A man I'll call Buzz was talking about receiving four trespassing tickets in the past week.
Since getting out of jail and completing his parole, he's been living on the streets downtown. Last Wednesday night he received three tickets as he moved from one downtown location to another trying to find a place to sleep. He acquired his fourth last night in a city parking ramp.
When someone like Buzz walks in our door, they leave behind the street labels that proclaim their poverty, their offenses, their diagnoses, their addictions, their failures and their unsheltered states. In theory, anyway.
It's their behavior inside the Day Center that matters.
Over the years here, I've met about two dozen men that I've known to be registered sex offenders. Only one has ever caused any trouble. He was a white-haired aging Elvis who said he couldn't wait to get out of town because there were "too many fucking fags" here. The gay man he said it to took offense and the disagreement went outside.
(That was two or three year years ago. Elvis didn't leave. I saw him last month riding a bike to the grocery store.)
I hadn't pegged Buzz as a sex offender, just a lonely, talkative old man who's my age but looks older with his pear-shaped body, age spots and missing teeth. Today he was wearing a dress shirt that looked remarkably like one I donated last year, along with a pair of high-water sweatpants.
It turns out Buzz has a fairly extensive record of being seen without any pants. Indecent exposure charges against homeless men used to be rather routinely wrapped up with public urination, but in the cases involving Buzz that I could find, he was up to something else. The last time, in 2013, he was out in the desert north of town when a woman walking her dogs encountered him naked and, fearing he was having a medical problem, called 911.
By the time the police arrived, Buzz was clothed, but given his record of 15 prior offenses and registered offender status, he received a felony charge that led to his present circumstances.
More recently, he told me had been living in a former motel converted to low-income housing. In August, his parole officer revoked his parole and he went to jail to serve the duration of his two-year sentence. (When I asked about the nature of his legal problems, Buzz declined to discuss them.)
Once in jail, he was unable to arrange to pay his rent. Even local calls are collect from jail, and the property management firm would not accept his calls. Neither would anyone else. His rent became delinquent and he was evicted by the sheriff's department. The apartment was cleaned out and all his possessions were moved to the parking lot where other tenants were allowed to pick them over.
Because Buzz was in jail, he couldn't do anything about it.
He lost his clothes, furniture, bedding, cookware, TV and accessories, and a lifetime collection of movie DVDs he said was worth $4500—"John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. Rogers and Hammerstein musicals."
Clothes are easy enough to come by, but housing is not, especially for registered sex offenders. Buzz remained persistent, eventually finding a $350-a-month room he can afford with his Social Security. There was one more catch, however. The new property is managed by the company that evicted him, and they were demanding a double damage deposit because of the prior broken lease. He lacked the cash to pay it and his rent and was stymied until he got assistance from Volunteers of America.
Yesterday, he was supposed to sign the papers for his new place.
At age 67, he says he's learned his lesson and is ready to move on. He can't do anything about the past. Then he started talking about heaven and God reclaiming the earth and answering to all our infractions that have been recorded in the Golden Book upstairs.
I suppose heaven's like the Day Center. There's forgiveness but even the angels have to wear pants.