Zachary “Zach” 23

Zach was born in Laramie, Wyoming, (Albany County) and grew up in Rawlins (Carbon County) and Cheyenne (Laramie County). Oddly, Laramie isn’t in Laramie County. It’s just north of Larimer County, though – which is in Colorado – where we are, in Loveland. But, that doesn’t matter…

“I was born and raised there,” he says, referring to the southeastern corner of our neighboring state to the north -just a stone’s throw away and windy. That doesn’t matter either.

He went to high school in Cheyenne, but had a few run-ins with teachers and was moved to an “alternative” high school. New teachers, new run-ins and he was moved to the “alternative-alternative” high school, Triumph H.S., “home of the Spartans.” That didn’t work out so well either, and he was expelled a month and a half before graduating. “I got a ticket and was expelled from school. The ticket was for ‘internal possession of marijuana’. I’ll admit, I wasn’t that good of a student, but I made sure I passed my classes. I did the work, but outside of classes and after school I guess I wasn’t the brightest of stars.” Fortunately, he had other options. He wasn’t afraid to work.

“My first job, I was working illegally. I was 15 and lied on my application and said I was 16 so I could get a job at Sonic Drive-In. I was a cook.” He worked at other restaurants, then in retail, customer-service and went on to become a front-end shift lead at Safeway. He also worked in construction, for remodeling contractors and painters. “I’m a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to work. I’ve done about any job you can think of, besides something off the beaten path. If you show me how to do it and leave me by myself, I either sink or swim. Usually, I end up being a pretty good swimmer.”

And then there was meth. “I was smoking a lot of meth. Trying to smoke myself to death.” When he went to Laramie County Jail in Cheyenne, he weighed one hundred and thirty-five pounds. He got clean and started eating while sitting in jail, and now he’s almost a hundred eighty pounds. He’s still dealing with recovery, though. Meth can be a tough monkey to throw off your back. “It’s been about an eight-year addiction. That’s kind of what limited my possibilities in Cheyenne. Got to a point where it became too much. I was causing more trouble than what I needed. I finally got to a point where I was just roaming around, just wandering forever. So, I just decided to leave (Cheyenne) and start over. And when I came down here I was still homeless, with just the clothes on my back. I spent the first three months in Fort Collins before migrating down here.”

When asked how he compared being on the streets in Fort Collins to Loveland, he says only that Fort Collins is “too big of a place.” He has no intention of going back to Cheyenne. Asked about the availability of meth in Cheyenne, he says, “It’s flooded right now, because I-80 and I-25 go right through town. Even this year during Frontier Days there was a handful of shootings, stabbings. There was a prostitution ring that was broken up…really bad place.”

But Loveland has been a good restart place for Zach. After being homeless for three years, including a year and a half of “couch surfing”, he’s starting to get his feet underneath him. While eating breakfast at the Community Kitchen, where a mother and daughter were working as volunteers, the daughter noticed that Zach’s shoes didn’t seem to fit very well. “I wear size thirteen, and I was wearing size eleven-and-a-half rock climbing shoes. The daughter offered to buy me shoes. She took me to Kohl’s, and we sat in front of the store for, like, two and a half hours, just talking. Then, it wasn’t even three days later, that I was invited to their son’s graduation party. So, I accepted that and went, and I just got kind of held hostage pretty much (jokingly). They let me spend the night, and the next thing you know I’m living with them.”

Others have given him an opportunity as well. “That was a week after I’d just gotten a job here (at the LoCo Artisan Coffee House) and I was homeless and didn’t know what I was going to do, how I was going to stay clean. I was lost for how I was going to handle a job being homeless, and that just popped up out of the blue, and everything’s been kind of falling into place since then.”

He spent enough time on the streets of Loveland to know what time it is, and the opportunities gave him some direction. He found a support network and started stepping out of the muck. He counts his blessings as, “the people I work with here (LoCo), the family that took me in, some friends, probation, substance abuse classes…”

Interviewer: “How about family? Do you have any family support?”

Zach: “Yeah, I have my family back, now, after not talking with them or being accepted by them for the better part of a year. They come and visit me, every now and then.”

Interviewer: “What was it like when you were homeless in Loveland? There are plenty of places to get food. No overnight shelter unless it’s twenty degrees or colder. Could you get a shower?”

Zach: “There’s one stall at 137 (the day/emergency shelter), but if you’re not on the list or if you’re late…very limited resources.”

Interviewer: “How about the cops? How do they treat you?”

Zach: “Most of them are pretty all right, but a lot of them just make assumptions. I feel like now they’re just looking for a reason to put you in jail. (Zach has been to Larimer County Jail in Fort Collins, which he calls ‘the day care center.’) They should be more helpful – a listening ear.”

Interviewer: “But they’re probably just following orders from the City, and with all the development going on downtown ($1.4 billion among several projects, according to the Reporter-Herald), they’ve got to do what they’re told…”

Zach: “That’s why camping is such a big deal here, and why the cops hate it. Some (homeless) people don’t understand the fact that one of the homeless rules is that you leave your camp better than when you found it. It’s lazy, inconsiderate. It’s an eyesore. In all honesty, people don’t realize that the reason the homeless population pretty much congregates in one general area (downtown) is because…look around…all the resources that help these people are in the same vicinity. Easy come, easy go.”

“If you don’t want the eyesore of seeing those people or dealing with them, put the resources somewhere where they can live by them. Like a strip mall where all the resources homeless people need are right there, with twenty acres of trees or shrubs, like a KOA campground. Not a lawless area, but like off the beaten path, on the edge of the country.”

Interviewer: “A lot of businesses and politicians seem to think having homeless people in Loveland is just bad. That homeless cause a lot of problems.”

Zach: “Not all homeless people are bad, we aren’t. Most are pretty alright. We get a bad rap because of one bad apple in the bunch, or someone that doesn’t want to comply with everything or understand the rules.”

Interviewer: “Does it get a little violent at times?”

Zach: “Not really. Disagreements, arguments, discrepancies…The only time violence comes out is when people don’t know how to use their words, or handle things properly. They take their anger out and use it as a weapon, instead of finding a tool to find some middle ground and the other person’s understanding of the situation.”

Interviewer: “What do you think would help the situation, as it regards homeless people?”

Zach: “In general, decriminalization of drugs. Instead of criminalizing those things, they should be treated as an illness. To find a coping mechanism for all the shit you have to deal with out there.” Then, to no one in particular he says, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there.” Silence happens.

Interviewer: “Well, what are your plans. Are you going to stick around?”

His face brightens and he says, “No, I’ve got a new job – two of them actually. I’ll be working for The Summit in Windsor.”  (A large, state of the art family entertainment center with bowling alleys, an arcade, laser-tag and a sports bar/restaurant.) “I’m also on call for a construction company doing finish clean- up,” and he lists all the punch-out duties of prepping new commercial construction for the booming local business growth. The jack of all trades seems ready to swim.

Interviewer: “You gonna make it okay with the new situation?”

Zach: “I’m trying. But once I finish up my two-week schedule here (at LoCo), I probably won’t be back to Loveland, for a while.”