Kristen, on the Corner of Lexington and Concordia, in a Stubborn Rain

Kristen has panhandled off and on at the St. Paul intersection for the better part of four years.

Kristen has panhandled off and on at the St. Paul intersection for the better part of four years.

Yellow turns red. It's a momentary delay for motorists going somewhere else.

But for Kristen, under-employed and 31, this anus of an intersection is four lanes of opportunity.

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At the corner of Lexington and Concordia in St. Paul, a stubborn afternoon rain adds insult to the injuries of the young mother's life. She takes little steps along the matted grass of the shoulder on her walk of shame. A soggy cardboard sign is affixed to her chest, pride stashed in the back pocket of her jeans.

On more pleasant days, some drivers crank up their windows upon first sight of the panhandler.

"It's as if they're afraid of me, like I'm contagious," she says. "They don't understand. I'm not out here because I want to be. I'm here because I'm trying to survive."


Flunking out of high school at age 16, few marketable skills, and a nagging social meth habit bring a person to this moment.

"Bad decisions," she says, referring to the two men who fathered her four- and six-year-old daughters, only to abscond with haste.

It's a quarter past three o'clock. Tuesday afternoon. She's worked this piece of real estate with regularity for the better part of four years. For some unexplained reason, people seem to be more charitable here than at other spots, like the one on White Bear Avenue where she received a ticket for "aggressive panhandling."

"Besides," adds Kristen, "the cops leave me alone here. I don't know why. Maybe it's because they know there's nothing they can do and I'll just come back."

She doesn't know why men are more generous than women.

Her theory plays out with immediacy. A handful of coins from a guy behind the wheel of a Geo Storm. A pair of crumpled bills extended from a dude in a Dodge 200.

Lately, she's punched the clock hard, working these crossroads four to five hours daily, five days a week. A solid day's work will fetch $60.

She's got rent due on her Oakdale apartment: $650. That's why she's out here with commitment. She collects $200 monthly in general assistance from the county. Kristen says she job hunts every day when she's not working this turf.

Her last job was at Target two years ago. She made $8 an hour and scored a six-cent raise after 90 days.

"I'm serious," she says incredulously. "It was six cents. That's one of the reasons I quit. What's the point if your raise is six cents?"

The highest hourly wage Kristen ever earned was $12. She was working the phones at a collection agency. But the company relocated and there was no bus line to commute to the suburbs.

At the corner of Lexington and Concordia, Kristen doesn't venture out onto the pavement unless she's summoned. A day doesn't go by when she's not solicited for sex. She won't soon forget the guy who handed her a five-dollar bill as he masturbated during the exchange.

"As a woman, I always feel vulnerable," she says. "And I always feel people looking at me, passing judgment. I don't enjoy doing this. It's only temporary until I find something. I'll do anything. Most of my experience has been retail."

The nicest act of charity was when a woman dropped off two grocery bags from Trader Joe's. The chocolate chip cookies were ridiculously good.

A man once handed her a 50-dollar bill.

But the vibe invariably will change without warning. An act of kindness is always succeeded by an indignant chaser.

"They shout out all the time, 'Get a job!' Man, I'm trying," Kristen says. "If you got a job, give me one!"

Her girls have been living with their grandmother for longer than she wants to recall. Kristen says she's stayed away from meth for six months. Her appearance would seem to support her case.

The red hair sticking out from beneath a black Corrosion of Conformity hat is full and vibrant. Her face is unblemished and blessed with collagen. The color of sad eyes is indistinguishable as droplets of rain coat her glasses.

"People who are well off and have money have no idea what it's like to be poor," she says. "People see me here and don't want to think about people like me. They look away, the light goes green, and it's easy to forget that everyone isn't living a great life."

Kristen ambles around the corner and parks herself on a plastic milk crate.

Beneath a light-colored purple umbrella that's working at 30 percent capacity, she lights a smoke as the rain falls harder.

Send tips to Cory Zurowski.