by Dennis Sanders, Content Specialist
It was Halloween of 2018 and Melissa thought she was going to die. “I was like a walking zombie.”
She had just moved into her apartment in St. Paul a few weeks earlier. Melissa was in the throes of grief, mourning the death of her fiancé a few weeks prior after years of abusing alcohol. Melissa reached out to alcohol to deal with the pain. “I was dealing with depression … I was just drinking and drinking.” Then, she started to feel sick.“My body was weak; I could almost feel myself passing away.” Melissa believed, this was it, this would be her last day on earth.
Melissa then saw her late fiancé. He grabbed her hand and said, “Come on, let’s go home.” Together, they start moving towards the door of her apartment. Then she woke up from her dream. “He wanted to take me to the spirit world,” Melissa shared. “ I had a spiritual awakening in this building. I woke up.” She loved her fiance but knew it was time open her eyes and live her life. “So, I woke up and sobered the hell up.”
Over the previous twelve years, Melissa experienced homelessness and alcoholism. Melissa was able to have the space to wake up and change her life because she was in a supportive housing environment at Beacon’s American House in downtown St. Paul.
Melissa found herself at the Franklin/Hiawatha Encampment, also known as the Wall of Forgotten Natives in the summer and fall of 2018. “I had a lot of friends and family members living in tents there,” she says adding that she needed to be around loved ones following the recent death of her fiancé.
It was during this time, outreach workers with the supportive service provider Avivo came by and asked her if she needed help. Through Avivo and their partnership with Beacon, she was able to get an apartment at American House in October. This was where she chose to wake up; where she chose to live.
“I just feel a lot healthier and happier since moving here.”
“I just feel a lot healthier and happier since moving here,” Melissa says describing the last few months.” I get to eat well, sleep well, spend time to myself, figure out what I want to do. There are a lot of things for me to do instead of being drunk and depressed.” Stating she now attends a sobriety program tailored for Native Americans. “It’s been over six and a half months I’ve been sober now.”
Melissa stresses there are many people, including people she knows, who are in the same situation she was in a few months ago. “They’re struggling and I know a lot of them want to get sober, but it’s hard to get sober when you have nowhere to go,” she says. “How can you represent yourself when you only got one outfit and you sleep under a bridge?”
A member of the Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe, Melissa will start attending Minneapolis Community and Technical College in late May, focusing on business management. “My goal is to finish college so I can start some businesses in the future.”
Melissa wants to stay sober and find ways to support the Native community. “I’ve been doing like a lot of beadwork and making like native regalia outfits for ceremonies and pow wows,” she explained. Melissa visits family and friends in South Minneapolis, something that keeps her grounded. “I still go back to neighborhood because there is you know, nice good cultural events and a lot of happy people. I try to stick to the positive things.” She checks in on relatives who still live on the streets to make sure they are okay. She also volunteers with Natives Against Heroin, offering help to people dealing with addiction. “Heroin is ravaging the community, taking over a lot of our young Natives in south Minneapolis,” Melissa said.
The life that Melissa lives now and the dreams she has for the future would not have happened if she didn’t have a place to call home at American House. “I’m happy that I was fortunate to get a place because I utilized it and I made good worth of it for my life goals.”
Something as simple as having a home makes all the difference in life. “Moving into this building was a big, strong, wonderful stepping stone because I’m on a very strong, good path,” Melissa said.
Having a home allowed Melissa ‘wake up’ to a new life. She no longer feels like a zombie. And she knows her late fiancé would be proud.