As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to physically separate people all over the world, we also see individuals, communities and organizations banding together in their efforts to look after one another.
The new Isolation Shelter for Covid-19 relief and Drop-In Day Services at the Edmonton Expo Centre is a perfect example of how many entities are working together to respond to the current public health need.
Bissell Centre and our partners at Boyle Street Community Services have been identified as co-leads by Homeward Trust Edmonton, the organization tasked with coordinating the non-medical services side of the Expo Centre supports.
Boyle McCauley Health Centre has been identified as co-leads with Alberta Health Services to provide the medical services at the site. The City of Edmonton together with the Expo Centre team are providing logistical supports. Other partners include, The Mustard Seed, George Spady Society, The Salvation Army & more.
All of these groups are coming together to support and serve those individuals in greatest need in our community; individuals who don’t have a home to isolate in, and are at risk of experiencing greater complications from Covid-19 due to an increase in compromised immune systems.
The 2 main functions of the EXPO Centre
While the Expo Centre will offer a variety of services for struggling community members who are experiencing homelessness, there are two main areas to the centre: medical and nonmedical. The medical side is a 24/7 shelter for folks with symptoms who need to be tested and have a supported space where they can isolate and be treated as needed.
The non-medical side is a large space where folks can access vital services throughout the day such as, showers, meals, coffee, clothing, hygiene products etc. The site will soon also include, housing, cultural, mental health, and a number of other relevant supports, The day services runs from 8am to 8pm.
Programming Changes at Bissell Centre
We are in an environment of constant, rapid change and the Bissell Centre team has shown incredible resilience in their ability to shift into crisis care. Here are a few updates to programming at Bissell Centre:
Our Community Space operations have been moved to the Expo Centre
Our vital housing programs remain operational
Our Thrift Shopis closed for the time being BUT we are working on a plan for in-kind donations to support the ongoing needs of folks accessing our services at the Expo Centre
Together with our partner agencies, we will be constantly reviewing and assessing the impact of the changes we make to ensure we are best supporting our participants in this rapidly changing situation.
Thank you for checking in with us during this time. As the horizon changes, Bissell Centre will always work towards protecting the most vulnerable in our mission of eliminating poverty in our community.
How you can help
If it is in your means to give, we need your support more than ever. Please consider making a monetary donation and stay tuned for additional ways to support our work at this time.
March 20 Update
Please note: We are no longer accepting in-kind donations downtown.
For the safety of our staff and community, we are no longer accepting in-kind donations such as food, clothing, personal care items etc. at our main facilities downtown (10527-96st & 10530-96st).
The best way to support Bissell Centre at this time is by making a financial donation.
Please check back here for updates and new information, as things are changing rapidly.
March 16 Update
As recommendations rapidly change, Bissell Centre is adhering to the guidelines set out by the GoC, GoA and the City of Edmonton. There have been closures, recommended and issued, that greatly affect people experiencing poverty and homelessness.
Bissell Centre is coordinating with other social service agency partners, orders of Government and coordinating entities and we are working closely, sharing resources and training as well as staying in close communications with each other during this time. No one has all the answers but following the guidelines and working together has become apparent when making decisions that could affect many people.
For now we can tell you that all volunteer activities and group programming have been suspended, along with the closing of our licensed daycare centre. We will continue to provide access to critical supports for people in need in a safe and supportive manner.
We want to assure our supporters, staff and community members that we are doing everything in our power, organizationally, to be on top of the changes. Our number one priority is keeping people accessing our services and employees, safe and supported.
Many people are wondering how they can help and we are incredibly grateful for the offers of support. We are encouraging financial donations at this time as we continue to assess emergency resources needed for community members and staff.
Gary St. Amand
Chief Executive Officer, Bissell Centre
March 12 Response
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Bissell Centre is deeply concerned that the effects of this virus adds another risk to those experiencing poverty and homelessness. We know that those individuals are among those most vulnerable to health concerns like COVID-19, as some may have compromised immune systems and pre-existing health conditions, along with precarious living situations and urgent basic needs like shelter and meals.
We are proactively planning to assist people as effectively as possible as the situation progresses. We remain committed to supporting those who are experiencing poverty and homelessness, many of whom rely daily on Bissell Centre for meals, basic needs and other important services.
While currently we are not aware of any confirmed cases amongst our staff, volunteers, or people who access our services, we are preparing for a variety of possible scenarios.
How are we helping protect the safety of our community? At this time, Bissell Centre is implementing the following:
Sharing information with staff, volunteers and people accessing our services on how to prevent and recognize COVID-19 and connect them with appropriate health supports
Taking extra sanitation measures to clean all surfaces thoroughly and more frequently within Bissell Centre
Regularly updating and implementing measures under our Business Continuity Plan
Striking a Pandemic Response Team to coordinate our actions under our Business Continuity Plan
Coordinating with partner agencies, government and health authorities to establish a proactive and collective COVID-19 strategy
Bissell Centre has been and will continue to carefully monitor and follow the guidance set out by the Canadian Health Authorities to facilitate the prevention, early detection and containment of the virus.
In the coming weeks, we recognize that we may need to equip our staff and community members with extra supplies and resources. Your continued support and encouragement is greatly appreciated as we navigate this uncertain time.
Gary St. Amand
Chief Executive Officer, Bissell Centre
We are so grateful for the opportunities that were made possible in 2019 thanks to our community of supporters!
Here are just 7 of the many memorable moments and significant happenings in 2019:
1) Community Delivers Mountain of Warm Clothing During Cold Snap
Just as we are experiencing right now, last February was dangerously cold. Donations of warm clothing, food, and funds rushed in, allowing us to meet the increased needs due to the extreme weather. Because of the generosity and compassion of our community, those trying to survive on the street found relief from the stress and harm that the bitter cold can cause.
2) Supporters Raise 120k in Winter Walk-A-thon
Our 2nd Annual Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) fundraising walk was a huge success! Edmontonian’s walked 2, 5 or 10k in the shoes of those experiencing homelessness in our city. To our amazement, over 450 walkers and 64 teams came together to help us smash our goal of $100,000 to raise a total of $121,000! Local businesses LOVE Pizza and Nook Café once again provided warmth and treats for our walkers along their trek. We were also grateful for the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation for stepping up to be our lead sponsor! #WalkForBissell again on February 22nd during Coldest Night of the Year, 2020!
3) Community Art Project Showcased at Art Gallery of Alberta
Sept 17th – October 27th, 2019, Artwork by Bissell Centre program participants was showcased in the Community Gallery at the Art gallery of Alberta. Cycles & Circles was a project created to help people understand the effects of the opioid crisis from the inside. Numerous participants attended workshops to learn how to express their experience with addiction; whether it be written or through visual art. Each expression was vulnerable, unique and honest. To see these works on the walls of the AGA was an uplifting, affirming, and healing experience for all involved.
4) Bissell Participants Challenge EPS to Chili Cook-off
October 17th, 2019 was a very special day at Bissell Centre, our participants challenged the EPS beat crew to a chili cook-off in our Community Kitchen! The beat crew accepted the challenge and showed up, uniforms and all! It was a morning of laughter and teamwork that helped ease past tendons and facilitated healing by finding common ground. We look forward to this becoming an annual event!
5) Construction Begins on New Early Learning and Child Care Centre
This past fall, construction on our new Early Learning and Child Care Centre began! The new centre will allow Bissell to offer more programming and supports to families experiencing poverty. Until now, we have provided 40 free respite childcare spots and we are thrilled to soon offer an additional 30 full-time spots when the new centre opens. We expect to provide care and support for over 400 individual children each year, so as you can imagine we are very excited to open the doors and get busy! To do so, there are still more funds to be raised — you can learn more about our project and share your support here. THANK YOU to the many individuals, groups, and businesses who’ve contributed so far! We are grateful!
6) Longtime Bissell Centre Staff Honoured by Province
December 9th, 2019 at the Government House of Alberta, dignitaries and family members gathered to recognize Albertans that personify excellence in the community. Fatima Bellahmer, longtime employee of Bissell Centre, received the Ministers Award for Excellence in Childhood Development. For 33 years, Fatima has dedicated her life to caring for the children that come through Bissell Centre’s Doors. Thousands of children have been in Fatima’s care through the years, and she’s never forgotten a single one. We are so proud of what Fatima has accomplished during her years at Bissell Centre and are so honoured she chose Bissell Centre to carry out her good work. Congratulations Fatima and thank you!
7) Community Steps up to Save Christmas by Donating hundreds of Toys
The tables in our Festive Giveaway room were only half full when we took to social media to ask the public for toy donations in December. Within an hour of the post, toys started rolling in by the dozens! Over a 3 day span, person after person made their way through our doors with toys for our families. The annual program usually operates for 3 days, but we received so many donations that we were able to offer 2 whole additional days for parents to find the perfect gift for their little ones! More than 500 children received toys from our program! An overwhelming way to wrap up an excellent 2019 with Edmonton proving once again why we are known as the City of Champions.
Thank you for your incredible generosity in 2019! Your support makes a big difference in the lives of people living in poverty! ♡
Help create more memories like these in 2020 by joining our family of supporters. Make a donation.
On any given day you can find Melanie busy in Bissell’s Community Kitchen or visiting with friends or laughing and supporting others. She helps out with holiday meals, delivering plates to the elders with mobility issues or filling cups with juice or coffee. She enjoys keeping busy, it helps her stay out of trouble. “Lord knows I can find me in some trouble,” Melanie laughed.
When Melanie and I sat down a few months ago I wasn’t entirely prepared for what she would tell me. Her story isn’t terribly unique to many of our community members but her vulnerability and willingness to open up to me, a stranger, and tell me some her darkest moments carried some significant weight and responsibility. Needless to say, I was honoured to hold that space with and for her.
This is Melanie’s story that developed out of our conversation…
For years, Melanie lived on the streets and made a living as a drug dealer. But dealing was a dangerous job. Soon violence became part of her daily life. “I was vicious and angry all the time, always yelling and screaming, even beating people up,” Melanie says. “I didn’t know I needed help with mental health back then.”
When risky behaviour got her banned from other agencies, she found herself hungry and ready for change. Bissell Centre had offered her help before, so she headed there, hoping for a hot meal and a fresh start.
“When she arrived, a staff member named Martin greeted her at the door and asked, “Are you ready to change your life today?”
This was the moment, she believes saved her life.
After her meal, Martin introduced Melanie to the mental health program where she met a psychiatrist for the first time.
Melanie finally received the mental health support she needed. She no longer experienced an uncontrollable roller coaster of emotions. She gained control over her reactions and learned to identify the things that trigger her.
Receiving mental health support transformed Melanie. But it was the sense of community that had the greatest impact on her life. The connections she made here tethered her to something real and helped her find the sense of family she had always wished for.
“Here, everyone is cared for and we’re treated like family no matter what.”
“The programs at the Bissell Centre are so important to me. And the staff always take time out of their day to ask what’s wrong and sit down and talk to you. Here, everyone is cared for and we’re treated like family no matter what,” Melanie says.
Today, Melanie contributes to Bissell Centre by mentoring young people who lacked family support, just like she did. She helps them learn how to survive on their own and how to get help when they need it.
“Bissell helped straightened out my life,” Melanie says tearfully. “It took years, but I changed my lifestyle and have stayed off the streets for over 5 years. I’m so grateful to be alive and kicking. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead by example while working with the kids.”
This is an abridged version of what Melanie had to tell me that day. We both shared a few tears and a couple of silent moments. Her story is heavy, riddled with addictions and abuse and in many ways this life was forced upon her. But what wasn’t forced upon her was the yearning for a better life. Melanie has good and bad days, but she doesn’t stop fighting. Not for one second.
Some people question how many chances a person should be given. Hearing Mel’s story, one might argue that she used all her chances up. But ask me that question after meeting Melanie and watching her flourish and succeed in our community? My answer is simple: As many as it takes.
After seeking medical attention for a persistent cough, Dale found out that he had contracted tuberculosis from a friend who was living with him. It wasn’t until Dale’s friend succumb to the the condition that he realized the severity of TB. In isolation for a month, Dale missed his bill payments. Unable to leave the hospital due to quarantine, his nurse knew about a program that could help. Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program; dedicated to helping people keep their homes during tough times.
Once cleared from isolation Dale contacted Bissell for more information on the program. He was introduced to Ola a caseworker with the program. They booked an appt and walked through what Dale needed to do, step by step. The program helped Dale pay his bills, as he was a couple of months behind due to the long hospital stay.
In addition to the help with the bill payments, Dale was able to secure a bus pass at Bissell, something he was very grateful for at the time. More importantly, his case worker Ola gave him confidence, some nice advice and a lot of moral support.
“He gave me a lot of moral support at a time when I was a little low on that. I’m grateful.”
“Ola is a very nice man,” says Dale. “He told me to keep my head up and gave me some great advice. He gave me a lot of moral support at a time when I was a little low on that. I’m grateful.”
Dale recently returned from a second hospital visit, this time for surgery. Through his recovery, he is grateful that the program is there to help him while he is awaiting approval for his application to the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program.
Dale is hopeful for the future, and with the confidence he gained by working with his case worker in the Community Bridge Program, he feels that things may start to head in the right direction.
“Things are starting to look up,” smiles Perry.
Why does Dale feel the Community Bridge program is so important for the community? For the main reason that “it really helps people.” He appreciates Bissell Centre and all that the Community Bridge program has done for him.
Without funding partners like ENMAX, we don’t know how Dale’s story would have turned out. What we do know is that Dale is warm in his home and has optimism about the road ahead.
Visit Bissell Centre’s Housing Services to learn more about the Community Bridge Program and our efforts to provide stable housing and financial support for people living in poverty.
Josh Hudon, father and business owner, is humble about his achievements, but his collection of 1000 bags for Bissell Centre is anything but a humble feat. He working tirelessly over 9 months to collect the bags, mobilizing a large network to get the job done. The drive and passion to collect the 1000 bags stemmed from a time where he was experiencing financial hardships and could have lost his house and his business.
“It got me thinking about the homeless situation in Edmonton I wanted to do something to help,” explains Josh. “You don’t normally think about homelessness until it really affects you, and that’s what happened to me.”
“You don’t normally think about homelessness until it really affects you.”
Another thing that inspired his momentous clothing drive was his participation in the Coldest Night of the Year national fundraising walk last winter. Experiencing firsthand the cold of a winter walk in the dark gave him a deeper empathy for individuals experiencing homelessness in Edmonton and he wanted to do something more to help.
Josh worked closely with his sister to collect and transport the bags a two dozen at a time and met several supporters throughout the campaign who helped him reach his goal. After landing some media opportunities in the fall, bags really began to pour in. On November 19th, 2018, Josh dropped off his 1000th bag.
And he’s not stopping there.
Shortly after collecting “#1000bagsforBissell,” Josh and his friends entered as a team for the Coldest Night of the Year again, with sights set high. Josh’s team hopes to raise $60,000 for Bissell Centre as they participate in the walk. They are already well on their way to achieving this ambitious goal. At the time of writing, Josh’s team is the top fundraising team in Canada for the Coldest Night of the Year, having already raised $14,178.
When asked if he had any advice for teams looking to step up their fundraising efforts, Josh suggested being creative. He has hosted two silent auctions, sold raffle tickets for a large basket giveaway, and reached out to his network for corporate sponsorships. He also recommends dreaming big.
“No one has ever accomplished anything great by setting small, easily achievable goals—you need to reach higher than you might think possible,” explains Josh. He has high expectations of himself, and his drive and ambition are what help him accomplish his mountainous goals.
We were excited to host our 105th Annual General Meeting on Thursday, July 7th. Thank you to the Board of Governors, supporters, and staff for attending!
This was the first AGM for our new CEO, Gary St. Amand and for our new Board Chair, Ken Ristau. For our long-standing Board Member, Bobbie Wildgoose, this was her last AGM after six years on the Board being instrumental with supporting our vision to eliminate poverty in our community.
Also, this was the last AGM attended by Reverend Lynn Maki, who is with the United Church of Canada, Alberta & Northwest Conference, as she is retiring after her long and dedicated support of Bissell Centre and other organizations.
Highlights of our 2015-16 Annual Report include:
In October 2015, we opened up Canada’s first housing complex to provide around-the-clock support for people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Our Community Bridge prevented 215 evictions from occurring, ending the threat of homelessness for individuals and families in Edmonton.
132 adults and children were housed through our Outreach Housing Team, which was launched in July 2015 with the purpose to engage with people who are homeless in our city and find them stable housing.
Thank you to everyone for making 2015-16 a successful year for helping people living in poverty. We look forward to another year with providing the necessary supports and care for people in our community.
Meet Carolyn, a mother and retiree who channels her love for children by lending a helping hand around the community. Carolyn says she has always volunteered in some capacity or another, and she began volunteering for Bissell Centre around five or six years ago after being referred by a friend. Since then, she has been an indispensable part of Bissell’s childcare team, which offers free daycare to low-income and in-crisis families Monday through Friday. Carolyn always looks forward to her weekly Monday morning shifts caring for the children. “My role is to cuddle them, feed them, play with them,” she explains. “It’s the best of everything.”
Carolyn says that the staff is what makes Bissell Centre special. “You have a very good staff in the children’s area,” she says. “They’re very devoted. It’s not an easy job, because there are such a variety of children that are all from different families and expecting different things.” Carolyn adds that parents who drop their kids off at Bissell’s daycare need never worry about their little ones – they are in very capable hands.
Although there is no single memory Carolyn would tout as her favourite, she says that the small, simple things are what she remembers most. “Things like the joy you have when you’re holding a baby and it falls asleep in your arms,” she says, “or if it’s upset and you’re able to settle it down. Those moments are what make it special – when you’ve made them happy for a little while.”
Volunteering is also a powerful perspective changer for Carolyn. “You really start to recognize that everybody here – they’re just people too. It really puts a different light on a lot of things.” Carolyn feels gratified to know that she is making a difference in the lives of people who need it most, but insists that she also benefits from the experience: “I find I’m learning lots all the time. I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Bissell Centre relies on volunteers like Carolyn to keep programs like the daycare centre in operation. Thank you to Carolyn and all of our amazing volunteers for helping us to keep the wheels of Bissell Centre turning!
Interested in making a difference? Click here to find out how you can get involved.
“I’m either Dad, Uncle, or Grandpa around here.” That is the way that Roger, a long time Bissell Centre volunteer, likes to introduce himself around the community. As he puts it, “I’ve got around two hundred street sons and daughters, and about five hundred street grandchildren.” To many community members and visitors to Bissell, Roger is more than a trusted friend – he’s practically part of the family.
Roger has a stocky build, iron gray hair that is nearly white around the temples, and a ready smile that creases his face with little provocation. He has been volunteering for Bissell Centre for over two years, but before that, he was a regular visitor to our Drop-in Centre. “I used to come here for coffee and that on the weekends, and one day they asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the Community Closet. I said, yes I would!”
Before he became a volunteer, Roger’s life was not without its share of troubles. “I lost a sister and a niece to an impaired driver,” he says. “And I lost a granddaughter to an impaired driver. And I got no use for that, people coming too close to kids when they’re drinking.” In the past, Roger has also struggled with homelessness and poverty, going back and forth between temporary homes before he at last got a place of his own in the inner city. Now that Roger has a reliable place to live, he devotes most of his free time to helping others in need.
Roger’s desire for helping others was what drove him to start volunteering at Bissell Centre, offering support and assistance to people who now struggle with the same difficult circumstances that he once faced.
When he’s not at Bissell, Roger is also involved in a volunteer street patrol. All of his volunteer work keeps him busy, but Roger shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m coming up on sixty-seven years old,” he says, laughing, “but I don’t think I’ll retire until I’m about one hundred and eight.”
It is truly an inspiration to see someone like Roger, who has witnessed far more than his fair share of tragedy and personal struggles over the course of his life, devote himself so completely to improving the circumstances in his community.
We are proud to call Roger part of our Bissell Centre family.
For the month of May, our volunteer spotlight falls on Marla, a two-year veteran volunteer whose smiling face can be reliably found at Bissell Centre every Tuesday. She has worked with the arts and crafts Community Participation program since January, before which she worked in the Community Closet distributing free clothing to people in need.
Marla makes time to volunteer around her part-time job at a charitable organization that seeks to alleviate poverty in South and Central America and parts of Africa. “It does great work,” she says of the organization, “but I also wanted to help out locally. That’s why I came to Bissell. My children are all grown now, and I’m at a point where I’d really like to give back to the community.”
When she’s not working or volunteering, Marla also loves to travel. Her volunteer work has taken her as far as Ecuador and Guatemala; in the future, she hopes to travel to even more new places, and is in the process of learning Spanish. She also has a strong artistic background that comes in handy during her Tuesday afternoon painting sessions, where she helps to instruct participants in arts and crafts.
When asked about her favourite memory with Bissell Centre, Marla recalls serving New Year’s Day dinner. “My family was volunteering with me,” she says. “My daughter and her boyfriend came along to help, and we were serving meals at the Drop-in Centre. That was very special.” Marla’s pleasant, approachable personality makes her well-suited to her volunteer role. As she explains, “I treat people here the same way as I treat my own friends. Some people are just going through a rough patch in their lives, and are just happy to share, happy to have an ear to listen.”
One of Marla’s favourite things about Bissell Centre in particular is the people she gets to work with. “Every staff member I’ve met here has been phenomenal,” she says. “The staff make such a huge difference – they are very caring people, all of them.”
And when asked what she would say to someone considering volunteering, Marla’s answer is immediate: “I would say go for it! Especially if you like people. For me the most rewarding part is actually working with the people you are helping. You really get more out of it than you put in.”
Thank you Marla for your continued dedication with helping people.
Want to volunteer?! Please click here to get started!