Homelessness Archives | Bissell Centre

Russell’s Story of Hope and Renewal

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!

Single Mother Rebuilds Life After Addiction

“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 childcare 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.

Please give today to support families in need this Easter!

The Harsh Realities of Homelessness During Winter

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. 
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Thankful for Community: James’ Story of Recovery

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!

Homeless in the Heat: 5 life-saving items that you can donate this summer

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Out in the Cold: The Harsh Realities of Homelessness During Winter

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.

Here at Bissell Centre, we believe every person has the right to have basic human needs satisfied. Our Drop-in Centre provides a safe, warm space for people to escape the elements and enjoy a hot meal. Inside the Drop-in, people can also access free, warm winter clothing through our Community Closet. The Closet is especially busy in the winter 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.

None of this would be possible, however, without our community of supporters who donate time, funds, and resources to our operations. Thank you for supporting Bissell Centre, and for helping the most vulnerable people in our community stay warm and safe this winter.

Bissell Centre CEO Cautions Against Dismissal of Recent Homeless Count Numbers

“We need to be careful about using anecdotal evidence to dismiss the validity of the homeless count,” says Gary St. Amand, CEO of Bissell Centre.

The most recent survey and data analysis estimate that the number of people who are homeless in our city has decreased from 2,307 people in 2014 to 1,752 people currently.

“The homeless count is meant only to be one snapshot of homelessness and while we need to be reflective about its methodology, it is also important that we consider all the evidence before jumping to sweeping conclusions about its accuracy,” explains St. Amand.

For example, Bissell Centre has supported over 1,500 individuals and families since the last homeless count in 2014 through its housing and eviction prevention work. The organization has assisted 545 people to find housing and 1,009 people to avoid imminent evictions.

“Further to that, while we have experienced a rise in the usage of our services since the last homeless count, our data has shown that this was the result of new services that we implemented during that period,” explains St. Amand. “These new services connected us with people who are new to Bissell Centre and they capture the majority of the increased service use throughout our organization.”

Another consideration is the forced relocation of homeless people due to the recent significant development of Edmonton’s downtown core. When coupled with the seasonal increase of people sleeping outdoors in the summer months, a rise in the number of homeless people in various locations around the city, including the river valley, is to be expected.

This raises the question of whether the rise in numbers in certain locations is due to the movement of homeless people rather than a net increase of the homeless population in Edmonton, as some have argued.

“To call into doubt the methodology of the homeless count without a thorough and thoughtful review of the evidence diminishes the good work that is happening by many organizations and individuals in the community,” says St. Amand.

“We need to maintain our focus on housing, because whatever your view of the housing count is, we still have over 1,700 people living on the streets and that should be unacceptable to all of us. We need to continue to work together as a community to bring long-term solutions to this issue,” says St. Amand.

Related links

 

Homelessness Hurts: How being homeless can affect mental health

It’s no surprise that being without a home can weigh heavily on the mind and heart. Homelessness implies more than simply lacking physical necessities; it can also have a debilitating effect on mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. People who are homeless deal with circumstances that most of us can hardly imagine, and it’s important to remember that not every side effect of homelessness is directly visible to the eye. Mental illness is experienced by roughly one-third of the homeless community, and is a major barrier to getting off the streets.

Homelessness is stressful.

For those who are homeless, every new day marks the beginning of another struggle to find a place to sleep, enough food to get by on, or shelter from the elements. The pressures that they face to secure their own survival every day are unimaginable for most of us, and can be incredibly stressful. Exposure to substance abuse, crime, and domestic violence is common among the homeless community only add to the stress.

Homelessness is isolating.

Many people become homeless as a result of the loss of a loved one or a relationship breakdown. People without strong support networks can have a difficult time overcoming such traumatic events, which can then lead to a cycle of isolation, and potentially towards homelessness. Since there are few places people who are homeless can go where they are welcome, a third of them spend their entire day alone.

Homelessness is depressing.

Rates of depression and suicide among homeless people are much higher than in the general population. According to the Canadian Population Health Initiative, up to 61% of homeless adults experience suicidal thoughts. Confidence and self-esteem are inevitably diminished by homelessness. The feelings of defeat and worthlessness that so often accompany homelessness can be crippling, and can prevent people from seeking help.

Homelessness hurts, but there are ways to help.

At Bissell Centre, we offer mental health services to people in our community who need it most. Our program provides immediate, short-term support for those with mental health concerns. For longer-term support, we partner with Alberta Health Services to connect participants with qualified psychiatrists, doctors, and other health professionals in our community, bringing them one step closer to getting off the streets.

The journey to health and recovery is not always an easy one, but here at Bissell Centre, we make sure that nobody has to walk it alone.

Learn more about our Mental Health Services.

About the 2014 Homeless Count

The results of the October 16th Homeless Count indicate a small increase in the number of homeless individuals and families in Edmonton.  While we hoped for better numbers, Bissell Centre is not surprised by the results.

In the past two years we have seen a much tighter housing market and a continued increase in rents. In a tight housing marketing, landlords have more choice about who they select as a tenant, and this often means that access to rental accommodations for the chronically homeless becomes more difficult. Housing First teams across the city, of which we are one, do an excellent job of identifying, placing, and supporting the chronically homeless in appropriate, safe housing. At Bissell Centre, we house more than 300 homeless people each year, through our Housing First services as well as through other Bissell programs.

The Edmonton community is seen as a beacon of hope for many who migrate here in the hope of finding good employment, but not everyone’s hopes pan out. As Edmonton grows, we will continue to experience proportional growth in the numbers of people requiring assistance and support, including help in obtaining affordable housing.

Bissell Centre is concerned about the rising number of people staying in shelters;  we are worried about the trend in the rising number of youth who have no home; and we continue to be concerned about the over representation of Aboriginal people among the homeless. While making up 5.4% of Edmonton’s population, Aboriginal people make up 48% of the homeless.

There are many organizations in town who not only provide housing placement and support services, but also operate affordable and supportive housing. The City of Edmonton provides subsidized housing as well, but the wait list is three-years long.

To fully address homelessness and also ensure that community members can access affordable, safe housing will require continued commitment to investment in programs like Housing First, but more housing and social programs will not solely solve homelessness for our community.

In order to add more affordable and supportive housing in Edmonton, we need to explore cross sector partnerships among governments, the private sector, and human service organizations in order to identify innovative solutions to homelessness and housing affordability.

We also need to explore economic solutions that include discussions about living wage, the provision of stable employment, and the inclusion of benefits. Too many workers are living hand to mouth, and too many of our younger workers are unable to afford accommodation on their own. They end up living with others, often 4 to 6 people in a house they rent. This creates tenuous housing for them, given that if one or two of the tenants lose their jobs, everyone could lose their home.

We need to increase the community’s capacity to address mental illness and addictions, both of which are major reasons why people end up without a home. We need to continue working together as agencies to deliver assertive outreach programs aimed at locating, supporting, and ultimately housing the homeless.

More attention to prevention is indicated as well. At Bissell Centre we are piloting a service aimed at preventing evictions, especially for families who are facing the loss of their home for the first time in their lives. Stopping one instance of family homelessness keeps parents and children together and avoids the high cost of child welfare apprehension, shelter costs, and the costs of other emergency services.

Issues and problems of homelessness and poverty cannot be solved by any one strategy or any one organization or sector. These are community problems and we need to continue to seek out, as a community, ways for all of us to work together to put an end to the suffering and hopelessness too many of our citizens experience each and every day.

I am encouraged that the Mayor’s Task Force on Ending Poverty sees housing as one of the major priorities in its work ahead, and I am honoured to be a part of that effort. I am encouraged to see so many excellent Housing First teams working with the chronically homeless.   And I believe our community will continue to come together to remedy what troubles all of us – people sleeping in back lanes, children hungry and homeless, families living in deep poverty.   Bissell Centre’s vision is of a poverty-free Edmonton. Many others share that vision. I imagine you do, too.

Mark Holmgren, CEO

Rethink Homelessness

This video was recommended to us by one of our Twitter followers (thanks Deirdre!).It is a short video from Orlando and it asks you to rethink homelessness. Its message is relevant here and everywhere. Please take a moment to view it – and share! Rethink Homelessness Video