ST. PAUL (AP) -- Where laws and policies are made in the Twin Cities, Karla Weigold walks the walk for the homeless.
Most days, she's a patrol of one in front of the state Capitol, walking back and forth in a box that reads, "Residents for Affordable Housing" and "Where Has All the Affordable Housing Gone?"
Although it's unlikely legislators will satisfy housing advocates during this budget-slashing session, Weigold keeps showing up at the Capitol. And at Minneapolis City Council meetings. And churches. Anywhere she figures there's an arm to twist.
"I have to start my days looking at politicians, but it bugs some of them, seeing someone in a box," she said. "They're coming from their nice warm homes, and they see me. I can almost see some of 'em twitch."
Once homeless herself, Weigold, 36, puts homelessness at the root of many problems.
"People talk about education, but dear God, you can't educate kids who don't have any place to live," Weigold said. "Forty-three percent of people in shelters here are children. That's horrible!"
Weigold may even be understating the case. There's been a five-fold increase in the numbers of children age 17 or younger who live in shelters, said Greg Owen, the project director for the Wilder Foundation's homeless surveys in the state.
Weigold, who is single, has no children. Her agenda encompasses the homeless of any age. She lives on $800-a-month disability payments, in a public-housing high-rise in northeast Minneapolis. She survived leukemia in her late teens, and later a nonmalignant brain tumor that required two surgeries.
"She fills the need for the strong voice of a person who's lived through the trauma of homelessness," said Joy Sorensen Navarre, executive director of the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing.
Weigold said she discovered homelessness and God on a night in January 1991. She had finished a late shift working with the developmentally disabled and had taken a cab to her Minneapolis apartment. She found her landlord had changed the locks and posted an eviction notice, even though Weigold said she had paid the rent.
There were lines and no vacancies at two shelters on that winter's night. "In the back of the cab, I said, 'Jesus, I don't know what you're doing, but my life is in your hands,"' Weigold said.
At 1 a.m., Weigold landed on a mat in a crowded shelter. "I shouldn't have gotten in," she said. "To make it over the threshold was a gift from God."
An elderly woman lying on a nearby mat befriended Weigold and showed her around the next morning. Weigold, working in the kitchen and cleaning floors, stayed for three months before she found her own apartment. By then, she was experiencing seizures from a brain tumor.
Four years ago, she led a successful fight to save from demolition an apartment complex in Brooklyn Park that housed poor people, herself included. A year later she began her regular Capitol appearances.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.