Bissell Centre down, but not out

As you are probably aware, last Saturday, June 21, a fire broke out in the Bissell Centre Thrift Shoppe and all contents were destroyed. For the second time in less than a year, the Thrift Shoppe will rise from the ashes to rebuild.  The thousands of clients of the Bissell Centre and employees who depend on the services of the Thrift Shoppe are also experiencing loss, but the organization is not going to let it stop them from moving forward. They will, again, set an amazing example of hard work and community support that brings prosperity from difficult situations. It has set up a temporary drop-off site and will accept clothing donation until they can move back into their original building in September. You can find more information at the Bissell Centre website.

Photo provided by EPCOR

The Bissell Centre, a funded partner of United Way, has three main focuses in the community. They provide services and resources through their social services agency, a place to meet for a sense of belonging for all people, and a voice for an inclusive community.  

**Excerpt from We Magazine article A Willing Workforce.

Bissell Centre serves people whose reasons for being unemployed range from mental illness to addiction to physical disability to life trauma to low literacy to criminal records to single parenting – and more. “Some are escaping violent situations, and some are aboriginal and endure pervasive prejudice, and some might be immigrants,” says CEO Mark Holmgren. “All those barriers bundled together make people start to feel crunched – and then a person says you’re a lazy bum.”

The lineup outside the Bissell Centre every morning testifies that dozens are anything but lazy.

They’re here even in deep-freeze temperatures, hoping for a day’s work at $11 to $15 an hour. The Bissell Centre began running its own placement service 20 years ago because of a need in the community for things a casual worker might be able to do. The program also offers other services – a loaner pair of boots, a ride to the work site, or regulation gear.

Bissell will make 13,000 casual placements in 2012, bringing close to $1 million into Edmonton’s economy. Seeking a win-win for both sides, the centre avoids employers who pay rock-bottom wages and stays in close contact with partner work sites to make sure each match works out. It also supplies free lunches, safety equipment, socks, gloves and other gear – typically donated. As Holmgren puts it, “Our model is to work with the entire community to put people to work.”

Besides its casual labour pool, the centre runs pre-employment training, an accredited daycare and a Jobs First pilot involving intensive coaching in work and life skills. With multiple entry points to employment and staff who build trusting relationships, Holmgren says, “When a window opens, someone can suggest a route in.”

An encouraging number go on to find full-time work, including some at the Bissell Centre. “Suddenly they’re on a path where they can think of a future, not just about basic survival, and they’re less likely to harm themselves and others,” Holmgren says. “Employment is not a panacea, but it’s a bigger contributor than people often think.”