How Michelle rose above adversity and is thriving today
This is Michelle. She grew up in Edmonton. Whenever Michelle returns to Edmonton, she sits on the curb next to Bissell Centre’s community space. “This is where she sat,” Michelle says. “And I feel like she’s still here. I tell her that I love her whenever I sit here.”
Michelle’s mom regularly visited Bissell Centre, requiring services from drop-in supports to the housing program. “My mom was a residential school survivor, she became addicted to alcohol and drugs over the years. She was the most loving, kind mom before that.”
She sits on the curb, lights the sage in a small cast iron skillet and places her headphones into her ears. She takes a long breath and starts talking to her mom. She tells her how she’s taking care of the babies, getting her degree, and working in corporate now – that she’s doing really good.
When Michelle says she’s doing really good, this carries a very heavy weight. This means she’s helping her children heal, providing for her family, and moving forward away from the cycle of poverty she knew. She’s breaking Intergenerational trauma and overcoming systemic oppression. And she’s able to give back.
Another breath and she begins singing. Not starting with a whisper, but right from the bottom of her feet, out her mouth, and reverberating across 96 Street. Wandering up and down the alleyway where her mother passed away, she releases every emotion in her being with every word she sings.
Where Michelle is today
Today, Michelle is a social worker with a background in childcare and Indigenous culture. She now lives in central Alberta. She is part of an Alberta Health Services advisory council, where she regularly attends meetings to help offer better services to all Albertans.
It was not an easy path. Growing up in poverty and with parents experiencing addiction meant she had to work four times as hard to get where she is today. Michelle was able to find a path that was healthier and more fulfilling for her and her family.
Michelle’s Journey to Bissell
As a child, Michelle (along with her mother and three siblings) left their northern Alberta community to escape toxic family dynamics and domestic violence. The family travelled to Edmonton for a better life. But both of her parents quickly experienced addictions, and it wasn’t long before Michelle’s mother found herself living in Edmonton without shelter.
After she became a parent, Michelle came to Bissell Centre for some basic needs, the child care program, and the parent program. This is where she met childcare worker Fatima and family supports worker Cheryl. Michelle felt honoured that these women heard her story and believed she could one day leave poverty behind – once and for all. It was the first time Michelle felt like her support was nonjudgmental, encouraging, and believed in her goals.
“Being an Indigenous woman, in my experience, was being told to be quiet a lot,” Michelle says. She points out how Bissell’s service delivery approach helped her heal from her trauma. “Many programs [from other service providers] would often parent or monitor my life. Bissell treated me like a person. They gave me wings to fly.”
Michelle and her siblings each had their own challenges with poverty and addiction as they grew into adults. Though Michelle overcame her challenges, much of her family succumbed to their challenges. She honours her only brother’s death in 2015, her youngest sister’s death from COVID in 2022, and her sister-in-law’s death that same year. By 2016, her mother’s life would be cut short by complications due to pneumonia.
Michelle’s Giving Back
Speaking from her experiences, Michelle thinks trauma is often not openly spoken about. She did not have access to many role models speaking eloquently about the realities of being Indigenous. She’s learning to manage her trauma through post-secondary education, her art, her work as a facilitator, and being a two-spirited leader. She is a strong Indigenous mother teaching her children about their culture, history, customs, and their connections back to the land.
After she finished her ceremony, she walked around the corner to the folks standing in line at the Community Space. Michelle spots an elderly Indigenous woman and gifts her the tobacco. She hears about how her new friend just found her new place to call home. The tobacco will hang in the new home – Michelle’s gift as an act of healing.
Michelle comes back, smiling wide as she cleans from her own healing ritual. She tells us how happy she is for her new friends. “They’re doing really good!”
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 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.
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.
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.
When Mike first came to Bissell Centre, he’d been living on the street for two years. You might have even seen him on the streets of Edmonton. Perhaps you were the woman who looked Mike in the eyes and said, “You need to get yourself help. There are resources to help you.”
Mike grew up in Edmonton in a family of eight. It wasn’t easy growing up in such a big family. They lived in a cramped three-bedroom house, made smaller because his mother was a hoarder, and his parents fought often.
Mike was similar to his father. He was trusting. He always saw the best in people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. If you asked, he’d give you the shirt from his back.
Once he turned 18, Mike worked and lived on his own, at times allowing his siblings, even his mother, to live with him when they struggled to get by.
Eventually, he made the journey from Edmonton to Calgary. There, he worked for years in the construction industry. Unfortunately, his business partner wasn’t trustworthy—he was underpaying and stealing work from Mike.
During this chaotic time, Mike lost his father, and it was like all the air was sucked from his lungs. The loss was devastating. With his life in shambles, he decided to return home.
Sadly, he didn’t receive the help he’d hoped to find back home. That’s when Mike became homeless for the first time. Each day was a constant struggle. No one believed in him and he certainly didn’t believe in himself.
“Give people a reason to believe in themselves again and see what they do with their lives.”
One day, a kind woman approached him on the street, and encouraged him to seek help. That was a life-changing moment for Mike. He began thinking that things could be different.
Mike found his way to Bissell Centre, where he finally got the help he needed. Scona High School had recently raised $115,000 for Bissell Centre, enabling them to form an Outreach Housing Team. Mike became their first ever participant!
With support from the new team, Mike found an affordable apartment, and got access to mental health services. He also found a rewarding sales job. He was so skilled that he soon won top sales awards and he continues to work there today.
Mike is also now working toward a business degree and is set to graduate at the end of this semester! He dreams of working with wood—he loves building things with his hands.
“Without Bissell Centre, I’d most likely be dead. Most people are on the streets because they don’t believe in themselves and no one believes in them,” Mike says. “Give people a reason to believe in themselves again and see what they do with their lives.”
Donors like you have made it possible for Mike to access Bissell Centre’s Outreach Housing Team, along with other resources. Thanks to your support, Mike has moved from poverty to prosperity.
Thank you for helping Mike and others like him to find affordable housing, and step into a brighter future!
Mike story is a feature in our May Newsletter. Read the full newsletter online now.
If Bissell Centre didn’t exist, I’d be dead—I know I’d be dead. Before they helped me, I had nothing, and now, I have everything. My name is Dave and I’m originally from BC, but moved to Yellowknife, a colder and darker city than Edmonton. Believe it.
Although I was living in Yellowknife for work, the city didn’t work for me. I was drowning there. My alcohol abuse landed me in and out of jail, and I reached a point where I said to myself, “Dave, you’ve gotta go, this city’s killing you.” So I left. I hoped moving to Edmonton would give me a new start after the hard times I’d faced up north.
When I got to Edmonton, things didn’t turn out how I planned. I didn’t know anyone in the city, and I couldn’t find a place of my own. Immediately, I ended up on the streets living rough.
I didn’t own much, but I kept my few possessions in garbage bags and carried them with me. You don’t know what it means to struggle for survival until you’ve carried everything you own in garbage bags. I got to know other characters on the Edmonton streets. It can be rough and you can’t believe or trust everyone, but I consider many of them family and friends I can trust—good people who fell on hard times.
I went to Bissell Centre pretty quickly after coming to Edmonton, and eventually it became the closest thing that I had to a home. They’ve got staff who really care about you—they became my good friends too.
Bissell Centre staff connected me with an addictions and mental health worker. They also assigned a housing worker to help find me a place. I was homeless in Edmonton for about 10 years before I was ready to look for housing. Through the Homeless to Homes program at Bissell Centre, I have a home of my own, after 10 years on the street—10 years without a place that’s warm, safe, and mine.
I had lots of friends on the street, but I wouldn’t share with anyone where I was living because I didn’t want anything to happen that might encourage old habits. I’ve worked hard to recover from alcohol addiction and I’m proud to say that I’m 18 months sober!
I’ve worked hard to recover from alcohol addiction and I’m proud to say that I’m 18 months sober!
In May of 2018, I was at home by myself and something happened to my sight. Everything looked distorted and blurry. My right side felt numb and weak. I couldn’t walk and I slumped to the floor. It was two days before a neighbour found me and called 911. I didn’t think I would make it. But thanks to my neighbour, the paramedics came and took me to the hospital where they told me that I’d had a stroke.
Somehow, Bissell Centre staff learned that I was missing and found me in the hospital. While I was in the Glenrose Hospital, they worked with my landlord to find me a new apartment—my old place was on the third floor and would’ve been impossible for me to access. The new apartment that they found for me is in a building with an elevator, so I can get into my home.
Bissell Centre’s staff have gone above and beyond for me. They do a whole bunch for me. They’re currently helping me to get into a lodge that can help me with my rehabilitation.
Before I got sober, I didn’t care. But now, I can spend my money on things that I actually enjoy, like books and DVDs. Getting housed was right on! I’ve even reconnected with my son.
I am grateful to Bissell Centre and to the people who give to them and make their work possible. They’re doing good work in our city—I wish more people knew about Bissell Centre and what they do. They got to know me and they’re still helping me where I’m at today. Without the help of the Bissell Centre, I would have died on the street. I had nothing, and now I have everything.
Donations from the community help people like Dave find a fresh start in life, feel loved and cared for, and build important connections with others. Please consider providing essential, life-changing services to people in need this Easter season.
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.
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.