The night Bill Bright chose not to disappear — 

While Bill Bright was homeless, he rode the 19 bus down Olsen Memorial Highway almost every day. On this trip he would pass Summit Academy OIC and think about how he’d like to go back to school to do something different with his life.

But he told himself that he was “too old”, and that considering his situation, he should just focus on getting a job, any job. He knew keeping to a daily class schedule, not to mention paying for them, was simply too much to attempt during the day-to-day chaos that is life without a home.

After about a year of homelessness and living day-to-day with HIV, Bill reached his lowest point when after celebrating his 50th birthday with his friends, he returned to the shelter he’d checked into earlier to find that he was locked out. Bill ended up spending the night trying to sleep in a nearby parking lot.

During his darkest moment, Bill realized he had a choice to make.

During his darkest moment, Bill realized he had a choice to make.

When reflecting on his darkest moment, Bill says, “I tell others all the time that people every day across the world give up and disappear. I know what that moment feels like. You have a choice to make.”

Bill chose not to disappear, and we’re all grateful for it. A year later, Bill’s life has changed in big ways. While staying at the Harbor Lights Shelter, he first heard about Clare Housing. He got on the waiting list, knowing that a place called Clare Terrace would be opening up late 2015.

In the meantime, Bill got the chance to move into a different building. He took the opportunity, but it never felt like home. Two days before Christmas he got the call that he could move into Clare Terrace.

Moving would take a lot of his limited energy, but Bill decided to take the chance and move to Robbinsdale, a community at the time he didn’t know much about. He’s happy he did.

The first day that Bill moved in, he saw another advertisement for Summit Academy OIC on the television at Clare Terrace. Bill knew this was his time. After having a great experience at the Summit open house, he enrolled in the Community Health Worker certificate program.

Bill attended classes from 8:30 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday for several months to complete the program.

When Bill reflects on that time and Clare Housing’s role in it, he says, “I finally went back to school to pursue a dream because I finally had a calm place to come home to. If I needed to study all night, I could. And the staff – Deangela, Johnny, and Julie, have been really supportive. Overall, they’re just the best people on Earth.”

“And this building is the best place ever. Sometimes I get home and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I live here.’ Before I was homeless, it would just be another apartment. But after a year of being displaced, it really took it out of me. I thought I would have PTSD. Now I only think about it when I’m telling someone my story.”

“The neighborhood here has been great too,” Bill says. Only the week before Bill and a couple of residents from the building visited a garage sale. The woman running it welcomed them saying, ‘You’re from Clare Housing. Oh my god, I’m so glad you’re here!’ “And this was unscripted and at 9 am in the morning,” Bill laughed.

What’s next for Bill? The future looks bright. He recently celebrated his 51st birthday with friends and food in the Clare Terrace community room. As he was being interviewed, he said that he had the paperwork for his Community Health Worker certification in his lap ready to send to the State of Minnesota. In September, Bill will walk at a graduation ceremony for him and his fellow classmates.

Just over a year ago, Bill Bright found himself at a crossroads. He chose not to disappear. He chose to take a course that would let him follow his dreams. Thanks so much to all of YOU who helped pave the way with your support, so that Bill could realize those dreams at Clare Terrace.

If you’re inspired by Bill’s story, please join us for breakfast on September 20th. That morning we’ll be hosting “A Place to Call Home”, our Annual Fundraising Breakfast. We would love to see you there. Learn more and register.

Streetlamp Photo CC Jsa Jou