In the evening, hoards of University of Minnesota students can be seen trekking down Washington Avenue for a quick bite to eat before heading back to their apartments for the night.
But among this group is Deb Johnson, who often spends her nights on campus holding a sign, asking people for donations.
Since July 2015, she has spent time in shelters or briefly living with friends.
“I was staying in a shelter until February, but people started stealing from me or messing with my mind, so lately I either ride the train or couch [surf] at friends’ houses,” Johnson said.
Recently, the Maple Grove Police Department reported an increase of panhandling in suburban cities because many are moving from densely populated urban areas to the outer parts of the city.
“It pretty much started around June,” said MGPD Police Captain Dan Wills, though the increase began stagnating in September.
Wills said the MGPD has received complaints from some city residents who’ve seen people asking for money by major intersections.
Panhandling is only illegal if the person is being aggressive, he said.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s going away,” he said, “but we don’t want people out in the cold.”
Wills said the MGPD gives cards with resource information to homeless people they encounter. He said it is best for residents to do the same.
Mike Huffman, shelter program manager at St Stephens’ Human Services — a nonprofit working to combat homelessness — said the way to end homelessness is through emergency services and affordable housing.
“There is a vacancy rate of 2 percent in Minneapolis,” he said. “Affordable housing is even less at 1.8 to 1.6 percent.”
According to Wilder Research, an organization that offers research to nonprofits, 36 percent of homeless adults could not afford to pay their rent or mortgage, and 22 percent cannot find affordable housing.
Dan said that housing is an important part of helping people overcome homelessness because it allows them time to figure out their next step.
And 39 percent of homeless adults are African American, though they make up 5 percent of Minnesota’s population. Similarly, eight percent of homeless adults are American Indians, though they comprise 1 percent of the state’s population.
But according to Wilder Research, homelessness is down nine percent compared to 2012. This is compared to the 32 percent increase between 2006 and 2012.
And Minneapolis Police Department Officer Corey Schmidt said in an emailed statement that the department has not seen an increase of panhandling in Minneapolis.
Nevertheless, according to Wilder Research, of all groups, people under 24 are the most likely to be homeless in Minnesota. This includes children living with homeless parents, of which about 50 percent are age 5 or younger.
Ultimately, though, Wills said it is best for students to redirect homeless people to services.
“It tugs at your heartstrings to see these people, but we’re asking citizens to donate to charities,” he said. “These services are going to help more than spare cash.”
Johnson said she lost her parents’ house a year ago after not being able to pay the reverse mortgage.
She said she feels thankful on because East Bank students often offer donations or their respect.
Johnson said she plans to find a social worker to get her back on track while looking for affordable housing.
“Hopping around like this is crazy and stressful,” Johnson said.