Plagued by health problems that prevented her from working, Raelene endured homelessness for six years. While dealing with a plethora of health issues that included hospitalizations, two surgeries and a severe anxiety disorder, Raelene also had to cope with homelessness as she frequently moved from one friend’s house to another. She moved into The Lamoreaux in September 2011.
“I was 50-plus years old and I didn’t have anything,” Raelene said. “I knew part of my healing was going to be having my own place. When I’m here, I have the support that I need.”
Raelene shares her personal experience with homelessness and poverty through her artwork — colorful drawings and paintings of women, children and men on paper and canvas bags. Becoming known for her work on bags, she is often called “the bag lady.” E. Raelene Ash is a working artist who lives at the Lamoreaux, Aeon’s affordable apartments that provide homes and supportive services for formerly homeless individuals.
Raelene was born and raised in Colorado; she graduated from high school and attended one year in college. Becoming a young single mother, she came to Minneapolis to make a change in her life. As a mother of two, she tried different jobs but it was hard with the little ones. She worked for Head Start for a few years as an assistant cook and five years as a program advocate. She conducted various parent programs and used her creative skills to provide craft programs for kids.
In the years that followed, she found herself in and out of a bad marriage and plagued with health problems that prevented her from working. The downward spiral of life’s circumstances sparked a severe anxiety disorder. Her physical health also began to deteriorate and she became extremely ill. She was hospitalized which resulted in two major surgeries over the course of three years. The last surgery caused permanent complications with her digestive system that she manages to this day with medication. All this time, she did not have a home and stayed sometimes with family; sometimes, with friends.
“I was 50-plus years old and I didn’t have anything,” says Raelene. “I was homeless for six years. Anxiety comes when you don’t have a place to belong. Homelessness, and having nothing, made my depression get worse.”
One snowy day, sick and moving again from one friend’s house to another, Raelene recalls walking in to the Lamoreaux to apply for an apartment. “I kept checking back hoping for an opening,” she says. “I knew part of my healing was going to be having my own place. I needed to rest.” Raelene moved in to the Lamoreaux in September of 2011.
“It’s so cute! And it’s mine,” Raelene says as she describes her apartment. “When I’m here, I have the support that I need.”
Aeon’s resident connections staff helps her find supportive services, including mental health services, to help her stay in her home. While she admits that it’s still a struggle, Raelene’s healing is evident. It is seen in her art. As “the bag lady” she draws and paints her stories about poverty on a variety of mediums, but most famously on paper bags. Her most recent series is titled “Classic Bagg Lady” – a series of women depicted in fancy clothes and handbags of all sorts. A local organization will be producing these colorful stories on canvas bags.
Raelene shows her work and periodically holds demonstrations at The Art Shoppe at Midtown Global Market, part of A Minnesota Without Poverty campaign “In Search of Enough.”