Where The Heart Is – Allison and Don’s Story

Allison and Don were chronically homeless until this past August, struggling to survive through Edmonton’s cold winters for over three years. Don was trapped in a cycle of alcoholism and homelessness. Allison’s move to Edmonton from the Northwest Territories resulted in instability, with no supports to help her transition into urban living. Together, they braved the difficulties of street life where there was limited help to manage addictions, find work, and build positive relationships with people who could steer them in a healthier direction.

Today, with the help of Bissell Centre’s Outreach Housing Team and follow-up support from their Homeless to Homes (H2H) program, Allison and Don are safely housed and on the path to healing.

The couple sought help after their third winter outside, when Allison says both she and Don started to get really sick, the frigid air making them constantly ill when they were forced to sleep outside.

“I’m overwhelmed. Sometimes I can’t believe that I have a home.”

“When you are caught up in your addictions and you’re homeless, it’s a hard trend to get out of. It’s very difficult.” Don says. “You have to look for support. You have to strive forward instead of backward. I’d been going backwards for so long that I forgot what forward was.”

At the time of our interview, the couple had been in their new home for only five days. Don admits that he’s still shocked by how quickly they got help: “I’m overwhelmed. Sometimes I can’t believe that I have a home.”

They are excited to be building a stronger, brighter future. Don is working towards coping with his addictions while Allison is preparing to go back to work. Their relationship, they say, is stronger than it’s ever been. But it’s difficult to think about their friends who are still on the street; Don notes that there are many more who are worse off than he and Allison were but that he is thankful he got a second chance.

“I’m thankful for Bissell for helping me out and people pointing us in the right direction. Here I am today, I’ve got a home and I’m thankful and grateful.”

Alison and Don’s story is from our Winter Newsletter, which is now available to download.

Also in this addition:

  • About our NEW Housing Outreach Team
  • An inspiring donor story
  • Christmas volunteer opportunities
  • Our new Holiday Giving Guide!
  • And a message from our CEO, Mark Holmgren

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.

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