My Story: From Drugs to Degrees
By Jesse Thistle


Me at 8 years old.

I was born in a small Metis-Cree community, in northern Saskatchewan.

My family has a history of trauma and addiction. Growing up I struggled with understanding my identity. I turned to drinking and drugs to help escape the pain. I was twenty-one when I tried crack for the first time. For the eleven years that followed, my entire life centered around getting high. I would do anything to get my next fix.

In 2006, I was arrested for robbery.

In 2006, I was arrested for robbery. When it came time for sentencing, the judge took sympathy on me. He agreed to release me under the condition I enter rehab and kick my habit. I enrolled in a rehab center in Ottawa but soon ended up back on the streets. My addiction was too powerful.

The next two years were the hardest of my life. My drug use had completely taken over my existence. I found myself sleeping in stairwells, alleyways and outside. I had lost all hope. But that’s also when I found Shepherds of Good Hope.


Shepherds of Good Hope was there for me in my darkest hours.


The worst period of my addiction was in 2007 and 2008, when I was most active in my drug use. During that time, when no other shelter would take me, I stayed at Shepherds of Good Hope. They were there for me during this critical time in my life.


Shepherds opened their doors to me when no one else would.


I would visit the Sheps clothing program to help keep myself clean.

I had nothing; no clothes, no food, no money and nowhere to stay. It was a brutally cold Ottawa winter. I would find a warm meal to eat and bed to sleep in at Shepherds. They were my only hope.


Shepherds of Good Hope kept me alive.


I was that guy you would see begging on the corner of Murray Street and King Edward Avenue. I would wander around the Byward Market, begging for money to buy drugs. I used to visit the Shepherds of Good Hope clothing program for my monthly “shopping”. Because I was homeless, I couldn’t really wash my clothes so I would use this program to help stay clean.

In 2008, I was arrested again. The judge gave me a choice: take rehab seriously or go to prison. During my time in rehab I managed to earn a high-school diploma and entered into a bridging program at Carleton University. From there, I enrolled at York University for my undergraduate degree and studied Indigenous History. During my studies, I explored my family history.

I reconnected with my spirituality and with my Creator/God.



Me and the love of my life, Lucie.

I also learned about the intergenerational trauma faced by Indigenous people and my family. I realized I was part of that cycle of trauma. I discovered how unresolved trauma could manifest into self-destructive behaviours and that this was the root cause of my addiction issues.

So many people staying at Shepherds of Good Hope suffer from similar trauma. Over 21% of the people who stay at Shepherds identify as Indigenous. A history of trauma and abuse has led many of them to face a life of addiction and mental health challenges. And just like Shepherds was there for me when I needed help, because of your generosity Shepherds continues to be there for these individuals during their time of need.


Shepherds of Good Hope saved my life.


Today, I am a Vanier Scholar and Trudeau Scholar – the top doctoral scholarships in the country!

I continued my education as a master’s student at Waterloo University. In 2016, I was awarded the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Trudeau Foundation Scholarship—the top two doctoral scholarships in the country. I am the resident scholar of Indigenous Homelessness at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. I was also awarded the Governor General’s Academic Medal. Last September, I began working towards my PhD at York University.


I’ve never forgotten my past, and the experiences which have helped shape who I am today. I am forever thankful you were there for me in my time of need. I am grateful you didn’t turn your back on me because of my addiction. I’m grateful you gave me a second chance.

This is me, today. Happy, healthy and living life to the fullest. All thanks to YOU!

Inside all of us is a person who can succeed, regardless of our past or present afflictions. Your donation to the Shepherds of Good Hope could be helping the next Trudeau-Vanier scholar, the next Governor General medallist.



Will you help people realize their true potential?  I’m also a monthly donor to Shepherds because I have a first-hand understanding of the impact they have on those who so desperately need their help. I hope you also choose to be a source of hope to people in need and support Shepherds of Good Hope.