Thanks For Giving!

Thanks to you, our generous supporters and dedicated volunteers, we served over 300 of our participants a Traditional Turkey meal this Thanksgiving.

As you know, our priority is to eliminate poverty in our community, and we hope to one day have no hungry mouths to feed. But the reality is,  many people are struggling.

There are folks in our community that are at rock bottom. They’ve exhausted their best efforts to rise above life’s relenting hurdles. But it’s in this place where significant change can happen, where up is the only direction left to go. A meal served with care, a smile sincerely shared, a conversation grounded in trust and respect can be the stepping stones needed to regain one’s footing to find a new balance and momentum.

We recently shared with you the story of Tamara and Arliss, who were homeless and relying on on our Drop-in Centre last Thanksgiving. Today, they are in a home of their own. You, our supporters, helped make that happen.

Together, we can continue helping people step up out of poverty and homelessness, and sometimes it will all start with turkey and a slice of pie.

To those who donated turkeys, thank you. To those who donate to support our Drop-in Centre, thank you. To those who took extra time out of your busy lives to serve, thank you!

View the full photo album on Facebook here.

Last Thanksgiving, Tamara and Arliss were homeless…

A lot has changed for Arliss and me since last year.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was at an event for homeless people.  The rest of the days we were struggling to survive on the streets.

This year, we’ll cook it together in the little kitchen in our very own apartment.

My partner Arliss and I got help through one of Bissell Centre’s housing programs. Your donations make these programs possible.  Thank you!

Right now is a time when a lot of us are stopping to count our blessings and as I get closer to Thanksgiving and think about the life Arliss and I left behind, I can’t help but think about the people we love who are still stuck in our old way of life.

Arliss and I are living proof that your support of Bissell Centre is making a life-changing difference in our lives and the lives of others as well.

Please donate today to help people like Tamara and Arliss.

It wasn’t easy.  I’ll be honest with you.  We tried this before.  We got some help to find an apartment the winter before last.  It didn’t work out very well and we ended up back on the street for five months.

But we didn’t give up and neither did the people at Bissell Centre.

That whole time in between, Arliss and I just kept doing everything we could to get another shot and then make it work.  Without Bissell’s help we probably would have given up.  It was so hard and you start to believe that you don’t deserve a chance at a life off the streets.

The support Bissell offered helped a lot and the first time I went I just cried.

I was feeling overwhelmed…stressed right out.  Going in there calms you down. I was able to just get it all out.  Then we could start to talk about the brighter side of life.  After that first time, I knew I wanted to live and get off my addictions and because I could talk to staff, I was able to calm down my addiction and get the support I needed.  I even started going to Sunday services at Bissell Centre and got back in touch with my spiritual side.  That helped me keep going, too.

Then it happened!  This past spring we moved into our new apartment.  

Our new apartment might not seem like much to a lot of people but it’s in a good building with good neighbours.  The landlord is good.  The walls are thick enough you can’t hear people talking next door.

It’s been really good so far and I know we can make it this time.  We’ve got a stable income.  We’ve got a dedicated person that helps us if we run into any problems and otherwise always checks in with us every week or two.  That’s all part of Bissell Centre’s housing programs.

My favourite thing is the neighbourhood pool that’s a short walk down the street.  I took my two-year-old granddaughter there one really hot August day.  It was probably one of the best days of my life.

These past months with her have been awesome. Every chance I get, I spend it with her.  We can do all sorts of things together now.  Things I couldn’t have dreamed of before.

This is a huge change from living on the street.

I will never forget how far we’ve come and I will never forget that it’s people like you who helped make it happen.  It’s kind of amazing that someone I don’t even know would be so kind to me and my family.

“That’s why I knew I had to tell you our story and being able to say “Thank You!” just before Thanksgiving.”

– Tamara

For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually going to celebrate!  Before, I was trapped in my addictions.  Like Arliss said the other day, “our day started off drinking…we were always picking cans out there or doing something just to make enough for beer.”

Now, my biggest worry is how I can fit everyone at my little table for Thanksgiving dinner.  That’s because my kids are coming!  Arliss has reconnected with some of his family, too.

And of course, the special seat at the table, the one right next to me, is reserved for my granddaughter!

It’s hard to think about it sometimes, but I can’t forget that there are a lot more homeless people out there that need a chance like the one we got.


Tamara  –  former housing participant at Bissell Centre

Please donate this Thanksgiving and help more people like Tamara and Arliss.

Donate a Turkey to Provide a Thanksgiving Meal for People in our Community!

ShineFM’s 7th Annual “Turkey Raiser” Totes for Turkeys Event is back!  105.9 ShineFM and AM930 The Light partners with various Save-on-Foods  locations throughout the city and surrounding areas to help Bissell Centre and The Mustard Seed raise turkeys and funds to help with their community Thanksgiving dinner.

Bissell Centre will be hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner on October 8th and will also be giving the turkeys to low-income families so they can have a joyous thanksgiving at home. You can donate a turkey or gift card at select Save-on-Foods stores on Saturday, Oct. 3rd and in return you receive a tote bag!

In past years, the stations have raised upwards of 900 turkeys on this one-day event! This year Bissell Centre, along with The Mustard Seed, will join in this important fundraising endeavour so that hundreds of mouths can be fed this Thanksgiving.

Come visit us at select Save-on-Foods locations and spread the word on Twitter with hashtag #TotesforTurkeys!

Totes for Turkeys Event Details:

Date: Saturday, Oct. 3rd

Time: 12:00pm – 6:00pm

Save on Foods Locations:
Hampton (6260 199th St. NW)
Calgary Trail (3361 Calgary Trail South)
Baseline (60 Broadway Boulevard, Sherwood Park)
Oxford (12903 153 Ave NW)
Stadium (8124 112 Avenue)

For more information, please contact:
Darren Brennan
780.423.2285,  ext. 129

Michelle Reid
780.423.2285, ext. 161


Bissell Centre Hosts Inner City Aboriginal Celebration!

Bissell Centre will be celebrating the wealth of talent and creativity that exists within our community by hosting an Inner City Aboriginal Celebration on Friday, September 25th from 12:00pm – 2:00pm at Giovanni Caboto Park located at 95 street & 109 avenue.

As part of Alberta Culture Days 2015, the event will be honouring the heritage of the Aboriginal culture and will include a free, traditional stew and bannock meal, Aboriginal performances, and a Tipi Raising with traditional teachings.

The Inner City Aboriginal Celebration is a free, family event and one of many celebrations occurring throughout the province during Alberta Culture Days 2015 from September 25th – 27th. Alberta Culture Days is spearheaded by the Government of Alberta and is about discovering, experiencing and celebrating our unique blend of peoples and passions, and the importance of culture for a healthy and vibrant province.

Bissell Centre’s Inner City Aboriginal Celebration:
Date: Friday, September 25th
Location:  Giovanni Caboto Park (95 st.  & 109 ave.)
Time: 12:00-2:00pm
Details:  free meal –  traditional stew & bannock, Aboriginal performances,  Tipi Raising, and traditional teachings.

For more information about the event, please contact Amanda Almeida at

For more information about Alberta Culture Days 2015, please click here.

Bissell Centre Launches Outreach Team to House More People

In early September, we launched an Outreach Housing Team whose sole purpose is to locate, engage, and house people who are homeless. The team will work in under-serviced and unreached areas of the city where homeless people congregate and provide follow-up support, resources, and services as required for those who are housed.

We have formed valuable partnerships with the Neighbour Centre, Edmonton Public Library, Homeward Trust’s Coordinated Intake Workers, All Saints Cathedral, and other organizations to ensure we are reaching out to as many homeless people as we can.

“The Outreach Housing Team should help us double the number of homeless people we house and support to 500 per year.”

– Bissell Centre’s CEO, Mark Holmgren

The new Outreach Housing Team is an important addition to our Housing Services  Programs, which includes Homeless to Homes (H2H) and Community Bridge. H2H asserts that housing should be addressed prior to any other barrier in an individual’s life by providing stable housing, while our Community Bridge aims to prevent homelessness by stopping imminent evictions by providing financial support and intervention services for people at risk of becoming homeless.

Funding for the Outreach Housing Team was initiated by the Strathcona High School Leadership Program through their Treehouse Project fundraiser in early 2015. They raised $190,000, which shattered their fundraising goal and gave us the opportunity to expand the size and reach of our team!

Please visit the Outreach Housing Team  webpage for more information and how to access the team.


In November 2011 I received a call from a colleague about a woman with a disabled son who was facing imminent eviction. A single mother, she had built a small cleaning business so she could work her own hours and be home for her son when he came home from school. A number of circumstances impacted her income: the loss of one client, another who did not pay her, and unexpected repairs to her van. She had to get her van fixed but this put her behind in her rent. She was recovering financially but too far behind to address her arrears.

“The Community Bridge is one example of how Bissell Centre is trying to end homelessness. In this case, we strive to prevent it. The human benefits are obvious but it also benefits the rest of us to have fewer people living on the street and in shelters.”

My colleague told me that this single working mothershe was denied assistance from the government. He tried to appeal to officials high up in the Alberta Government at the time, but the government refused to help. This incensed me. The woman had no other supports and if she lost her home, she would be on the street and at risk of losing her son.

The next day I happened to be speaking alongside a board member to the Edmonton Presbytery of the United Church. At that meeting I shared the woman’s story and announced I was creating a small fund (called the Bridge Fund) to help this woman and others who had nowhere else to turn for assistance.

I explained I was launching the fund with $500 of my own money. My board member committed $2,500. I informed our United Church friends that from November until the end of January, 25% of any funds coming to us from the church, its many congregations and groups, would be directed to this fund. By the end of January we had $10,000.

We assisted the woman. She had saved enough for rent, but had no damage deposit. She knew she needed to move; her place was too expensive. We provided a damage deposit and sent a staff person alongside two of our casual workers to move her into a better, more affordable home. It cost approximately $1,200 to help her and it saved her and her son from being homeless. This initial expense also saved our safety net systems significantly more money than  it would have cost to support a newly homeless family.

We continued to provide what assistance we could to those who needed our help as a last resort and over the course of a year were able to stop the evictions of a couple of dozen people. I had to add some more money over the course of the year. We provided this help without any dedicated staffing in addition to current activities. No one funded it other than our donors.

During the course of providing this help, I began talking with others about needing a more structured service like this. Over the course of eight months or so, the conversations I was having with individuals grew to a group conversation that included representatives from EPCOR, the Homeless Commission, the Edmonton Social Planning Council, Canadian Red Cross, Alberta/NWT Region, Edmonton Apartment Association, Stollery Charitable Foundation, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, and the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Thanks to a small grant from the Homeless Commission, we contracted a consultant to assist us in the development of a design brief for what is currently known as the Community Bridge. We outlined the project design, detailed purpose, objectives, and services to be provided by the program, which I am pleased to share with you:

“The Community Bridge is a rapid response intervention that stops an imminent eviction and provides interventions/services purposed to ensure that causes of the eviction are effectively addressed in order to ward off reoccurrence.

 “The interventions are multi-faceted but include funds that can be accessed, when required, to pay delinquent rent, utilities, or other costs that, if not addressed, will cause eviction to take place. The use of such funds is not, however, the answer by itself.”

 “Along with the funds, rapid interventions that address ongoing housing, income or employment and other contributing factors are required more often than not in order to sustain housing after the eviction has been stopped.”

 “In effect, when dollars are provided they serve as the foundation of a bridge through an immediate cash crisis. The money provides time for further interventions and assistance to help the individual/family make the necessary adjustments or changes required to increase financial stability and maintain their accommodation permanently.”

Our design of this prototype purposefully did not call for a predetermined set of limits regarding how we might support a client, how often, and so forth. We simply started with the goal of preventing evictions. We did not, and still do not, have a set ceiling on how much money we will provide to an individual or family. We do not limit our help to just one time. We want low barriers to the service in order to understand the range and complexity of issues people experience and then be free to respond in whatever way is necessary.

The design brief and further discussions resulted in the Community Bridge prototype receiving strong funding commitments from Stollery Charitable Foundation, Edmonton Community Foundation, the Homeless Commission, and the United Way. On April 1, 2014 we began to design the implementation of the prototype, and then began helping clients in July, 2014.  The program relied on the funding of one staff person and a “loan fund” to draw on. To further our impact, we formed partnerships with groups like the Edmonton Mennonite Centre and Bent Arrow Healing Society so that we could help clients of theirs.

We have just completed one year of the prototype and we provided services to 110 cases consisting of 266 individuals, half of whom were children. To be clear, this means that 266 individuals were not evicted and forced to go to shelters or live on the street.

Not everyone who requested support from the Community Bridge needed emergency funds. In fact, for every ten cases that required financial assistance, another seven helped to avoid eviction through our knowledge of systems and ability to help clients access existing emergency supports.

Our evaluation of the Community Bridge includes one month and three month follow up visits with individuals to assess their well-being and the longevity of the program. Sometimes, we have challenges connecting with clients. Many lack phones or have pay as you go phones, which they do not always have the funds required to operate. Many are working or active away from the home. Currently approximately one-third of clients fall into this category. However, of the remaining 70 cases where follow up protocols took place, 14 clients had been evicted (20%). Conversely, this means 80% had retained their housing. We hope to track these cases over a long period of time as the program goes forward, funding allowing.

We are currently working with our funders to plan for the future. Currently it costs $900 per individual helped, which is far less than the costs of supporting a person who has lost their home. It is cost-effective for landlords too, given that on average it costs a landlord $2,500 to evict a family.

Beyond the evident cost savings, the Community Bridge offers individuals and their families the opportunity to avoid the physical and emotional toll of eviction. When evicted, a family loses everything: furniture, clothing, valued possessions, security… everything. Preventing another child from living through this traumatic experience is invaluable.

One man we helped avoid eviction would have been sent back to prison; having accommodation was a condition of his parole. Had he become homeless he would have been returned to jail for one year – the cost: $110,000.

More people can benefit from this kind of help. Our plan to grow this service will also see the per case costs go from $900 per case to approximately $650 per case while the cost savings to society go up.

This is one example of how Bissell Centre is trying to end homelessness. In the case of the Community Bridge, we strive to prevent it. The human benefits are obvious but it also benefits the rest of us to have fewer people living on the street and in shelters.

If this work speaks to you and you want to support our efforts, please consider donating to Bissell Centre.  Each year we generate one third of our income through philanthropic donations. Without the support of our generous and committed donors, we could not do all that we do.

Thank you.

Mark Holmgren, CEO

Muslims for Peace Provide Care for People in our Community

Thanks  to the members of Muslims for Peace who visited us on Wednesday, July 8th, and served  food and handed  out free backpacks, socks, t-shirts, hoodies, granola bars, and toiletries to hundreds of our participants.

They  purchased all of the food and items themselves, in the wake of their successful  crowdfunding campaign where they encouraged the public to give up their lunch and donate $10 to  help  people in need.

Through their efforts, they raised over  $10,000 in just two months!

Muslims for Peace  are a local, grassroots group who come together to help people who are less fortunate. They were inspired to give when they were downtown earlier in the year and came across a few people who were living on the streets.

“We met a few people who were homeless and we were inspired by their stories. We knew at that point we wanted to help. “

– Sally, a member of Muslims for Peace

Their involvement at Bissell Centre coincides with Ramadan where Muslims around the world take the  time to reflect on people less fortunate and act upon the  importance  to give and help others in need.

We are so grateful they chose to give to people in the inner-city of Edmonton to  ensure they are well fed and have what they need to survive on the streets.

Thank you!

“I used to wish I was never born” – Rocky shares his story

I used to wish I was never born.

My mom was out digging clams when she gave birth to me on a rock in the ocean.  That’s how I got my name.  And that’s where I got my lot in life.  Things were always rocky.

I never got to go to school.  I grew up on the West Coast, and from the time I was just a kid, I was dragged out on the fishing boat with my mom and dad.  They made okay money, but they were both alcoholics and they’d just throw it all away.

My dad was always so angry.  He’d try to drink away his problems but that just made him angrier.  He’d take out his anger on my mom, on my siblings, and on me.  I would try to protect my mom, but that just meant that I’d get hit harder.

Please donate  to help people like Rocky.

Mom tried so hard to do good things for her kids.  She was the light in my life.  She told me to never hurt the people in your life and always try to be a good person.

When she died, I felt like I lost my whole world.  It was like the only light I ever knew went out forever.  Before she passed away, she told me I needed to go somewhere where I didn’t know anybody and start over.  So that’s what I did.  I came to Edmonton 37 years ago.  But the hard times followed me.

“I was homeless. I had nothing. No money. No family. I was as low as you could get. “

I was on the streets for two years when I first got to Edmonton.  I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have anywhere to go.  And living on the streets is scary.  You never know if somebody is going to try to attack you or stab you.  There’s no one you can trust.

Like my mom, I tried to do the best I could.  But just like my mom, I had a hard time.  Those old ways that I learned from my parents got the best of me.  I was so angry.  I started drinking and doing drugs to try to stop the pain.  Alcohol helped me forget just how worthless everything made me feel.

But I became a devil when I drank.  It didn’t make me feel any better.  I’d get so drunk that I couldn’t care for anyone.  My family.  My partners.  My kids.  Myself.

People make you feel so useless when you have a hard time.   “You’re nothing but an addict” they say, and they put you down and don’t want to see you as a person.  But people like me with addictions aren’t bad.  We just need someone to help us believe we can be good.  That we can change.  I have changed.

I’ve been sober now for more than 20 years.  I still feel angry and hopeless sometimes, but I got help.  Bissell Centre helped me find my hope for something better.  

This is why I love Bissell Centre.  Their doors are always open.  Instead of telling me I was nothing, they listened to me.  They helped me break the cycle of violence and abuse I was born into.  They took my hand and held it and never let it go.

I’m talking now and because of help I received at Bissell Centre, I am beginning to understand.  I had to talk about all the abuse I suffered and all the rage I felt.  I had to come to terms with my past before I could do anything to make something better happen.

I cry when I think of what my dad went through in residential school.  It is sad that he never got help and he took all of this to his grave.  I pray for him, and I am grateful that I found the help I needed to try to turn things around.

I’ve met people who are just as angry and hopeless as I was.  People who are hungry every day.  People who turn to drugs and alcohol to try to cope.  People who turn to crime and violence to keep supporting their habits.  People like my mom and dad who just can’t seem to escape the cycle.

I’ve made it through this life and I survived.  I’m grateful for the second chance Bissell Centre gave me. My life can be something different now.  

I want to make a difference.  I’d like to help others just like me, who didn’t get a childhood and who can’t get out of the dark. I want to go to school and become a councilor.  I want to help others just like Bissell Centre helped me.

Thank you for helping me feel at peace for the first time in my life.

– Rocky

Will you please take a moment right now to make a convenient and secure gift on the Bissell Centre’s online donation page?

Your gift will mean Bissell Centre can be there again for someone like Rocky, when they need a caring person to listen and offer them a second (or third) chance.

Your gift can save lives.

National Aboriginal Day – Sunday, June 21st

National Aboriginal Day is a day for everyone to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage  and outstanding cultures of  First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples through  their own distinct language, culture, and spirituality.

In cooperation with Aboriginal organizations, the Government of Canada chose National Aboriginal Day to be celebrated every year on  June 21st, the summer solstice.  For generations, Aboriginal peoples have celebrated their culture in conjunction with the summer solstice due to its significance as the longest day of the year.

Below is list of events in Edmonton and links for more information on how to celebrate this year’s National Aboriginal Day:

National Aboriginal Day Official Commemoration:
Location: Canada Place (9700 Jasper Avenue)
Date: Friday, June 19th
Time: 9:00am – 4:00pm

Elizabeth Fry Association:
(serving cultural food)
Location: 10523 – 100 Avenue
Date: Friday, June 19th
Time: 12:00pm

Aboriginal Day Live & Celebration:
Location: Louise McKinney Riverfront Park
(9999 Grierson Hill Rd)
Date: Saturday, June 20th
Time: 12:00pm (concert at 6:30pm)

National Aboriginal Day Summer Solstice Celebration:
Location: Churchill Square
Date: Sunday, June 21st
Time: 11:00am – 6:00pm

City of Edmonton:  
Events Listings Here

Government of Canada:  
Events Listings Here

Fill the Crib fundraiser donates 9,000 diapers for families in need

A special thanks to Eliasz and Ella Jewelry & Accessories and 3Leaf Wellness Centre for collecting close to 9,000  diapers and 60 cans of baby formula to BIssell Centre for families in poverty through their Fill the Crib fundraiser.

For three weeks, they promoted the fundraiser by asking the public to donate diapers or formula with the opportunity to receive jewellery for every box that contained 100+ diapers or a sauna card for every can of formula that was 600g or  more. People were also entered into a final draw with giveaways from local businesses.

The response was overwhelming and the generous support from the fundraiser will immediately  help families living in poverty who struggle to afford diapers and formula for their children and who rely on our Child & Family Services Program for help.

We are grateful for their efforts and very thankful for our partnership!

Do you want to get involved in fundraiser to help individuals and families in poverty? Visit our Community Giving page to get started now!