Poverty 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!

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

 

About Aboriginal Homelessness

Aboriginal people make up just over 5% of Edmonton’s population but in 2012, 46% of homeless people were Aboriginal. Produced by Coty Savard, this video provides insight into the challenges faced by Aboriginal people who have no home to go to. http://vimeo.com/103857765

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

Ground-breaking Study: Housing the Homeless is Cost Effective

housingfirstdrawing

In addition to being the humane thing to do, a major 5 year study funded by the Federal Government has demonstrated the cost effectiveness of housing the homeless. As reported by CBC’s As it Happens, “The report suggests putting homeless people in housing, even before they have dealt with other problems such as mental illness and addiction, works to improve their lives. And it saves money.” The study focused on the Housing First approach to housing the homeless, which is the approach Bissell Centre uses in its Homeless to Homes program. For more info about our local Housing First teams go to the Homeward Trust site HERE.

Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, was interviewed about the study by CBC’s Louise Bradley. You can listen to it by clicking the listen button below.

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Resources of Interest

A Place to Call Home: Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness(PDF Format) – Prepared by the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness

A Plan for Alberta: Ending Homelessness in 10 Years(PDF Format) – Report from the Government of Alberta’s Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness

Stories from people who live without housing, published 2008 – Bissell Centre report

Putting People to Work

[cross posted from our Face Book page– please check out our Facebook postings!]

A line starts to form at 6:30 am each morning at the Bissell Centre Drop-in. By 7:00 am, the line builds upwards to 200 individuals. What’s surprising to people is that 50-75 of those in line aren’t there for a meal or a place to rest; they  are there for work.

Bissell Centre partners with 500+ employers to provide casual labour jobs for people in need. People who are working–hard–to climb out of poverty & homelessness.  In 2013, our Casual Labour Program helped provide 14,000 positions, putting nearly  one million dollars in the pockets of Edmontonians living in poverty.

This year we are exploring ways to expand our capacity to place more people in jobs, not only casual labour placements, but also in longer terms contracts and permanent positions. Stay tuned for more as the year progresses.

Learn more about our Employment Services and our Casual Labour Program.

More Bad News for the Poor

In April 2016, the Government of Canada will stop issuing checks to Canadians and using direct deposit instead. Touted to be a good example of austerity, the result will be more than $17 million in savings for the government. Direct deposit is more secure of course and continues even as  people relocate.  Moving more to direct deposit is fine for most of us, but not for the people who can’t get a bank account.  According to the Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition, “over 600,000 Canadians, many with low incomes, have no bank account and inadequate access to other banking services.”

Here is what will likely happen.

  • A percentage of the 600,000 will get identification and open bank accounts.   What percentage is not known.
  • The remainder will not have bank accounts and will not receive their federal cheques. My guess this amount of money involved will be a whole lot higher than the $17 million saved by the government.
  • Hundreds of thousands of low income people will experience significant hardship. Many may face the loss of housing and a deeper poverty than ever before. Health issues will increase and for those most desperate, perhaps crime will become an option for more than we care to think.
  • The economy will lose out on the commerce end of things and  likely be faced with the local costs  of increased poverty by those affected by the April 2016 change.

This seems to be an example of an austerity measure that requires further thinking and more so a sensitivity to the realities faced by folks who can’t get identification and/or open a bank account. It seems so simple for most of us, but not so for way too many of our neighbours.

The savings experienced by the federal government will result in increased pressures on organizations like Bissell Centre that work to support the poor and disadvantaged. It’s not like our organizations are looking for more problems  to help the poor overcome. Will human service organizations have to raise more money to help the government save its $17 million?

I don’t think this is a black and white issue. Clearly, for the majority of Canadians direct deposit works just fine and there are cost savings to be realized there, and I think the government should save money where it can,  but certainly there must be a way for the government to accommodate those who can’t get bank accounts (or don’t want one – it is a free country, right?). After all, I would assume if the government is issuing payments these folks are entitled to, It follows that it take what steps are reasonable to ensure their citizens can receive what is rightfully their’s.

What do you think?