Homeless near campus share their stories

Those interviewed said homeless people rely on one another to get by

Angela Gray

IEditor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series on homelessness at the University. Thursday’s story will focus on University policies and opinions regarding homelessness.

1n the nooks and crannies of the University campus, a subculture apart from the faculty, staff and students exists.

Under the bridges, in the libraries and on the campus buses lies a society of homeless people.

Congress defines a homeless person as anyone who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, has a supervised nighttime residence or has a nighttime residence in a place not meant for human habitation.

According to the Wilder Research Center’s Homeless in Minnesota 2003 survey, 5,172 people stayed in Twin Cities area homeless shelters on Oct. 23, 2003. The following are the stories of five homeless people in the University area.

Diane Thompson

Diane Thompson, 40, lived the past two years “homeless” around the University campus.

Thompson said she spent her time eating food, collecting money on the streets and sleeping under bridges.

“The best place to sleep in the winter is under the bridges,” she said.

Thompson said that one winter night she slept with 15 other homeless people near the Washington Avenue Bridge.

“We were trying to stay warm,” Thompson said. “If one person rolled over, everyone did.”

Thompson said a lot of homeless people try to work together to “get by.”

“We stick together,” she said. “It’s the best way to try and survive out here.”

Angelee Smith

A friend of Thompson’s, Angelee Smith, also 40, said she has been homeless since 1978.

Smith said being a woman has its advantages when it comes to earning money on the streets.

“Women definitely get more money than men on the corners,” she said. “One time I made $180 in 25 minutes.”

Thompson said there are few shelters that have the capacity to house everyone without homes.

Smith also said she has “five kids scattered around the University campus.”

Edgar

Andrew Noyes, a cultural studies and comparative literature senior and student library assistant at Walter Library, said a man named Edgar has been coming into the library every day for 10 years. Noyes spoke casually and knowingly about Edgar, as he might of any member of the library faculty.

A couple of years ago, Edgar was forced to stay away from University buildings for a while because he had violated University policy, Noyes said. Officials sent out alerts telling students to notify them if they spotted Edgar.

But, Noyes said, “He’s a pretty peaceful guy; he doesn’t bother students or library workers.”

Edgar is mute, Noyes said, and writes on pieces of scrap paper with golf pencils to communicate.

Noyes said Edgar, who, while reading the stock market summary section of the Star Tribune, refused with a wag of his finger an interview or photograph request, has checked out every DVD in the library using an old nonstudent ID.

Herman W. Rusch

Herman W. Rusch, 43, said he has been living near campus for 10 years.

“I like it here. Dinkytown is pretty cool,” he said.

Rusch said to make money he donates plasma and picks up cans.

“After parties and big events are good opportunities to collect cans and find things,” Rusch said.

Rusch said he spent five years in the Army and then, after eight DWIs, became homeless.

He has no daily work but moves around a lot and said he makes friends along the way.

“Sometimes we’ll hang out, drink beers and just live.”

Lee Westmoreland

Lee Westmoreland, 45, said the homeless community has its own set of rules and lingo.

“Signing,” he said, is making signs asking for help while standing on street corners or populated areas.

The homeless community, Westmoreland said, has scheduled times when members can use popular “signing” areas, like those near freeways.

“We have 30-minute time slots we share because we’re all friends here,” he said.

He said areas near the freeway are the best places for business and are referred to as “traffic” areas or “business” areas.

Sometimes when people stay on corners in popular areas for a long time, they are labeled as “corner hogs,” he said.

“One time I saw a guy hogging a corner and another guy who wanted to stand there hit him over the head with a beer bottle,” he said.

Westmoreland said being homeless can be dangerous.

“Some people get kicked off corners and attacked and some get hit by traffic,” he said.

He said he usually walks around the University campus to collect money spending time in a few of the University buildings, such as Coffman Union.

“I have tickets for sleeping in the study halls, but no trespassing violations yet,” he said.

A “good day,” he said, is earning $40 to $50 to buy food.

Westmoreland said one man he believes to be a student often gives him fruit instead of money.

“He wears a straw cowboy hat and every day he’ll say hello and give me an apple or an orange,” he said.

He added that the University campus is an attractive spot for handouts.

“Students are the most generous people I come across,” he said.

While Westmoreland discussed alcoholism as the scourge of the homeless community, his friend, George Robertson, fell down drunk in the middle of the street near Interstate 35W and North University Avenue. Westmoreland ran over to his friend, woke him up and dragged him to the sidewalk.

Smith, Thompson and Westmoreland agreed that sobriety is what it would take for them to get back on their feet and get off the street.

Westmoreland, who has been on the streets since 2003, said homelessness could happen to anyone.

“It could happen to you or me or the guy in the BMW,” he said. “Some people just have some bad luck (and then) fall off completely.”