“It’s so warm. It’s so nice,” he said. “It’s pretty emotional; I actually cried.”
He was homeless for 10 years. He slept on the floor the first night in his new apartment that overlooks downtown Grand Forks.
“The bed is too soft. I’m used to the hard ground — sleeping on concrete, pavement,” Conaway said.
Shane moved into his new apartment this week after living in a dumpster behind a Grand Forks shopping center for the past few weeks.
“That was a godsend,” he said of the dumpster. “It kept me out of the rain, the snow, the wind.”
A homeless advocate in the region posted a picture of Conaway living in the dumpster on social media to send a message to the community about helping the homeless as the temperatures begin to drop. That’s how Shane ended up at LaGrave on First, a place to help those experiencing chronic homelessness.
“It’s one of the most vicious cycles,” said Corporal Justin O’Neill with the Grand Forks Police Department.
He works with the homeless as part of his duties. He’s talked with Conaway numerous times over the years. He said the issue of homelessness is far from an overnight fix for two reasons, one being addiction.
“(Imagine) trying to struggle with addiction without a roof over your head, no water, no food,” O’Neill said.
The other major factor in homelessness he sees is that, for many, this has been the way of life for years, even decades. O’Neill said it’s often hard at first to get homeless people to want to sleep inside.
“A lot of times it is not the first time, not the tenth time, it’s the 80th time to finally convince them,” he said.
Conaway admits he struggles with alcohol and marijuana use but plans to begin AA meetings right away.
“I pray to God I can. I think I can,” he said when asked about breaking the cycle.
Conaway still holds on to his homeless sign that has been his only income for years. He admits he may need it for a few more weeks so he can pay rent until he gets a job, but he is thankful to the community who has helped this 51-year-old finally get back on his feet.
“I am hoping and praying and doing my work and doing my classes. I’ll be alright,” Conaway said.
Grand Forks police checked hotspots Thursday night and found only one person sleeping outside.
They estimate about a dozen people in the city are houseless, while about 30 are staying at the city’s homeless shelter.