Artist finds comfort and the creativity of home

“Before I went to Higher Ground, I didn’t really know about shelters. I didn’t even think that way until I got more street smart. I never thought I would be homeless.”

Russell, 59

When someone moves off the streets and into shelter, the world gets a bit easier. Sometimes, when they are finally able to move into a home of their own again, a bit of magic happens.

Russell, 59, had been living on the streets of Minneapolis for nearly a decade when he sought shelter at Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground Minneapolis. He often slept in a library parking lot, as it was the warmest spot on cold winter nights.

“Before I went to Higher Ground, I didn’t really know about shelters. I didn’t even think that way until I got more street smart. I never thought I would be homeless.”

Russell slept in the shelter for just weeks before moving to a room on the third floor where he stayed for about a year. There he had a room, access to kitchen and lounge facilities. It’s also where he made connections with Catholic Charities’ staff who helped him learn to navigate the system and get the help he needed.

“Moving to Higher Ground, that just made my life so much better,” he said. “I could finally take a breath.”

Once he was secure at Higher Ground, he was able to get the counseling he needed and apply for benefits. Higher Ground Minneapolis was a great place for Russell to prepare and plan for the future. It was his home until earlier this spring when he finally was able to move into a Minneapolis apartment through public housing assistance.

While he’s no longer at a Catholic Charities site, he still relies on services from our Aging and Disabilities Services program. He attends a weekly life skills group with his case manager, Marilyn Cooper. There he is able to work through challenges with peers—and also socialize with others.

Now, with a small kitchen, bedroom of his own and a living room with lots of light and a view of the city, Russell has rediscovered his artistic talents. His living room walls are papered with his graphic, colorful drawings. A framed mixed media piece is hung in a place of honor, along with “Tumbleweed,” a large sculpture made with toothpicks, string and shiny objects found while he’s out and about. His budget doesn’t allow for art supplies, so he makes do with what he can find.

“The art stuff, I was never able to get on with before. It was a full-time job just trying to get by day to day,” he said.

He’s not sure where he gets his talent, but mentions doing crafts with his mother when she was a Cub Scout leader while he was growing up in Moundsview.

“Now, it’s fun for me. It’s therapy. I’ve got so many different ideas.”

His apartment is in an artistic neighborhood, he often walks by the Casket Arts Building and thinks about what creations are being made inside. He wonders if he will one day be among the artists there, but says he is trying to focus on reasonable and realistic goals.

“I’m in an art community here, I think I’m going to get way more creative,” he said.

While having a home has brought out his talent, it’s also helping alleviate his depression. He’s worked several kinds of jobs over the years, and hopes he is able to work again, if even on a temporary basis to start.

“With my depression, one day I might be fine but another day I’ll sleep and barely get up,” he said. “Before I had nothing to look forward to or know that good things that were going to happen. Now, thanks to Catholic Charities, I’m getting my life back.”

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