OUR STORIES | Behind the sign: Kim’s story, from “sheltered life” to street corner

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At 24 Kim is easily one of the most visible faces in Minneapolis.  Each day thousands of commuters see her on the corner of Lyndale Ave beneath the 94 bypass.  She has stood at that spot smiling and waving with her cardboard sign for the past two years.  Kim is homeless and spends her nights at a shelter.  Two years have been too long, and she’s desperate to find a job as a way out.

“I grew up sheltered.  I was well taken care of, well dressed.  I didn’t know anything about the streets.”  When life took a downward turn that led her and her son onto the streets, she was left to figure out the rules and means of survival on her own.  After a kind stranger saw her plight and gave her a sizable donation she got the idea of asking people to spare a dollar.  This was done with her son, which she acknowledges having been uncomfortable with, but she said she had no other choice at the time.  

After a month of doing so, someone called the police on her and she was accused of “aggressive panhandling.”  The police officer suggested that in place of asking for help, she use a sign.  Kim started signing on Nicollet Avenue but there was too much competition.  A day’s earnings there might be around five or six bucks.  Someone recommended she try the intersection of Lyndale Ave and Dunwoody Boulevard.  There her earnings increased significantly until her presence became routine and donations dropped off.

The Lyndale intersection is one of the more lucrative spots for panhandlers.  For that reason, getting a slot can be a challenge.  The current group that works around the underpass have an agreement wherein each receives 30-minute turns at the prime corners.  

Not everyone plays by the rules, however.  During my interview with Kim, her allotted time had begun but the individual at the corner refused to yield it.  Jungle laws trump civility in such situations and Kim was out muscled.  It wasn’t until the arrival of a male friend, a homeless veteran, that the corner was surrendered.  

This group, which would appear to number between 8-10 individuals, is only loosely connected.  There are some couples, small groups of friends, and then loners.  Though violence may transpire within the group they can band together against outside threats.  With the onset of warmer weather, new competitors will migrate to the location and corner access will become more limited.

When Kim looks for a job, she faces numerous disadvantages.  Prior to ending up on the streets, her work experience included only one job. She lacks ID. Furthermore, she has been charged with trespassing, which has led to arrests and consequently a criminal record.  She acknowledges these factors do not provide employers much incentive to consider her.  Nonetheless, it represents the only way out.  

“This cannot be long term at all and I wouldn’t suggest it to anybody,” Kim explains.  “A job is the best way to go but sometimes it’s not always easy to get a job.”  

When Kim finally finds employment, the commuters on Lyndale will know by her absence.  

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