My friend has both physical and mental challenges that have made life difficult for him. He is unable to work and receives a Social Security disability check, which definitely helps. But life is complicated.

Last year, he was arrested for cruelty to animals. My friend would NEVER harm an animal. Quite the opposite. He adores them. This was the problem. He had taken in so many stray dogs that his small travel trailer had become—well, foul. Quite literally, uninhabitable. For dogs and humans. The neighbors in his RV park reported him to the police. The time in jail and defaulting on his lot fee caused him to lose his home. It took months to pay off the fines. Putting together deposit money and showing enough monthly income have made housing impossible for him. He now lives in a tent outside.

Because he pays no rent and no utility expenses, his monthly allotment of food stamps is $16. That monthly Social Security check doesn’t go very far. He decided to buy a four-wheel ATV and trailer to help transport the aluminum cans and other metal that he recycles. We told him again and again NOT to ride that thing on the street. We explained to him that it wasn’t street legal and that the police would give him a ticket if they caught him. He said he understood. 

One night he got confused. His mind doesn’t process things well. He was pushing the four wheeler through the long parking lot (where it would have been okay to ride). He got to the intersection of two main streets, climbed on it and rode it through the intersection. A police car was sitting right there. Sigh. 

The officer asked to see his driver’s license. He pulled ID out of his pocket. When the officer saw that it was expired, he arrested my friend, impounded his vehicle and then charged him with four criminal misdemeanors. 1. Driving an ATV on the street. 2. Driving without a valid driver’s license. 3. No insurance. 4. No working headlight or taillights.

He sat in county jail for a week, and then they let him out. We asked him about the possibility of fines. He told us that when they let him out, they didn’t give him any paperwork or tell him he owed anything. Hmmm. Life for us at Joe’s Addiction is busy. Lots of daily urgency to take care of. We forgot about his case. 

Last week, the police came and arrested him. He had not paid the fines associated with this ATV incident. Again, he sat in jail for a week and they let him out. This time I looked through all his paperwork. Nothing in the paperwork stated the amount of fines, but there was a date to appear before a judge. My friend wanted a public defender. I told him it wouldn’t do him any good, but he insisted. It’s his right, right? He felt some of these charges weren’t fair, and he wanted to contest them. I understood. I helped him fill out all the paperwork. 

He went before the judge. The judge deemed a public defender unnecessary. He removed two of the charges and asked my friend to simply pay a $110 fine. Okay. He can do this. 

One more piece. Jail fees. Seems you should be able to either pay the fine or do the time. But no. When a person has sat out a fine in jail (which counts as $78/day), they then owe $42 per day to the jail. My friend will owe another $294. If he doesn’t remember to pay it, he will be arrested. Again. 

Poverty breeds poverty. People in our Joe’s Community are in an endless cycle in and out of jail. Homelessness intimidates and threatens the housed, and for those who are already experiencing homelessness, the climb to permanent housing has no end in sight. No ability to plan or save for the future. The struggle for hope is hopeless.