Each morning, Neal wakes up from his bunk at Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground Saint Paul and begins his day. He doesn’t have any place he needs to be, but he wants to be prepared for when he goes back to work.
“I do intend to go back to work, and that’s one of the things that helps me,” he said while sitting in an employment office at Catholic Charities’ Mary Hall.
There, the 61-year-old works with employment specialist Katy Brandt. They have completed his resume and now Neal is often found in the Mary Hall computer lab searching for jobs or completing assessments to narrow down the best opportunities for his interests and abilities.
Finding a job at any age can be challenging, but often more so for seniors. Seniors are the fastest growing age group of Minnesotans experiencing homelessness—increasing 59 percent between 2009 and 2015 at Catholic Charities. One in every five shelter guests is 55-years-old and older.
Still, Neal has years of experience and good qualifications, including a Minnesota Commercial Drivers License. Over the years he has driven hotel shuttles, been a driver for Metro Mobility and spent more than 20 years working in hospitals pushing stretchers and the like. He’s also got talent as a former drummer and theater actor. He strives to accentuate the positive.
Neal has been homeless for about a decade. His path to homelessness is a complicated one, coming from broken relationships, job losses and other factors.
“A lot of things went wrong in my life,” he said. “Dealing with my situation, dealing with where I am, is a mental thing.”
To remain positive, he works to stay busy, and to keep culture in his life. He often walks over to the Minnesota History Center to look at exhibits during their free hours each Tuesday. While he remains unemployed, working with his employment counselor has made a profound, positive difference.
“My life is in a positive trajectory because of my association with this lady and that’s the way it is,” he said. “Everybody wants to do better, especially when you’re in a situation like this. That’s Katy, she’s a kick in the pants and she empowers me.”
When asked what he’s most proud of, Neal is quick to mention his son. “That’s my heart and soul,” he said of the recent graduate of Southwest State University in Marshall.
Neal said he’s also proud of himself, and how far he has come thanks to the opportunities provided to him.
“I had dreams and goals like everyone else. The route I look, those steps I took brought me here. I’m the cause of me being here. I do realize that. Anybody could end up being homeless,” he said.