Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 14, 2012

Homeless man has been arrested 105 times since '94

For some, crime or substance abuse becomes a way of life

TRAVERSE CITY — "Frequent fliers" aren't uncommon at the Grand Traverse County Jail.

Several repeat offenders are in and out two or three times a year, men and women who can't seem to break a cycle of crime or substance abuse. Some are out for weeks, some just days before they again run afoul of the law.

If ending up behind bars was a contest, Michael Edward Morgan would be the consensus champion.

Morgan, who is homeless, has been arrested 105 times on roughly 130 complaints or charges since 1994. That's almost six arrests per year, in addition to dozens of disturbances that didn't result in an arrest. None of his crimes were serious.

He's done a cumulative total of about nine years in jail, he said, with no individual stint longer than eight months.

"It's certainly something I'm embarrassed about," he said during a recent interview at the jail. "It's not something I go around talking about or boasting about, certainly. It's just one of those really bizarre things about me."

Police said Morgan, 64, is a prime example of a small minority of local homeless people who seem to thumb their noses at both authorities and a network of support for people who live on the streets. To Morgan, it's not that simple.

"It's really a difficult cycle to break once it becomes a way of life," he said. "And obviously it's a way of life for me."

'Home away from no home'

Morgan originally hails from Columbus, Ohio, and lived in several states before he came to Traverse City in 1993. He said he has a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of South Florida, and held various jobs in sales, warehousing and even substitute teaching prior to becoming homeless for good in 1999.

He was married twice and has two children, 40 and 34, from his first marriage, but he hasn't seen either child in years. He admits he's a chronic alcoholic, and both he and police said almost all of his arrests were tied to alcohol consumption. He has more than 20 theft arrests — mostly for stealing booze — and plenty more for drunk and disorderly behavior or trespassing.

But Morgan doesn't think drinking is the problem. He's been divorced since 1999, and believes the lack of a steady female companion prompted him to make poor decisions.

"Being in a relationship tends to keep me on the straight and narrow. I'm obviously not out roaming the streets," he said. "Without it, I have no one to account to, and it makes it easier for me to be irresponsible."

The jail has been Morgan's "home away from no home," for too long, he said.

"I'm tired of this place being a revolving door for me. I'm tired of that, and they're probably tired of seeing me here, in and out, in and out," he said. "I'd like to get back to a more normal way of life. I'd like to have a roof over my head."

Sometimes, though, the jail is a good thing to have around.

"Have I used this place in the past, have I purposely got myself arrested so I could have three meals a day and roof over my head when it's cold outside?" he said. "You bet I've done it."

Morgan said he'll never quit drinking, and he's largely resigned to his way of life.

"I don't know if there's an end to this. There's got to be an end to me, literally," he said. "I don't know. I can't see my lifestyle changing, I really can't."

Part of that is because he's convinced he'll never land a job. He gets a small inheritance and hopes to qualify for Social Security, but long-term income is a pipe dream.

"With my criminal record and my age working against me, who's going to ever want to hire me?" he said. "I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that I'm not employable anymore."

He also believes he suffers from mental illness.

"I absolutely believe that if you take people who are really sane, really together mentally, if you put those people on the street long enough, living a homeless lifestyle, they're going to become mentally ill," he said. "It is a very stressful situation, and sooner or later, if you spend a enough time on the streets, you're going to start to break down."

But the homeless life isn't all bad, he said.

"There's a certain amount of adventure involved in it," he said. "I'm almost inclined to say it's an addictive feature about being homeless, the fact that there's always a change, no two days are alike."

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