“The worst is how people just look at you. Like you’re less than nothing. It’s a God-given right to have food, clothes, shelter. No one should get between that.”
Born in rural Mississippi, Eligah grew up in St. Louis, before moving to Minneapolis in 1985. At age 61, he’s amassed a surprising collection of skills – from car repairs to sewing, construction to trick roller skating. He taught himself most of these but doesn’t think much of it:
“It was just common sense. When I was growing up, we would go to the library and look at the illustrated pictures. Most folks, they was always doing stuff on their own like handymen. That’s how I learned a lot of auto-mechanics, carpentry, stuff like that.”
Eligah’s aptitude for learning on his feet earned him temp jobs throughout his adult life, especially in construction. He even worked on several development projects in the Philips neighborhood, including the Somali market just around the corner from Our Saviour’s.
Then, in 2005, he moved back to St. Louis to care for his ailing mother. By the time he returned to Minneapolis in 2014, finding a stable place to live proved impossible. Without a recent rental history, no landlord would give him a chance. He hopped from friend to friend for awhile, sometimes living in his car.
Eligah describes the difficulties during this time: “The worst is how people just look at you. Like you’re less than nothing. It’s a God-given right to have food, clothes, shelter. No one should get between that. You need a place to get the proper rest, eat right to think right so you can deal with people. I was so weak. That’s when you start going back to animalistic tendencies. It’s not a good way to live.”
Fortunately, Eligah moved into his own place through Permanent Supportive Housing last December – and his landlord loves him! He takes such good care of his apartment that it’s now used as a model unit to show to prospective renters. When his landlord noticed his handy skills, she asked if he would like to help care for the properties. Of course, he said yes.
Now that he is housed, Eligah reflects, “The best part about home is having one. Using your own key to come in and out. Fix what you want to fix. Invite someone over. Have an address and some privacy. Take a bath and not a shower. Have a decent place. Try to keep it clean. Relax. They say a person can tell what your mindset is by your home. I’ve got to make heaven out of the little place that I got.”
Moving forward, Eligah is working on new goals. He hopes to eventually complete his GED but is focusing on his health for now. Last year, he spent three days in the hospital with heart problems, which he attributes to too much fried chicken. “It was scary. I thought it was over. Most of this food, it’s not really good stuff. You eat what you can afford. I could stand to lose at least 40 pounds.” Though he says his roller skating days are behind him (he promises, he was good), he now makes regular trips to the Y and also started doing yoga at home.
As he has been all his life, Eligah is excited to continue developing new skills – this time, in the field of textiles! This year, he started attending a quilting group that is held at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. He never knew how good he was at sewing until he tried. Now Eligah wants to get a styling mannequin so he can start coming up with his own clothing designs. It might seem far-fetched, but he’s simply following the same advice he always has: “You gotta do something you enjoy.”
With stable housing, Eligah has the time and space to make his dreams a reality. Between his natural people skills and knack for learning, we know he’ll continue taking great steps forward. Who knows, sometime soon, you might even find yourself checking out Designs by Eligah!