From the Street to School – Mike’s Story

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. 

From Nothing to Everything – Dave’s Story

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.

Donate Now >

From Rock Bottom to Recovery: Mary Joe’s Story

During the winter, living in poverty is hard. When the temperature drops, the need for relief from the cold increases, and more people seek assistance from Bissell Centre for essential needs like nourishing meals, winter clothing, housing support, and more. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, Mary Joe found hope and tangible help at Bissell Centre.

She moved to Edmonton to be closer to her children and grandchildren only a few years ago. Her first stop, once she arrived, was to Bissell Centre for a shower and clean clothes. Mary Joe had been living on the streets and drinking a lot, trying to survive the bitter cold nights.

“If it wasn’t for Bissell Centre, I’d probably have frozen out there.” -Mary Joe

 

“A group of us slept in a gazebo together. We had electrical blankets covered with other blankets we’d collected, and then a big orange tarp over the whole thing,” says Mary Joe. “We slept under there, huddled together, just hoping to wake up in the morning.”

One evening, while she was drinking outside, she was violently robbed and left to freeze to death in the extreme cold. Thankfully, a kind young man found her and got her out of a dangerous part of town, saving her life. This was the wake up call she needed to make a change. She quickly returned to Bissell Centre for help to get clean and sober.

Bissell Centre’s staff helped Mary Joe look for an affordable apartment, and start piecing her life back together. “There were some nights when I wasn’t sure if I’d survive. If it wasn’t for Bissell Centre, I’d probably have frozen out there,” says Mary Joe. “But now I’m okay. I have my kids and family back. I have a lot of support. And I have a beautiful home to call my own.”

Mary Joe now has a roof over her head, a job, and she gives back by volunteering at Bissell Centre. “I’m grateful that I’m part of this community. I’m thankful for what happened and where I’m at now,” she says. Because of the support she received, Mary Joe has hope for the future, and has a community of people around her that is akin to family. “I’m thankful for Bissell Centre because there aren’t a lot of places that I feel comfortable hanging out and am accepted for who I am,” says Mary Joe.


Donations from the community help people like Mary Joe 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 before year-end and get a 2018 tax credit!

Donate Now >

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!

Community Bridge Program Helps Wendy Avoid Homelessness

Wendy has fond memories of her childhood on Sugar Lake in British Columbia. She describes fishing and collecting clams with her brothers and sisters and canning salmon with her mother in their old house. She says she can usually rely on those memories to get her through the tough times.

Now, at sixty-four, Wendy says things haven’t been exactly easy since those carefree summer days. In an effort to repress memories of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in her childhood, Wendy struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for a number of years.

After she got married, Wendy moved to Edmonton, where her husband was transferred for work. It was only a few years later that she and her husband divorced, leaving her alone in an unfamiliar city.

Especially hard for Wendy was the death of her mother, which happened shortly after Wendy moved away from the family home in BC. “She passed away quickly,” said Wendy. “We just had a family get together. Her ashes were spread out by Sugar Lake.”

Despite the hardship, Wendy made things work. Independent and resourceful, she even managed to thrive in her new city, working multiple jobs; at times as a journalist for the paper, at times cleaning carpets or working at the sandwich shop or the bingo hall. She made many friends and got treated by a psychiatrist for the pain she still dealt with. Wendy has always loved riding horses, and she said they helped her heal.

But Wendy’s luck ran out one day when her bad knees forced her to retire from her job at the paper. Her living situation was far from ideal at the time. “The stove was old, falling apart,” she said. “The counters were old and had a wooden board on them; you pull that out and there were flower bugs there.”

The neighbourhood she lived in was unsafe and difficult to access. And, having lost her main source of income, she suddenly faced eviction.

“I was on the verge of being on the street.”

 

Soon after, Wendy was connected with Kathy from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge program. Community Bridge offers support to people at risk of becoming homeless by supplementing rent or utilities payments and providing educational workshops.

With Community Bridge’s support, Wendy found a new apartment in a safe neighbourhood. “I love where I am now,” she said. “I can walk down to my bank and to the library. That place is clean, it’s safe… I’m very happy there.”

Besides accessing Community Bridge, Wendy also visits Bissell Centre to take advantage of the Women’s Lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for occasional community meals. She’s taken Bissell’s Ready-to-Rent workshop and has become “great friends” with Kathy, her case worker.

Wendy can’t help but feel fortunate when she thinks of all the people in her city who don’t have a place to call home. “I don’t think anybody should live like that,” she said.

Wendy still thinks back to those summer days with her family on Sugar Lake. Although it will never quite be the same again, she takes comfort from her past and feels hope for the future. She talks about riding her horses again when her knees improve, and continuing on her journey to health and healing, knowing all the while that she won’t have to do any of it alone.


Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program is funded by a collaboration of numerous supporters, including ENMAX who helps to cover the costs of utility bills and rent payments to ensure individuals and families struggling with poverty remain housed.

Please visit our Housing Services webpage to learn more about our Community Bridge Program.

 

Finding Peace: Millie’s Story

My name is Millie and today I’m thankful to have a home, my health, and one year of sobriety.

Two years ago I was facing eviction and homelessness. Without Bissell Centre’s hot meals, I would have gone hungry, and without help from their caring staff, I would have ended up back on the streets.

I’ve been battling addiction, violence, and poverty all my life. I grew up in a turbulent, sometimes violent household.

After watching and experiencing the cycle of substance abuse in my family, I vowed I’d never drink, but things didn’t go the way I planned.

At 24, I fell in love, got married, and had two children. After a few years together, my husband’s behaviour became all too familiar. He had an alcohol addiction and was becoming increasingly violent. I started coping by drinking as well.

Soon, I was forced to pack up my kids and move into my car until we could get into a shelter.

Life as a single-parent was never easy, but I was determined to give my kids a good life. My kids and I have had many successes together, but sadly, the pain of my childhood and married years was always there in the background. Achieving sobriety has become a lifelong battle, adding extra challenges to my already complicated life.

“I was struggling to put food on the table. Without Bissell Centre’s daily meals, I would have gone hungry.”

 

Two years ago my rent was raised unexpectedly. This increase meant that after paying for rent, my phone bill, and a bus pass, I was left with $30 per month for all other costs. Needless to say, I was struggling to put food on the table.

Bissell Centre’s program, Community Bridge helped me with rent and utilities in my time of emergency. I was so incredibly relieved to get help, and not be struggling by myself anymore.

Now I have a safe home to go to every night, and for that I’m so grateful. I wake up every day not having to worry about where I’ll find a meal.

Today, I’ve been sober for almost a year. Every day sober is an achievement. I am also a Peer Outreach Worker providing street-level support for people dealing with addictions and I’m finally at peace with myself and my world.

Read our full February Newsletter, including a special message from our CEO.

Millie Finds Peace in her New Home

Millie has been battling addiction, violence, and poverty all her life. The child of low-income parents who grappled with alcohol addiction, Millie grew up in a turbulent, sometimes violent household. The man that she later married also had an alcohol addiction and violent tendencies.

After seven years of unhappy marriage, Millie found herself the single mother of two young children. It had become unsafe to stay under the same roof as her ex-husband, so Millie and her kids slept in her car for several nights until they could get in to a shelter.

“My son was three, my daughter was five. That was the first time I became homeless.”

 

Most single parents would say that raising children on your own is the challenge of a lifetime, but Millie felt uniquely unprepared for the job. “I didn’t know how to raise children,” she said. “I didn’t have that stepping stone in my family. I had to learn how to do that.”

Her greatest fear was that her children would be unable to break out of the cycle of poverty and addiction that she had been born into. “I did a lot of research on the internet, resource books and that,” said Millie. “My kids had balanced diets. I made my baby food right from scratch. Now, they both have structured eating habits.”

Millie worked in the oil & gas industry for over eight years and believed that her stable employment during that time helped to provide a foundation of positive growth for her children. Her son would go on to become a personal trainer; her daughter would later get her Masters in Education and become a teacher for children with special needs. Millie is unable to conceal the pride in her voice when talking about how well her children have done for themselves.

However, Millie’s journey has been far from easy. After years of refraining from drinking for fear of following in the footsteps of her parents, Millie succumbed to alcohol, triggering a lifelong addiction. Alcohol became the only way Millie could cope with her painful past. Although there were times in her life when it seemed to lift, Millie’s addiction always returned.

“I think situations and life experiences put you back into addiction thinking that it will comfort you, but it doesn’t.”

 

Two years ago, Millie’s rent was raised unexpectedly. She knew she needed help if she wanted to stay off the streets, so she applied for assistance from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program. Community Bridge helps individuals in danger of eviction pay for rent and utilities and offers additional support in the form of education and workshops.

Community Bridge was able to help Millie afford her rent while she focused on her health and overcoming her addiction. Without the program, Millie believes she would have been evicted and left homeless once again.

The years since Community Bridge’s intervention in her life have been difficult, but today Millie is finally living in a stable home: a two-bedroom condo that she shares with her daughter.

“It’s so peaceful. I wake up every day not having to worry about where I’ll find a meal. I’m at peace with me and my world.”

 

Currently, Millie is a Peer Outreach Worker and a Board Member for Aawear through Streetworks that provides street-level support for people dealing with addictions. She has been volunteering at Bissell Centre, the Co-op, and the Edmonton Native Healing Centre. She has been sober for almost a year.


Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program is funded by a collaboration of numerous supporters, including ENMAX who helps to cover the costs of utility bills to ensure individuals and families struggling with poverty remain housed.

Please visit our Housing Services webpage to learn more about our Community Bridge Program.

 

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!

Mother of Five Gets Helping Hand in Time for Back-to-School

The beginning of a new school year can be exciting, but for some families it can also be a stressful, expensive time of year. Absorbing the yearly cost of new school supplies, like back-to-school clothes, is challenging for some and impossible for others.

Corenda, a mom of five kids between the ages of two and 11, knows this reality all too well. When she moved from Saddle Lake to Edmonton in 2005, she was quickly overwhelmed by how high her living costs were. She was pregnant with her first child at the time, and as her family grew, she found herself struggling just to afford the essentials. “The cost of food and formula was crazy,” she said. “It was very tough.”

She was also dealing with an alcohol addiction and an abusive partner, and she often worried that she would end up living on the street. She lacked social supports most of us take for granted. “I guess I’ve always been kind of isolated,” she admitted. “I was fearful.”

That was when she reached out for help. “It all started off as a mental crisis,” she recounts. “I thought, I need support so I don’t feel so alone.” Corenda found Bissell Centre by searching online for affordable daycare, and discovered our free child care program.

“The staff just opened their arms to us and brought us in. That’s when I started feeling welcome and accepted in our community.”

 

Three of Corenda’s five children are heading to school in September. All of them use the Family Closet, a clothing donation program at Bissell Centre that offers free clothing to adults and children in need. Corenda is grateful that her kids will have the clothes they need to go back to school. “It’s important to me for them to have what they’re comfortable in and what they’re going to be proud to wear and show off to their friends,” said Corenda. “They’re so confident! They stand taller.”

With access to child care, formula and diapers, and clothes from the Family Closet, Corenda has also found an affordable home for her family and returned to university to finish her Bachelor’s degree. She and her kids now give back to those in need whenever they’re able. In fact, they frequently donate their gently used items back to the Family Closet.

“One year, we used [the Family Closet] because we didn’t have money to buy jackets that year,” she explained. “So now every year, I give my winter jackets back. Some parents don’t even have a dollar to their name. They don’t have nothing to give their kids. So I do my best to give our gently used stuff, too. That way, we kind of share with each other.”

Donate today to help more families like Corenda’s!