Inner City BBQ Feeds 1,500 People in Poverty

Bissell Centre staff were pleased to lend a hand at this year’s Inner City BBQ coordinated by the Urban Core Support Network.   Giovanni Caboto Park in Boyle McCauley comes alive every July as locals enjoy a free meal, recreation and entertainment in the outdoors.  
Thanks to cooperative weather, and the efforts of volunteers and donors, the Inner City BBQ fed about 1,500 women, men and children living in poverty – including many Bissell Centre community members.   It is because of our supporters that we are able to contribute to this wonderful event each year.

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Bissell Centre Supports Inner City Moratorium on Supportive Housing

Recently, I spoke at the City’s Executive Council meeting in favor of a moratorium of non-market housing in a number of inner city neighborhoods.   I did so with some qualifiers which I will mention later, but I want our funders, donors, community members, area residents, and my colleagues from other inner city agencies to understand Bissell Centre’s opinions around this important issue.
The neighborhoods that the proposed moratorium includes are: McCauley, Central McDougall, Queen Mary Park, Alberta Avenue, Eastwood, and Boyle Street. All of these neighborhoods are identified in the proposal as “high stress” neighborhoods because they contain a much higher incidence of non-market housing than do other city neighborhoods. They also are areas of town with high incidence of low income and homelessness and a corresponding higher incidence of human service organizations that address poverty, homelessness, addictions, mental illness, and so forth.

At Bissell Centre, we understand that many community residents of the aforementioned neighborhoods not only have concerns about the degree of non-market housing in their area, but also concerns about the impacts of human service agencies like Bissell Centre and others on the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

The proposed moratorium only addresses non-market housing, which is part of the problem. Often we tend to “singularize” issues and then attempt to address them. Also, it is common for us to aggregate various elements of an issue into a common identifier. In this case, non-market housing is a term that includes a wide range of housing:

  • affordable, independent housing for families and single people,
  • seniors housing in its various forms, and
  • supportive housing.

While the six identified neighborhoods together are home to 20% of non-market housing in the city, it is also true the neighborhoods have an inordinate share of supportive housing – approximately 60% of what exists in the city. It is reasonable to suggest that, at some point, it’s time to rethink our historic practice of locating so much supportive housing in one area of town.

At Bissell Centre we believe that time is now.   We will support the proposed moratorium if it goes forward without amendment, but our preference is that it goes forward with some changes.   We do not believe affordable housing or seniors housing are posing the same challenges or issues to the neighborhoods as are the wide range of supportive housing facilities. That’s not to suggest better collaboration between housing providers and community members concerning these types of housing is not worth exploring, but I am hoping a moratorium does not need to be invoked in these cases.

As well the proposal is to put in place a 10 year moratorium in McCauley and Central McDougall, with five year moratoriums proposed for the other four neighborhoods. Our position is that 10 years is too long a time for the City of Edmonton to not financially support any non-market housing in McCauley and Central McDougall.

We believe this even more strongly if the six communities, Edmonton’s administration, and area human service and housing organizations work together to address the challenges facing these neighborhoods from an overall community development approach. Consultations led by human service or housing agencies are not enough, and I suggest are not really community development consultations. Most of the time, consultations are designed by groups that are trying to convince the community that what they are proposing is good for community.   I am not suggesting such consultations are wrong or somehow deceitful, but it is time for larger scale collaboration around community aspirations and needs than any one organization or even small group of organizations can muster on their own.

For purposes of transparency I should mention that I am a recent resident of McCauley.   While it is hard to separate my residency from my position at Bissell, I am not a resident in favor of the moratorium; however, I believe there are many residents who think otherwise.  As a leader of one of the major human service agencies in the area, I feel obligated to support them.

Such support does not mean we agree with all the positions voiced by community members. That said, I can see how the high incidence of supportive housing for the mentally-ill and those with addictions are a concern even as I declare our firm belief that people with such challenges deserve help and a decent place to live.

I can also understand concerns neighborhood residents have about organizations like Bissell Centre that attract large groups of people to their doors and often frequent the area around the agencies during the day. Such numbers lined up at our door or at the doors of other similar groups do impact our neighbors.   It is also true that the numbers of people who are poor, homeless, and troubled by mental illness or addictions are a community-wide problem or challenge.   Neither the organizations that serve them nor the residents surrounding our facilities own the problems alone.

We know thousands of Edmontonians, as well as many businesses and funders outside the inner city borders, support Bissell Centre’s work and the efforts of the many other organizations that work so hard to help the disadvantaged.  I also believe that the majority of community members and organizations throughout Edmonton do not think that a much smaller group of neighborhoods should carry a disproportionate amount of responsibility for the location of supportive housing and helping institutions.  

So, Bissell Centre’s support of the moratorium, hopefully with some changes, is just part of our belief that there are larger issues and challenges to address. The moratorium by itself won’t solve anything. Working together in new ways just might.

It is worth noting that shelters are not included in the definition of non-market housing. It makes sense that they are not, but from the community’s point of view there is also a very high incidence of shelters in the area, some of which may be pressured to relocate due to redevelopment. Where will they go? How will that be decided? What criteria should be used to establish what shelters need around them to best help those who use their services? And what must the shelters, along with groups like Bissell Centre, do to help ensure not only the safety and well-being of our clients but the safety and well-being of our neighbors?

I certainly don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do believe small pockets of organizations or small pockets of residents will not resolve them either unless we work together, and in the process of doing so, engage more residents as well as our own clients in building acceptable solutions.

I won’t pretend it was easy to voice our opinion at Executive Council. I heard colleagues I trust and respect speak against the moratorium and their opinions and positions were well articulated and also made sense. None suggested that not having a moratorium would magically fix things, and there were calls for actions that were not being addressed in the moratorium proposal, such as incentivising market housing development that could be accessed by low income people.   Our support of the moratorium does not mean those ideas are not worth exploring. Quite the contrary.

As well, when it comes to an issue as complex as this one, it is not so much about one side being right and the other wrong. Few things in life are that black and white.   But there are times a community requires a catalyst for change. A five year moratorium in the six neighborhoods with respect to supportive housing could serve as such a catalyst.

My sense is that the City of Edmonton will not approve any moratorium. We understand that position, and have no interest in polemic exchanges about any decision made. It’s impossible for civic leaders to appease everyone. But we hope no matter what happens, the discussion and debate, and more so the authentic interest that all involved have in strengthening the community and its neighborhoods, especially the six in question, will motivate new and innovative efforts of working together with area residents as well as with the larger community.

 Mark Holmgren, CEO
Bissell Centre

Fill the Bleachers for Bissell & Boyle: Inner City Recreation Program Fundraiser

Partial proceeds from the following soccer game will go towards our Inner City Recreation program!!!We will receive $5/ticket  if 500 or less are sold.   If we sell more than 500 tickets, we receive $10/ticket!

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. FC Edmonton Soccer Game
Sunday July 15 , 2012 at 2 p.m.
Clarke Field – 11000 Stadium Road, Edmonton, AB

Help us to fill those bleachers, and enjoy some hometown soccer while you  support accessible recreation in our community!  

Get Your Tickets Now

| Find out more about our Inner City Recreation program here |

Follow us @BissellCentre and Follow FC Edmonton @FCEdmontonNow    

Better Access to Better Food

In 2005, a small group of agencies providing meals and food supplied in Edmonton’s inner city established the T5H Network to discuss ways to better address food insecurity and effectively use food resources. They chose the title T5H because the postal code encompassed four neighborhoods in the inner city:   Boyle, McCauley, Queen Mary Heights and Central MacDougall.

The group met periodically from 2005-2010 to share information about each of their activities and discuss different approaches to improve food security. In 2006, for example, the group released a paper Living without Food, which was published by the Bissell Centre.

In 2007, several T5H network members attended a workshop on “social analysis systems” (SAS2), a set of methods designed to assist collaborative approaches to complex social issues.  After the workshop, Peter Faid, from Community Services Consulting Ltd, facilitated a number of conversations to explore how SAS2 might be used by to explore how to improve access to nutritious food for vulnerable residents in the inner city.

The ebb and flow of the leadership of the T5H network meant that the idea for the project was put on hold. In late 2010, Bissell Center secured resources from Family and Community Support Services program of the City of Edmonton to support the inquiry.   Jane Hirst, then interim Executive Director of Bissell Center, asked Mark Cabaj, with the support of Peter Faid and Jim Klingle, to facilitate an SAS2 guided inquiry entitled Better Access to Better Food in the T5H neighborhoods.  

The project has continued, with numerous meetings and considerable research undertaken. At this writing the City of Edmonton funded project has come to an end and the work and findings to date are represented in a “Final Report.” There are quotes around “final report” because we are continuing on without funding in place. Mark Cabaj has agreed to provide some volunteer facilitation and Peter Faid and Jim Klingle will lend a hand no doubt when asked! Bissell Centre has agreed to serve as project administrator. Part of that work includes creating and managing a wiki site (located here) at which all the proceedings are documented and which can be used to solicit more involvement from area organizations and groups.

I encourage you to take a look at the report and share it with others. If you want to join us in work, you can send your interest to me personally at mholmgren@bissellcentre.org

Our Strategic Touchstone, 2012-2017

Bissell Centre’s long-term strategy is its vision, which is to eliminate poverty in our community.   For many, such a vision might be brushed off as “pie in the sky” ambition or perhaps as an expression of hope by caring, yet unrealistic, people.   Will poverty ever become eradicated from our community? Likely not, but what is the alternative vision then?
Shall we just talk about decreasing the incidence of poverty, set goals to lower the number of people living in poverty by 10%, 20% or some other “doable” but arbitrary number? Would we celebrate success knowing such goals, in effect, suggest we are concerned with a minority of those who are poor?   Would we really be satisfied if our efforts only helped one in ten?

Bissell Centre’s decision to adopt this vision in 2011 is about a call to action for our organization to lead and act in ways that engage governments, businesses, labor, funders, associations, other non-profits, and individuals from all walks of life to come together to create and sustain the range and depth of change required to help people avoid or rise up out of poverty.

Our vision is also a call to change our own organization, where required, to ensure everything we do is vision-focused, whether in the direct delivery of our various programs, the partnerships we undertake across sectors, our relationships with funders and donors, or how we behave in community.  

Our vision is a calling to focus our attention not only on traditional human service programs but also on actions that promote social justice, advocate for basic human rights, and enlist others to join together to build a stronger, more connected community. A community that is economically and socially viable for all citizens; a community that takes responsibility for each hungry child, each homeless person, each victim of abuse and violence; a community that is not willing to accept poverty and homelessness as tolerable or defensible.

Bissell Centre is not alone in this vision.   Our intent is aligned with the social justice emphasis of our United Church founders (not to mention the faith community in general), with governments’ plans and actions to eliminate homelessness, with the changing emphasis of funders like United Way, with the corporate social responsibility strategies of businesses, and with the hundreds of donors who look to us for leadership in making life better for the poor and disenfranchised. We see other non-profit organizations sharing in this vision, too, many of whom we already partner with, and even more that we need to reach out to and explore new and better ways of working together.

There will be no chance of achieving our vision and little chance of making significant progress if our community continues to work in disparate and fragmented ways. Our mission stresses “working with others.”

We will see more failures than successes if our strategies attempt to lay blame and ostracize others for the problems in our communities.   The case to change a social policy, a program or service, or how an organization is structured or funded does not need to be discussed or enacted within a context of culpability for what’s not working, but rather should be addressed around an alignment of common intent and goodwill.

THE CALL TO ACTION
At Bissell Centre, we believe in the power of caring. We believe that individuals can make a difference in their own lives and in our community. To achieve our vision, it must become the vision of many and that is at the heart of the work ahead: to partner with others to build, nurture, and sustain a movement to end poverty and homelessness in our community.

The vision to eliminate poverty necessarily means Bissell Centre will have to undertake numerous roles in our community – leader, participant, advocate, partner, mentor, learner, innovator, and risk taker.   It also means that such an ambitious vision demands an equally ambitious, super ordinate strategy, which is this: to be a leader in the development of a community-wide movement to eliminate poverty and homelessness.

Such a strategy is not only about achieving BIG CHANGE in our community, it also calls our own organization to undergo significant change in how we see and live our role in community. While we continue to provide a range and depth of services to those most vulnerable in our community, we must become a catalyst for community synergy and action to overcome poverty and homelessness.

Please take a bit of time to view our strategic intent over the next five years. If you have any questions, ask us. If you want to help, join us. There is a whole lot to do.

A Man I Met In The Drop-In – Part One

By Guest Blogger: Karen Lee
Meet Paul – a 52 year old man I met at Bissell Centre’s Drop-In.  Once upon a time Paul was financially comfortable.  He worked for nine years as a journeyman tinsmith making $34 an hour.   He had a place to live and didn’t have to worry about the next meal.   But all that changed when he got into an unfortunate accident at work in 2008, which left him with severely injured hands and an amputated finger.  After six major reconstructive surgeries over the past three years Paul still doesn’t have full usage of his hands, and today he is one of the many homeless people living in the inner city.

Paul blames the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) for his current situation.   Paul is currently receiving $648 a month from them for his accident, which he says will run out in July.  Understandably, he is angry and frustrated.  Paul has been working all of his life but now he isn’t able to afford a place to live.  For about a year Paul has been living on the streets and using inner city organizations like Bissell Centre to just get by on a daily basis.  At Bissell he relies on the Casual Labour Program to make some extra money.

Up until recently Paul was receiving $1,856 per month for the past three years until WCB told him he is ready to return to work.  According to Paul, he is unable to return to work as a tinsmith because he lost the dexterity he once had in his hands.  He estimates that he can only do a third of the work he once did.  He was also diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) about a year and half ago.

Paul is uncertain about his future.  He doesn’t know if he can recover from his PTSD.  Finding work has been difficult for him, he even tried training for other types of work through Bissell’s Employment Program, but his PTSD makes it challenging for him to remember the skills and information taught to him.

As my meeting with him concludes, I wonder how Paul’s story will end.   He told me he will continue to fight the WCB’s decision to cease his compensation.   I hope it works out for him.  Until then, he will continue his daily visits to Bissell to eat, do laundry, make phone calls, for emotional support and other necessities.

Find out more about Employment Services.

Here’s what you can do.

Poverty Costs in Alberta

[youtube=”http://youtu.be/SpmxCmh9c64″]

Alberta is one of three provinces without a poverty reduction strategy. We already know the human costs of living in poverty. A recent report outlines the economic costs as well: Poverty Costs: An Economic Case for a Preventative Poverty Reduction Strategy in Alberta.

If you are interested in learning more or wish to get involved in how to end poverty in Alberta, visit Action to End Poverty in Alberta.

Consider Joining the Call for an Alberta Poverty Reduction Strategy; there is a petition there for individuals as well as organizations.

If you are interested in working with us here at Bissell to address poverty and homelessness, please contact us.   We welcome you!

Facts and Their Story

Here are a few statistics gleaned from the recently released 2011 Tracking the Trends report published by the Edmonton Social Planning Council.

  • Between 2000 and 2010, a nutritious food basket for a family of four increased $69.99 per week, rising to $196.02 per week, an increase of 55%.
  • From 2000 to 2011, average rents increased as follows:
    • Bachelor Suite: from $421 to $731, (+ 73.6%)
    • 1 – bedroom : from $489 to $842 (+72.2%)
    • 2- bedroom : from $601 to $1,029 (71.2%)
    • 3- bedroom: from $670 to $1,224 (82.7%)
  • One in five unattached individuals (20.3%) lives in poverty, twice the rate for all family units (10%). (The number of single individuals has increased 50.5% since 1999 and 158% since 1979, a significantly higher rate than the growth in the number of families.)
  • One in four lone parent families (mostly female) are poor.
  • One in three (33.3%) youth-led families lives below LICO, three times the average for all families in metro Edmonton.   Youth led is defined as 24 years old and under.
  • In Edmonton 41,000 children under 18 years of age (15.4% of all children) lived below LICO in 2009, a decrease of 3,000 since 1999, but twice the number in 2007.
  • In 2009 the percentage rate of children from two parent families living below LICO rose from 2.2% in 2005 to 13.5%.   For female headed lone parent families, in the same time-frame the percentage dropped from 42.9% to 28.5%.
  • 73% of children living in poverty have parents who work.
  • One in four Aboriginal children lives in poverty.
  • The overall median total income for the Edmonton workforce   has increased 12.7% , from 1999 to 2009, far less growth than the cost of food and accommodation.
  • The median income for seniors was $18,400 in 2009, 11.5% lower than in 1999. Imagine how seniors are doing today with the increases in food and accommodation.
  • The median income of two-parent families with children increased 23.2% between 1999 and 2009. Most families are doing okay, but their incomes are erroding, given the costs of food and accommodation.
  • The value of Alberta Income Support payments (for those expected to work) has decreased markedly since the 1980s. Since 1993, the value of basic and shelter allowances for families has decreased 38.0% for single parents, and 36.1% for two-parent families. The value of allowances for single adults has decreased 2.7% since 1993.
  • In 2011 Alberta Works allowances are about half the value what they were in 1981.
  • The value of AISH has decreased 1.4% between 1998 and 2008.
  • In 2009, the Alberta Government raised AISH benefits by 9.2%, bringing the value of AISH benefits back to the 1992 level. No increase has taken place since 2009. Just over 15,900 Edmontonians are on AISH, nearly three times the number than in 1995.

Please remember the first two statistics:

Food up 55% (2000-2010) and accommodation has increased between 71 and 83% depending on the size of family.

Income growth has not come close to funding these increases in basic need expenditures for all families. Imagine what people making minimum wage are facing.

Income security programs have been decreased markedly in the last ten years despite the incredible escalation of basic need expenditures.

These trends affect all of us, but even more so those on fixed incomes, who make insufficient wages, and who rely on income security programs that do not come close to even providing subsistence.

Bissell Centre’s vision is to eliminate poverty.

We are keen to hear your ideas and advice about what YOU think we should do to achieve that goal!

Give us your comments below or give our CEO a call at 780 969 5163

What It’s Like to Go Without Food

The constant struggle to get enough food takes a heavy toll. It wears on the body, mind and soul. Food is literally the fuel for life–when there isn’t enough, all areas of life are affected.

For many people, the impact wears on all three areas:

“The hardest part is all the walking. I am 7 months pregnant. My ankles are swollen and sore. I must walk around 5 miles a day to get to various places for food and shelter.”

“I don’t feel good enough because I can’t build energy. Your self-esteem goes so low and my self-confidence because I can’t provide food for my kids.”

“When the kids don’t have enough food, they get cranky. When they’re not fed properly, they get sick more often and have more health problems in general. They’re not as active. I really do think if affects attitude.”

These quotes come from people who have experienced hunger and struggle to find enough to eat. A few years back Bissell Centre released a report called “Living without Food,” which is as relevant today as it was when it was published. I encourage you to read it, to understand what it is like to go without what most of us take for advantaged.

What is Bissell Centre doing?

We provide a meal to 200 or more people per day in our drop-in centre, as well as bag lunches for the participants in our casual labour program, and meals within other programs like our Women’s group and Child Care Centre.

As well, Bissell is currently the lead agency in an interagency exploration around food security, funded by the City of Edmonton. The final report will be out in March or April. Out of it we hope to identify additional strategies to address hunger and food security.

See our program listing to understanding even more about how we are helping people move beyond poverty, hunger, and homelessness.