Furnished with comfortable chairs donated by other residents, the most prominent decoration in Ray's home is an arrangement of four small Hamilton collectible houses depicting Santa's workshop. Displayed at the four corners of a small table, the village gives a sense of tranquility and gentler memories. Holding one in his hands, Ray said, "I love it here."
Ray lived in a small apartment in Northeast Minneapolis until the owners of the building didn't renew his lease. Ray found himself homeless, unable to afford another adequate place.
Caught off guard, he made the best of a bad situation. After a series of temporary living arrangements with friends, Ray purchased a used hand-painted blue 1977 Ford Econoline van. With two mattresses in the back, the van became his home for the next year. "I was lucky it wasn't real cold that first winter," he said.
To stay safe at night, he asked a White Castle restaurant manager for permission to park his van near the back of the building. "The van was okay. It was a place to sleep. It wasn't in the best condition, but it worked out alright," said Ray.
Determined to find something permanent, Ray tried to work within the system. His frustration mounted when his questions were answered with short "you don't fit our guidelines" or "we can't help you". Fortunately, a Hennepin County social worker assigned to help Ray, finally tracked him down. Cutting through the maze of eligibility requirements, financial limits and housing choices, the social worker brought Ray to South Shore Park, a CommonBond senior community in Excelsior, Minnesota. Moving into his third floor apartment, Ray was nervous.
"When I first moved in I was a little apprehensive and not sure what to expect," he said. Within a few months he was right at home. Ray added, "I've never been in a building as friendly as this one."