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Sleeping (and dying) on Minnesota streets

by Rick Moore

From M, spring 2004

A couple of weeks after John Barber and Surbhi Madia wrapped up their "Winter Warmth from U" clothing drive, a poignant ceremony honored the people who died homeless on the streets of Minnesota in 2003. There were 121 of them in 2003, and each was remembered with an individual sign carried by marchers in a procession from downtown Minneapolis to Simpson United Methodist Church, site of the 19th Annual Homeless Memorial Service. The dead included Armando "Mondo" Ochoa, 51, of Minneapolis and Linda "Bones" Halbauer (age unknown) of Duluth. And there was a 4-month-old male infant in Minneapolis. Some of those at the service, including friends of the deceased, stood at a microphone at the front of the church and shared memories and tributes. Life on the streets can mean a curious return to turn-of-the-19th-century life expectancies. According to Monica Nilsson of Simpson Housing Services, the average life span of a housed individual is 77 years, while the average lifespan of a homeless person is 47. Minnesota has more homeless than you might think--an estimated 21,000, according to Nilsson. They stand in stark defiance of stereotypes. More than half are under 18. There are slightly more homeless women than men; although, nationwide, men are seven times more likely than women to be living on the streets. Many who can't afford permanent housing and are staying in shelters hold full-time jobs nonetheless. And their jobs might surprise you, too. According to paycheck information some have provided, homeless people work at places like the U. S. Post Office, Krispy Kreme, and the University of Minnesota.