Last winter, a homeless woman in Minneapolis grew so desperate that she lived for a couple of months in a storage unit.
Minne' Fire, 76, bought her food at a nearby convenience store. She used the bathroom in her storage building. She slept on blankets laid on a concrete floor. Among her few personal possessions were dozens of handwritten tablets that will be the basis, she hopes, for a book about her life.
The $721 a month she received as supplemental income was enough to cover her food and some other expenses. It was also enough to rent the storage unit.
Then some outreach workers from St. Stephen's Human Services helped her find housing. Now she has a safe place to live, and she couldn't be happier.
"It's home," she told a visitor to her one-bedroom apartment in the Little Earth of United Tribes housing complex in south Minneapolis. "I don't care if it's small. It's home."
Given her last place, a tour of her new home includes such highlights as a kitchen with running water and a stove. Arriving at Little Earth, she said, "was the best feeling I've ever had in a long time, of freedom...freedom from being homeless, freedom from being on the street."
Fire explained that she got fed up with a landlord she accuses of selling her possessions. She moved in with a granddaughter for a while but decided she needed a place of her own. But "rent was so unbelievably high, I just didn't have that money, so I just gave up," she said.
Living in a rental storage unit is against the law in Minnesota and many other states. Even so, Minneapolis police and a spokesman for the rental storage-unit business association say it does happen.
Fire's storage unit building had heat. A hallway light supplied some illumination. But her spirits hit rock bottom.
"It was just stay alive, survive and remember that tomorrow is going to always be there," she recalled.
St. Stephen's Human Resources outreach worker Breanna Schell heard about Fire's situation and offered assistance. She helped Fire find temporary shelter. But Schell said Fire found the apartment at Little Earth on her own.
"Thinking about the things that Minne' has had to deal with in the last couple of months," Schell said, "I don't know that I could have dealt with it with as much grace as she has."
Minne' Fire is Dakota, born and raised on South Dakota's Crow Creek Agency reservation.
Dakota was her first language. She and her sister were punished in grade school for speaking it.
Fire completed college with a degree in early childhood development, and she came to Minnesota nearly 30 years ago to teach. Since then, she has survived cancer and several failed marriages with alcoholic or physically abusive husbands. She's had five children.
In a striking contrast to the days when she was punished for speaking her native language, Fire is now a community resource. She occasionally works in language classes so students can hear her speak Dakota.
Fire's grandparents were among the Dakota who were rounded up and exiled after Minnesota's Dakota Conflict in 1862. Disease and shortages of food and water during months of imprisonment took a heavy toll.
She recalls advice from her grandfather that, she says, helped her survive homelessness:
"Be always ready for tomorrow, because there's going to always be a tomorrow; and always expect the unexpected. Otherwise, life is all right."