Colourful regalia. Delicious food. Traditional performances. Laughter between friends. These were just a few of the sights and sounds to behold at Bissell Centre’s celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on Friday, June 21, a day which also marks the summer solstice. The solstice is notable for providing the longest stretch of daylight of the year, which was fitting, as the 10 am to 1 pm celebrations saw a reprieve from the relentless stretch of rainy days. As members of our community gathered in the street together to honour the rich and diverse culture and contributions of the Canadian First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, the clouds parted and the sun made a welcome appearance on a day that Indigenous people have devoted to celebrating and rejoicing in our connection to the sun and the Earth for thousands of years.
But National Indigenous Peoples Day is about more than just celebration. It’s an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect on the history of mistreatment and adversity that Indigenous people have faced in Canada for hundreds of years, ever since the endless miles of Canadian soil that had belonged solely to them from the beginning of time became inhabited by groups of people who did not share their beliefs or ways of life. The Canada we know today is a beautiful cultural tapestry, brightly woven with colourful threads from cultures, ethnicities and nationalities from all over the world, and we are known internationally as a country that will welcome those who need refuge or who seek a better life for their family with open arms. Even so, it’s important to acknowledge and reflect upon the fact that Canada became the nation it is today at great cost to Indigenous people and their storied heritage. And this history is far from ancient – the last Canadian residential school did not close its doors until 1996. For many Indigenous Canadians, the scars borne of decades of intergenerational trauma and the societal inequity that First Nations, Inuit and Metis people continue to face today often makes the healing process a long and difficult one.
While National Indigenous Peoples Day is an opportunity for both celebration and reflection, it also offers the promise of community. As the sun rose to its highest point in the sky over Bissell Centre on Friday, it shone down upon traditional performances of drumming, singing, and dancing, Indigenous art forms that continue to be passed down from generation to generation as visceral representations of the beauty, passion and deep spirituality of Indigenous culture. It alighted down upon friends, families and loved ones of all different cultures sitting down to a delicious traditional meal of stew and bannock, sharing stories and laughter as they ate together. It cast its dazzling light upon a day meant not only to celebrate the countless contributions that First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples have made to Canada, but also for us as a wider community to show our solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and the adversity they continue to encounter every day.
Bissell Centre, founded in 1910, has always been an ally to the Indigenous community. In the days when Indigenous religious ceremonies and cultural practices were illegal in Canada, Bissell Centre provided a safe haven for Indigenous leaders to practice and keep their rich culture alive. We continue to strive today to be an organization where Indigenous traditions and practices are not merely accepted, but celebrated – not only on National Indigenous Peoples Day, but every day of the year.
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.
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!
In October 2014, Debbie was involved in a car-jacking incident, which left her traumatized and made it difficult for her to continue working. She tried working a few more months but required stress leave when diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the incident. Debbie eventually returned to work, but quickly started to experience deep symptoms of anxiety and depression, which resulted in her leave being extended.
With her income greatly compromised, Debbie utilized Employment Insurance and Income Support to financially help her and her family as she pursued opportunities to get back to work. She had limited support from her parents and one of her daughters also helped her to make rent.
When Employment Insurance ran out and her daughter moved to Vancouver, Debbie’s struggles increased as she tried to find ways to pay rent and utility bills leaving her and her family on the verge of homelessness.
That’s when Debbie turned to Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program for financial help thinking that she and her children could soon lose their home. The program paid her next month’s rent and program staff were able to keep their utilities going to ensure that they would not be evicted.
Community Bridge staff continue to stay in contact with Debbie every month to see if she and the children need assistance and to provide any support they may need to remain housed. Debbie feels she has stable support from Bissell Centre and is currently enrolled in programs to help with her transition back into the workforce.
Please 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.
Thanks to our funding partners United Way, City of Edmonton, Stollery Charitable Foundation, ENMAX, and Edmonton Charitable Foundation.
This week, we honour our volunteers who assist people who are struggling with poverty in Edmonton. In conjunction with National Volunteer Week, we have planned activities at Bissell Centre to recognize their valuable contribution to the inner-city community.
Each year, our 1,100 dedicated volunteers give more than 11,000 hours serving meals for the hungry, leading activities for children from low-income families, sorting numerous donations, and providing administrative support. We are continually inspired by their compassion and commitment!
Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for stories and photos about our dedicated volunteers.
Interested in Volunteering?
To help make a difference for people in our community, please visit our Volunteer Services page and sign up through our online application program to tailor your volunteer experience with us!