, with Bissell Centre’s help, Russell managed to find and maintain steady work as a landscaper. Today, he still works for the same company after nine years of employment.
Our generous donors have directly impacted people like Russell, and for that he is so grateful. “It gives me the opportunity to start growing up like a tree,” he shares. “Look at me, I’m 100% happy!”
Not only did a steady income give Russell the confidence to sustain a livelihood, the housing program helped him to find a home and a family. “I know when I’m coming home, I’m coming home,” shares Russell. He is so grateful to have security and to be leading a dignified life—a life of growth and transformation that he hopes can spread to others who are struggling.
“I can get up and put a cup of coffee on and I go up there in the cupboard to get something to eat,” he says. “I don’t have to stand in line-ups.”
As the season of gratitude approaches, Russell looks forward to sharing his gratitude at Bissell Centre’s Thanksgiving dinner. He reminisces about how wonderful it was to be a part of something when he was feeling alone.
“Everything looked so perfect—from the cloths on the tables to the flowers in the pots,” he says. “It was so well organized and well done.” It is these meals that are often the first steps towards growth and transformation for those who are struggling.
Like Russell, we are so incredibly grateful for your gifts that have supported so many people throughout the years. Thank you for supporting our programs that have done so much for our Edmonton community!
“I always wanted to give my children a better life than I had. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them,” Alannah told us.
When she talks about her kids, the soft-spoken single mother of three sounds like any other parent, but Alannah has been through more hardship than most Edmonton parents can imagine.
It’s difficult enough being a single mom; but it’s harder still when you are also faced with alcohol addiction, poverty and homelessness.
Alannah grew up in the foster care system and struggled with alcoholism as an adult. Before she came to Bissell Centre, Alannah hit what she called rock bottom.
“I lost my place and I lost my kids for five days.”
Having her kids taken away made Alannah realize that she needed to make a change in her life. “I fought really hard to get them back,” she went on. “Got into AADAC to sober up and look into my actions and what it was doing to me and my children. I almost lost everything.”
Alannah’s efforts were repaid when her children were returned to her custody and is now recovering from her addiction, and looking to the future.
During her recovery process, Alannah has been grateful for the support of Bissell Centre’s Child Care program.
When she was referred to Bissell Centre by Native Counselling, she felt hesitant. But after accessing the childcare program for just a couple of weeks, Alannah said she was already noticing a change in her children. “My son uses his manners a lot more,” she said. “My daughter, she’s more independent.”
Besides the positive effects on her children, childcare has also allowed Alannah to make her doctor’s appointments and prepare to move into her new place.
She says she hopes others will feel inspired to give after reading her story, adding, “Everybody needs help sometimes.”
Support from generous donors helps people like Alannah and her children through difficult times and provides opportunities for renewal and rebuilding.
Being homeless is difficult enough when the weather is fair, but when temperatures drop, it becomes a matter of survival. The threat of serious illness, loss of fingers or toes, or even losing one’s life become serious concerns when temperatures nosedive.
These threats are particularly potent here in Edmonton, where winters are notoriously harsh and wind chills can be extreme.
Edmonton’s homeless are more likely than most to experience dangerous cold-related injuries such as frostbite and hypothermia. They have few spaces to retreat from the cold, nor can they afford proper winter clothing that will protect them from the elements.
We believe every person has the right to have basic human needs satisfied. Our Drop-in support services provides a safe, warm space for people to escape the elements, enjoy a hot meal and access to free, warm winter clothing through our Community Closet.
The winter is especially busy when we distribute jackets, sweaters, scarves, toques, mittens, boots to every person in need who visits.
Helping people take care of their basic needs is only the first, but a necessary step, in helping people access programs that will move them out of poverty.
This would not be possible without our community of supporters who donate time, funds, and resources.
Help save lives during the cold, winter months. Walk with us on February 24th for the Coldest Night of the Year.
Start a Team • Join a Team • Donate!
When people come to Bissell Centre for the first time, it is often to meet the most basic of needs: a hot meal away from the cold.
That’s how it began for James.
Twenty years ago, James ate his first meal at Bissell Centre when he had nowhere else to go. At the time James was homeless and engaging in a criminal lifestyle to get by.
He had been surrounded by substance abuse and violence since he was a child. As a young man his criminal record and addictions kept him on the streets.
“When you’re a user, nobody wants you around,” he said. “It was tough to get a place.” When he did ask for help, James was used to getting pushed away.
That first experience at Bissell Centre was different. James noticed how welcoming the staff and volunteers seemed, how eager they were to help.
“They were everywhere for me. If I need help, it’s there.”
To the people who knew him at the time of his first meal at Bissell Centre twenty years ago, James is unrecognizable today. In the past few years, he has undergone an incredible transformation. It has been a long journey to health and recovery, but a worthwhile one.
After hitting a low point in 2012, when he suddenly faced a seven-year prison sentence on drug charges and feared he was throwing his life away, James got serious about getting clean. He served four of the seven years, has been sober for five years, and has been accessing Bissell’s support programs including counselling, employment, and housing services.
After years of hard work and healing, James moved into an apartment: his first permanent home in two decades.
James spends a lot of his time helping others find sobriety and health like he did. You can usually find him outside Bissell Centre chatting with the patrons. “I [tell them] what I’ve been through with the drugs, what it cost me, my time and my life,” he explained. “I try to encourage them to come my way. If they need help, I tell them where to get help.”
Because of support from our community, we will be serving over 600 turkey meals for people in need this Thanksgiving. Many of them may be walking through our doors for the first time. And for some like James, it may mean the beginning of lasting life changes for the better. Holiday meals at Bissell Centre are never just food and drink. They are community, healing, and togetherness.
This Thanksgiving, we’re thankful for our community of supporters, for the hope they inspire, and for the healing they make possible.
Give today to help more people like James this Thanksgiving!
The summer months are here at last! Many Edmontonians are relieved to see the return of sunny days to our characteristically chilly North Alberta city. At last, we can pack away our parkas and snow boots for the season and soak up some rays! Of course, there are times when the summer heat causes discomfort, but most of us can simply retreat into our cool, air-conditioned homes when the heat gets to be too much. But for our homeless friends, who have few indoor retreats, the heat can be more than simply a source of discomfort–it can be deadly.
When you think about the expression, “exposure to the elements,” you might imagine bitterly cold temperatures, or about braving snow, hail, and rain. But exposure to less dramatic weather conditions, like warm summer days, can be equally deadly. This exposure often leads to dangerous heat related injuries, like sunburn and heat exhaustion. In serious cases, it can cause heat stroke, which occurs when the body temperature exceeds 40 C. Symptoms of heat stroke include nausea, seizures, disorientation, and loss of consciousness. Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency, and you should call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone is around you is experiencing these symptoms.
When spring and summer replace the cold weather of the holiday season, donations to charitable organizations like the Bissell Centre tend to decline. However, the need for donations is just as urgent at this time of year. Here are five life-saving items you can donate to Bissell Centre to help keep our homeless friends cool this summer:
- Sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen can dramatically reduce the risk of skin cancer, and can also minimize the risk of painful heat-related afflictions like sunburn. For people who spend their days outdoors, sunscreen is an absolute must-have.
- Hats. Wearing a hat in the sun shields the face, head, and neck from harmful UV rays. It affords protection to the sensitive skin on the scalp and behind the ears, places where it is difficult to apply sunscreen. Hats with a wide brim are ideal because they also cover the ears, which baseball caps and brimless hats leave vulnerable to the sun’s rays.
- Bottled water. Dehydration is a serious threat to people who are homeless in the summer, and is also a significant risk factor for heat stroke. Providing bottled water to people on the streets will ensure that they can stay hydrated and safe.
- Summer-appropriate clothing. Clothes that are light-coloured and loose-fitting are ideal for summer weather. A loose fit allows for easier airflow, and lighter colours reflect light and heat rather than absorbing it, keeping the wearer cool.
- Sunglasses. Eyes can suffer serious damage from prolonged exposure to the sun. When unprotected, they may develop cataracts and other serious conditions that damage vision. A pair of sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection goes a long way towards protecting these vulnerable parts of the body.
Summer can be an exceedingly enjoyable time of year in a place with winters as long and as cold as Edmonton’s. With your help, our friends who are homeless can also revel in the arrival of summer sunshine while staying safe and cool.
Help people in need this summer.