Homeless by choice? Man says it has appeal

Published: Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 at 11:42 p.m.

Ramine Dehgan, 43, has walked the four miles from the Alachua County jail to downtown Gainesville more times than he'd like to remember.

He's made that walk on his release from jail a dozen times in 2006, seven times in 2007 and another seven times so far in 2008.

"I hate that walk," Dehgan said Friday from a meeting room at the Alachua County jail.

Dehgan is a member of the "frequent fliers," the habitually homeless who get arrested so often they're known by name at the jail and have running jokes with the police.

Gail Monahan, director of the Alachua County Housing Authority, said she knows when Dehgan is in jail because he's not on the housing authority's porch.

"Everyone in the office loves him, but it's really depressing to see him like this," Monahan said. "We have torn our hair out here trying to do something. He's going to live another 20 years. Are we going to just keep arresting him? He's costing us a fortune."

Dehgan is far from a hardened criminal.

The son of a University of Florida horticulture professor and a mother who worked at Shands, Dehgan attended P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, Westwood Middle School and Gainesville High School.

His crimes now are open-container violations, trespassing and occasionally getting caught with marijuana.

"I'm not out there hurting anybody. I'm not stealing anything," said Dehgan, who now has been in jail for 23 days awaiting a court hearing because he didn't have a certificate of completion for his court-ordered drug program.

He's one of about 900 people who occupy the jail at an estimated cost of about $67 a day.

Monahan said she begged the judges to order Dehgan to take a drug program, and she said it breaks her heart that he's back in jail.

But Monahan said that Dehgan isn't out of chances. And Dehga himself, said he knows that there likely is housing out there available to him.

"Ya, and I could get that," he said. "I have a housing voucher, but then I thought about it and I thought about (Gainesville Regional Utilities) and the deposit, and I owe them a lot of money.

"When I'm homeless I have no responsibilities, nothing, and there is something that's appealing about that."

Monahan said she agrees with the laws and understands why police need to enforce them. However, she says a housing rehabilitation program would help reduce the number of arrests.

Barry Johnson, the public defender assigned to Dehgan, said he hopes his client will be released on Tuesday.

"My ultimate goal is to make sure they don't come back, but that, in reality, is just not going to happen," Johnson said.

He said there are many cases like Dehgan's in which people are in jail for simply not having money.

Homeless advocates in Alachua County have been saying for years the answer to cases like Dehgan's is housing and rehabilitation - two services that will likely be offered in a proposed one-stop homeless assistance center.

Monahan, who has helped about two dozen homeless people get into housing in recent years. said the one-stop program can help as long as there is housing and as long as the people who run the program understand the patience it takes to help the homeless.

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