By Brynn McNally
Name: Mary Alison Cantrell
Homeless since: March 2006
Background: A native of Westerly, Rhode Island, Alison is a long-time victim of abusive relationships. After a difficult breakup with her boyfriend and the death of her father in 2006, Alison was forced to turn to the streets. Alison is a former bus driver and Certified Nurse’s Aid, but she has had trouble finding work in the past few years.
Shelter History: Alison spent two months at Warm Shelter in Westerly, three months in Welcome House in Wakefield, and is currently staying in the Urban League living in transitional housing.
Fears: The Dark and the Unknown. “The unknown for me is keeping my bed”, she says.
Interests: Cooking and the elderly. Alison says, “the wisdom they [the elderly] possess gives us incredible new wisdom,” and her discussions with them provide her with great clarity in thinking about life decisions.
What she has learned: Alison has learned a great deal about the struggles of being homeless through directly experiencing it herself. “The homeless have to fight every day to be accepted by others,” she says. Her experience has sensitized her to these challenges and the relentless obstacles and prejudices faced by those on the streets.
Her Plan: Next year Alison will begin two classes, one through CVS Pharmacy Tech School through the Community Career Applicant Program (CCAP) at the Providence Skills Center, the other an adult cooking class about which she is particularly excited. She hopes to be employed full-time at least within the next year and a half.
Her Advice: “Don’t sit around and do nothing–contemplate your future every day,” she says, adding, “don’t think of the past, think of the future, what you really want to do, and how you can utilize your education for a different career.” Most importantly though, Alison believes you have to “take it day by day” in order to succeed. On a more practical note, she recommends going “to any free classes you can find” in Rhode Island, and recommends the Department of Labor and Training website as a useful resource.
Her Dreams: Though she’s somewhat secretive about the details, Alison is working on a plan for opening up her own restaurant in the future, describing it as “really something special.” The one clue she will reveal is her love for Jamaican cuisine, and her face lights up as she talks about it. The rest is safely on the pages of her planning notebook, which may contain the roots to a ground-breaking Rhode Island eatery in the future. For now, Alison is becoming a member of Street Sights and fighting hard every day to make her hopes of becoming a chef a reality.