Today was the first of the month, a day when balances show up in public assistance accounts. The first has always been well-known as a time of, let us say, increased discretionary spending by pensioners and people on disability.
Extra money in the pocket can mean fewer folks showing up at places like the Day Center that provide support for the poor. Today's traffic seemed about average, though one friendly but quiet man talked with unusual animation; one wobbled in to do his laundry smelling strongly of drink; a regular exhibited symptoms of meth use; and another individual was suspended for smoking weed on the back patio.
So much for the stereotypes. Four other men engaged in long conversations about finding honest work.
Oliver, an African-American who's originally from Minneapolis, is an experienced breeder of exotic birds. In the past, he's made a living charging people $5 to have a photo taken with his cockatoo. He has been raising a bird that will soon be mature enough for him to go back out on the street and become self-supporting.
Nathan has also spent time in Minnesota and North Dakota. I asked if he had followed the oil boom to North Dakota.
Yes, he said, but he found he could make more money selling frozen shrimp and crab than he did working on the rigs. He and his friends would pick up a truck load in Minneapolis and drive to oil patch towns where they'd hawk the seafood from parking lots.
Ernest is in his sixties, with a cascade of nicotine blonde hair gone white and the rugged face of a drinking man. Or so it seems.
He has worked construction throughout the country, particularly as a plasterer. Now, he works irregularly after having been severely beaten in a robbery in Santa Fe. Two heroin addicts jumped him outside a grocery store, clubbing him across the face with a tree limb and leaving him for dead.
Fortunately, a bread truck driver saw Ernest behind the store and called 911.
The robbers were caught and sentenced to 15 years in prison, Ernest said, which is fine, but I had to have my face put back together and I'm in this shape forever.
Ironically, the two robbed him because they knew he was making good money on a construction project. But all they got was $7 because Ernest had his pay directly deposited to his account and made purchases with a debit card.
Now he receives $836 a month disability. He has plans to buy a used car and once the snow in the mountains melts, he'll head for Pagosa Springs where a woman has a cabin on two acres of land that's for sale for $11,000. She's offering a contract for deed that would cost him $169 a month.
The woman made sure I knew that it was remote, Ernest said, that once winter came I'd be snowed in or snowed out. But that doesn't bother me. There's no building code there. I can make improvements on the place as I go. It has solar for electricity and I can cut firewood and haul in groceries, spend time with the outdoors and the animals. More and more, I prefer solitude. And when I die, I don't have any relatives. I'll leave it to the Boys Club or something.
Not a cowboy (they deal with cows), he's a wrangler who has worked seasonally for ranches in Colorado and Wisconsin. For 11 years he installed carpets. He's been a security officer and worked outdoor labor jobs that paid $10 an hour if you had tools and a truck, $8 if not.
As a veteran, he's been through several training programs to give him the skills to obtain steady work. The first go-round, he obtained a Microsoft Office Skills Certification but discovered the temp agency customers were looking for women.
Upgrading his skills in video editing and photography, he found temporary gigs, such as producing video promotions for a western wear store that was going out of business. The local Fox affiliate called him in for an interview after seeing his reel, but they were only offering $9.25 an hour for a producer job.
His seasonal work on the ranches ranged from great to not so great. The ranches typically provide room and board and, theoretically, a pocket money salary that may be paid monthly or at the end of the contract.
At the end of each season, he's unemployed with little cash accumulated. He said he's never gotten the separation pay he expected, and in one case, when he got nothing, he was told to go ahead and sue.
This season, he's considering not going back to agriculture and instead riding with his horse and a pack animal through the major towns of Colorado. His hope it to raise awareness that there are people who want to work, yet are homeless. Currently, his winter camp is serving as a training site for his nights as he passes through the mountains.
A living wage plus affordable housing equals no homelessness, Maverick says. Despite his skills and work ethic, though, that's not how it's worked out for him.
His blog tells more of his story.