It’s hard enough being a single dad, but it’s even harder when you struggle with poverty and periodic homelessness. The idea seems unthinkable, but it’s a reality that many dads in our community must face every day.
One of those dads is Ché, a single father who has faced more than his fair share of troubles. His past struggles with alcohol addiction leading to crime and temporary homelessness left him feeling hopeless. “I’ve been at the bottom many times,” he says, “and it was pretty much my baby girl who was my saving grace.”
Ché recently reconnected with his four-year-old daughter, who is currently living in foster care. “The first time she called me Daddy, I melted,” he says. “When I hear her yell, â€˜Daddy, come help meâ€¦’ I know that’s my purpose.”
While still in the midst of his struggle with addiction and poverty a number of years ago, Ché accessed Bissell Centre’s Employment Services. With the help of our dedicated support workers, he was able to complete his tickets and secure the employment he needed to get himself off the streets for good.
Since then, Ché has gotten sober, secured a place to live, completed his high school diploma, and enrolled in college in pursuit of an Addictions and Community Services Worker diploma. He has plans to pursue his Master’s degree in the future.
Ché has also started an initiative for a support group for men getting out of prison and re-integrating into the community, an endeavour that he began working on while he himself was still incarcerated. “This is a group for guys getting out and getting back into the community,” he says. “I know from the past that it’s hard to find people to relate, hard to get people to listen.”
Ché ’s group, Second Chance Fellowship, is still in the early stages of development and is not yet meeting regularly. However, Ché is excited for it to get off the ground. “Besides my daughter, this is the biggest accomplishment of my life.”
Ché has already been granted guardianship of his daughter, but his living situation stops him from being able to take full custody. His biggest challenge has been finding a suitable and affordable home in which to raise his child. “If I go up to [the foster care workers] and say, â€˜I’m ready to take her,’ they’re gonna want to see where I live. How can I do that when I don’t have a two-bedroom place?” Ché hopes that when he completes his diploma and finds steady employment, he will find an affordable two-bedroom apartment in no time, finally allowing him to be a full-time dad.
The transformative power that Ché ’s daughter has had on his life is evident. Even though there was a time when alcohol controlled his life, Ché knows that, now that he’s sober, he won’t ever fall off the wagon again. He explains his reason for staying sober as though it were the most obvious thing in the world: “I can’t break my little girl’s heart, right?”
Hard as things got for Joe* he never gave up. Bissell Centre never gave up on him either. Look at what happened!
Employed for many years in the hospitality industry, Joe faced some serious health problems. He couldn’t sustain full time work so Bissell Centre helped with casual labour placements when Joe needed some work. Joe’s health problems were so serious they required six operations to address. Demoralized and losing hope, he was encouraged by social workers to apply for AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped).
Through his ongoing relationship with Employment Services, Joe felt he had” someone in his corner” and never completely gave up. Our Jobs First coordinator got to work with Joe and together they took actions to increase Joe’s skill development, self-awareness, confidence, and his competencies.
Last week Joe completed his second interview with a major Canadian coffee company and was hired as the Regional Manager for Quality Control. Joe’s new position will start in mid-August and his starting wage is $60,000 plus a generous benefits package.
Joe told us he now wants to speak at our pre-employment sessions about his positive experience in our Employment Services program but more importantly to act as a testimony to never giving up.
Our mission is to work with others to move people from poverty to prosperity. When you support Bissell Centre, this one example of how you help change lives.
Please consider supporting Bissell Centre’s life-changing work in our community.
[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.
In the recent annual readership poll undertaken by Vue Weekly, Bissell Centre was voted the best non-profit in Edmonton.
Each year for the past 18 years Vue asks Edmontonians to identify those organizations, individuals, businesses, venues, and locations that they believe are the best in Edmonton.
We are proud to receive such recognition and also celebrate with the two organizations that were runners up: iHuman Youth Society and the Edmonton Humane Society.
To see all of the Best of Edmonton Winners, click HERE.
This is the story shared with Bissell Centre by one of our supporters, Patti Jones. Thank you for passing it along to us and allowing it to be shared! We hope it encourages you, your family, your community and/or your place of work to talk about how we view our most vulnerable and what we might be able to do to help.
My mom always said, “help should begin at home.”
My dad was divorced from my mom when I was six months old. He was an alcoholic most of his life and struggled with his own demons. He lived in the inner city of most of his life – the last few in a rooming house not far from the downtown station. He didn’t give us a lot of opportunity to see him often, but it’s organizations like yours [Bissell Centre] that gave him some hope to get through another day. It also gives families, who are in situations similar to our families, the peace of mind that there are places their loved ones can go to for help.
You truly build a community with those in need, either impoverished or homeless, and it still makes me smile.
I recall one visit my sister and I made to our dad not long before he passed away. He took us on a walk through the neighbourhood late at night, which was a little scary for me and my sister. We went to the liquor store to buy him alcohol, because that was easier to bear than the alternative (that he might pick through garbage to find bottles to exchange for cash to pay for his booze). It was one way we could show him love – understanding that he wasn’t going to change or stop drinking. When we walked with him, many of the street people knew him, (as Freddy McDougall), and we had the opportunity to say hello to his friends. It didn’t take us any longer than that walk to learn they truly look after each other.
A few months after that night, my father had not been seen for a few days around the rooming house and it was one of those friends who called the police to report it. The police broke down his door to get in his room and that is when he was found. He had passed away from what they believe was heart failure. Had it not been for such a tight community in that rooming house and neighbourhood, he could have been left unfound much longer. Read More…
Recently out of jail, a man came to Bissell Centre looking to make a change in his life. He showed a great deal of motivation, but needed some assistance to gain additional skills and confidence to start a career and get a full-time job. He joined our Moving Up pre-employment program and looked to his peers and program facilitator for support. Through the course of the four week program we helped him develop a work plan, complete job searches, and pick an industry for work – construction!
Through the training (safety tickets), coaching, supported job searches, resume building, and interview skills he received, he now is working full-time in the construction industry and making $27/hour!
If you would like to support our work in helping people make positive changes in their life, and motivating them to move from poverty to prosperity, please visit our Donate page.
This story was written by one of Bissell Centre’s Homeless to Homes participants. *Name has been changed to protect the participant’s privacy.
My name is Jennifer*. I became homeless about four years ago. Prior to becoming homeless, I was in an abusive relationship with a common law partner for approximately 10 years. The moment that I made the decision to leave this relationship was the moment I became homeless. I knew that’s what I was choosing, but the experience that I had in this relationship was so bad that I felt like I had no alternatives.
Being homeless is pretty rough. There were many moments when I was homeless that I felt scared and angry. I found that the amount of alcohol I drank increased when I was homeless, and I spent time picking bottles to make enough money to purchase more liquor. I spent most nights at inner city shelters, and at times, when I had no other options I even stayed outside. Read More…
I wrote this little story – a blend of fiction and non-fiction – some years ago and just rediscovered it in my personal archives (which is a nice way of saying, among the stacks of papers kept in many boxes). It was written in the summer-time, but for me, it is a Christmas story about hope and change. I hope you like it.
Like you, I am frequently approached for a hand-out by someone on the street. Sometimes I hand over some change. Sometimes I don’t. When I don’t is when I find myself rationalizing that I don’t want to support someone’s drinking habit. Giving them a sandwich would be more appropriate, I tell myself. But of course, I don’t carry a sandwich in my pocket and I don’t go buy them one. I just walk away with my self-sustaining rationale.
I bet most of us do that more often than not. Yes, I know. Handing over a dollar won’t solve anything. What difference will I make? Maybe I will cause more harm than good. Who knows? Then I remember a fellow I knew years ago. His name was Ernie. He had been on the streets for twenty years – a heavy drinker, the personification of a “bum.” The kind of man you walk around if you see him coming down the street. All of my colleagues figured he would die on the streets.
Ernie comes to mind for a couple reasons. First, because he was always willing to share what he had – which wasn’t much – with anyone who asked. He was just that way, an all around nice guy (despite his rough appearance), even when drunk on Lysol or cheap wine. Second, one day Ernie just quit drinking and never started again — at least for as long as I kept track of him anyway, which was for several years.
One day I asked why he just stopped drinking.
He gave me a big smile and shook his head. “I don’t really know,” he said. “I just woke up one morning and said that’s it. I’m done. I threw out what little booze I had in my room, took the empties to the depot and headed to the Gold Nugget for breakfast.”
I guess I was looking for more of a watershed moment from Ernie, some kind of spiritual turning point – anything other than “I don’t really know.”
“Something troubling you, son?”
I shook my head. “I just thought you would know the reason.”
Ernie laughed. “I can think of some now, looking back. Like I didn’t want to die yet. But at the time, the honest truth is I didn’t know. I just quit.” He paused for a moment. Ernie had always been a thoughtful man and had an uncanny sense of other people. “You,” he said. “You were good to me – and the others at the drop-in, you know, the workers there.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I wasn’t fishing thoughâ€¦”
“Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t,” Ernie said. “But it’s true anyways. It wasn’t that you were social workers. You were just people, decent you know. You gave me change, bummed me smokes, gave me rides when my arthritis was bad. You just hung out and talked. I never got the feeling you were trying to save me. I hated that – people trying to save me.”
I didn’t know quite what to say, so I shifted gears. “So did you enjoy your breakfast that first day – you know, at the Gold Nugget.”
“Nope,” Ernie said. “I got sick like a dog, and then I gave all my change to Stanley – you know him, right?”
“He was in a bad way and needed a fix more than I needed my little bit of cash.”
“I understand,” I said.
Ernie looked at me. He smiled a little. “I imagine you do, son. I imagine you do.”
I don’t know where Ernie is today, but I have a feeling he is alive and sober. He’s still poor no doubt and living day to day on his disability checks. He’s probably still off the streets living in a small room in McCauley or somewhere along 118th Avenue.
But one thing I know for sure. When Ernie comes across an outstretched hand, he stops and gives them what he can. Knowing him, he likely has a chat as well. And when he finally does move along, he’s not wondering if he should have bought them a sandwich. Maybe he understands these things better than we do because he was there and then one day things just changed. I figure that if that can happen to an old alcoholic bum named Ernie, maybe it can happen to other folks, too, even folks like you and me.
The very last time I saw Ernie was a couple years after I left my job in the inner city. I was walking along Whyte Avenue on my way to Greenwoods to buy a book. He was headed the other way, moving slowly with his wooden cane.
“Hey, Ernie,” I said. “Long time.”
Ernie looked up at me and smiled. It took him a moment to recognize me. “Mark,” he said. “How’s things?”
“Good,” I said. “Real good. You?”
“Same as usual. My leg hurts a bit more lately than usual, but can’t complain really.”
We stood there for a few minutes, talking about other folks we knew, those who had died, others who had left town, the few who were still walking 96th Street each day. People streamed by us, oblivious to our reunion, except for a young man in a business suit who gave us a dirty look for being in his way.
Ernie smiled at the man. “To have old friends, son, you got to make a few first.”
I laughed. The young man didn’t, but he went away.
And then it was time. “Mark,” Ernie said. “I should be getting on.”
We said our goodbyes and then continued on our separate ways. A few steps later, I turned around. “Ernie,” I yelled.
Ernie turned half way toward me
“Good to see you,” I said.
Ernie nodded and gave me a little wave with his cane and then shuffled off through the crowd.
As I waved back I caught my reflection in the shop window. I stepped forward to get a better look but then thought better of it. I didn’t want to frighten people in the store gawking like some stalker! So I crossed the street and walked into the bookstore. I felt different somehow, but wasn’t sure why. All I know is I felt somehow changed by an old man with a bum leg who had quit drinking years ago for reasons he didn’t understand at the time.
Like most people, I wish for a lot of things in my life. I hope my children will be happy. I hope my wife loves me as much as I love her. I would like more money, who wouldn’t? I hope for less violence and pain in the world.
I also wish I could be more like Ernie. And on that day in the middle of summer, I wished for that more than anything.
Written By Rylan Kafara, Bissell Centre’s Inner City Recreation Coordinator
Anyone who has been in Bissell Centre has probably seen Ceno’s art. There are pieces displayed in almost every office, some are hanging in the hallways, and others are painted on the walls. If you’ve visited some of the businesses in the area, you may also have noticed the works Ceno has used for barter when he’s hungry.
Recently, one of Ceno’s pieces was submitted to the 4th annual Edmonton Timeraiser. The Timeraiser is a charity gala where local artists’ paintings are selected by a jury of their peers for auction. If chosen, the artist is paid the market value for their work. At the event, the pieces are given to the highest bidder.
Instead of paying money, however, the winner offers volunteer hours. These hours are worked over the course of the year at community agencies of their choice, and then they are given the artwork.
The Timeraiser is about creating connections, and building community. All across Canada, prospective volunteers are paired with the agencies they are best suited to work with, from Vancouver to St. John’s. Each year the event grows, as more cities host events, more artists are showcased, and more volunteer hours are raised.
This year, Ceno’s “Spirit of Chief” was showcased at the Timeraiser held on October 13th. So not only was his talent recognized by other Edmonton artists, but he was paid a fair price, and his art gave back to the community through a new volunteer.
Ceno’s art being featured at the Timeraiser helps remove barriers between the inner city and the wider community. Although he has never had a formal art education, Ceno has been able to nurture his talents at Bissell Centre, and through that support he has achieved something any artist would be proud of.
Kayla, a mother of five, came to Bissell Centre at the end of 2011 while trying to acquire housing through our Homeless to Homes (H2H) program. Kayla had been going through very difficult times as she had lost a child three months prior; she had been physically assaulted which resulted in her hospitalization and two children being apprehended by Children Services.
With the help of Bissell Centre, Kayla was able to apply for Supports for Independence (SFI) benefits and access our Inner City Victim Services program. We are happy to report that Kayla and her children were housed in March and are doing quite well.