Finding mental health supports at Bissell and a sense of community, drastically changed Melanie’s life.
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, 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 of 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 supports at Bissell that 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.
After finding mental health supports at Bissell, Melanie’s life begins to change direction.
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 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 succumbed to 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 provide him financial support when sick: Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program, which is 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. Being provided with this financial assistance when sick, gave Dale peace of mind and offered him options.
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 give him financial support when sick 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 that he gained 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!
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!