Rush-hour drivers coming off 35W via the Lake Street exit Monday evening were met by 32-year-old Joe.
He wouldn’t give his last name, but he held a sign that read “Laid Off Homeless Single Dad 4 KIDS” — a stark reminder of the uncertain job market and enduring homeless and panhandling rates (PDF) in the Twin Cities.
To draw attention to his plight, Joe waved, danced, flashed the peace sign, and said, “God bless,” to motorists who either stopped to offer a bill or two or blew by.
Joe’s cardboard sign was created by his girlfriend’s 17- and 15-year-old daughters, who are staying with their grandmother in Brooklyn Center. The black eye came courtesy of Joe’s girlfriend the night before, but that’s all he wants to say about that.
He lost his job as a carpet and tile installer two days before Christmas, and he’s been begging around Minneapolis in an effort to keep a roof over his family’s heads.
Monday night, he made 40 bucks over the course of three hours, but he’d rather be working laying carpet and tile, which he’s done since he was a kid.
How does it feel to stand on the freeway corner, in front of long lines of indifferent motorists, holding that sign?
“It’s horrible, man,” he said, with a drinker’s lisp that recalls Eric Roberts’ in “The Pope Of Greenwich Village.”
“You get people who yell at you, ‘Get a job!’ Well, give me a job. I’ll work for you. I’ve always worked. I’ve always lived a good lifestyle. I’ve always had a good car and house and everything.”
In between looking for work and taking his place in line at local temp agencies, Joe hits the exit ramp a couple of times a week to beg. On Sunday he went to jail for trespassing, but he knows his rights.
“That sign right there says ‘No Trespassing — MnDOT.’ But we’re 12 feet in front of it, and I’ve already talked to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and they said that sign has nothing to do with anybody being in front of it, it has to do with people going up on the freeway,” he said.
“The cops harass me all the time. Especially on the other side; it’s a different precinct. They don’t bother me over here. But if the police came up right now, they’d arrest us both or take both of us in for trespassing.”
Joe wants it known that he’ll work any kind of construction, renovation, painting, tiling, whatever you got. He doesn’t want his contact information made public but said potential employers can look for him on the exit ramps — unless the cops shoo him off first.