David and Leslie Bissett give $8.9 million to RESOLVE to provide housing and hope for vulnerable Calgarians
From our 2016-2017 Report to Community.
Three years ago local businessman and philanthropist David Bissett and his wife Leslie, gifted RESOLVE $5.1 million towards new housing for homeless and vulnerable Calgarians. The gift was inspired by “Million Dollar Murray”, the subject of a 2006 Malcolm Gladwell essay about a homeless man named Murray Barr that underscores the social and financial costs of managing homelessness versus ending it.
This past year, David and Leslie donated a further $3.8 million to bring their total contribution to $8.9 million, making them RESOLVE’s largest donor to date. This transformational gift is being used to construct two new properties for the Calgary Homeless Foundation, including a 23-unit apartment building with wrap-around support services — which the Bissetts named Murray’s House, after Murray Barr.
The grand opening for Murray’s House will be held on Dec. 12 with move-ins scheduled for January. Support services will be provided by The SHARP Foundation.
“I’m hopeful that those who move into Murray’s House will have a better life,” says David. “I think it will demonstrate that this type of facility is an economically sound thing to do and hopefully it will encourage the city to look at more buildings like this for chronically homeless people.”
David is empathetic towards people with mental health challenges and views addiction as a disease. “I think we tend to blame people for mental illness and addiction,” David says. “I don’t agree with that at all. In many cases, it’s a matter of background, experience and fate.”
The Bissetts are well-known for their leadership and philanthropy in the city, including funding Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business; gifting SAIT Polytechnic the largest scholarship endowment from an individual ever given to a college in Canada; and contributing $2 million to Horizon Housing Society’s Alice Bissett Place, named in honour of David’s mother.
“My dad died when I was 12 and my mother didn’t have much money. Yet she sat on the board of an orphanage in Calgary and hosted and worked with Lotta Hitschmanova of the Unitarian Service Committee,” David says, recalling his mother’s influence on his dedication to philanthropy.
Alice Bissett Place was the beginning of David’s involvement with RESOLVE as Horizon Housing was one of the first Partners to join the Campaign. “I got to know some of the individuals who were coming out of addictions treatment,” he says. “And I thought affordable and supported housing would be an appropriate new beginning for them.”
David continues to be an agent of change and gives back in ways that leave a lasting legacy in our great city and country.
“In Canada, I think we are more empathetic and have a more socially conscious perspective, as opposed to believing that everybody is capable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps,” he says. “It’s sort of a ‘Canadian-ness’, if you will.”