Putting a face on affordable housing

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Advocates tackle stereotypes, stigma at breakfast fundraiser

For the past six months, Alyssa Thiessen has raised her daughter Adalyn in safety and stability thanks to the help of the St. Albert Housing Society.

Thiessen and her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter live in one of St. Albert’s 500 crime-free multi-housing units. On Tuesday, Thiessen shared her story with a group of 250 business people and housing advocates at the housing society’s eighth annual Homestyle Breakfast fundraiser.

Thiessen was born and raised in St. Albert. As a young adult, she set out on a year-long journey that took her overseas, to discover what she wanted from life and who she wanted to be.

But her journey of self-discovery was cut short in 2015 when she discovered she was pregnant. That, coupled with a close encounter – she was supposed to be at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, France, when a terror attack killed 89 people – forced her to grow up faster.

“Getting back home after spending time there, there was nothing. It was a really hard start,” Thiessen said.

At first, Thiessen says she was embarrassed to ask for help from the St. Albert Housing Society. She tried to work but stopped when her young daughter ended up in the hospital.

“It was at that point where there was no hope any more and that’s when I kind of started to search and see what programs were out there,” she said.

Thiessen has another six months left in the housing society’s program. Looking back, she’s amazed at how much her life has changed for the better.

“The mental wellbeing is the biggest part. People can turn in desperation to things that might not be the best, and to have the peace of mind of (living) in a beautiful little place, and I can raise (Adalyn) in a routine where she’s not being affected by moving place to place, I’m so happy,” she said.

Cheryl Dumont, a director of the housing society, says many of the people the society helps have jobs, are students or receive income support. Some are on AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) and most are single-parent families or families with children under school age.

“One hundred per cent of our participants are experiencing a housing crisis,” she said.

The breakfast included a tough message from CFL hall-of-famer Henry “Gizmo” Williams, who gave the keynote speech. Williams, who grew up in poverty, described the negative reaction his friends had when he told them he was going to give a speech in St. Albert and said there’s a perception of St. Albert being a community of elites.

He encouraged people to be generous instead of judging people who struggle to make ends meet.

“If everybody said, ‘Oh, I had a hard time in life but I overcame a lot of things’ – everybody’s not the same,” he said.

“Some people need that extra help. Open up your mind, open up your heart.”

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