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Sunday, August 1, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur / Times staff columnist

No. 13 proves to be good luck, safe haven for once homeless man

The number 13 never had any great meaning for Paing Win.

It was just one of millions of numbers he shuffled and sorted as a math lecturer in his native Myanmar, the former Burma.

Then came that Tuesday, April 13, 1999. Win, who had moved to Seattle a decade before with the hope of becoming a teacher, was working as a pizza deliveryman when several men jumped, beat and robbed him.

The attack left Win permanently disabled and unable to work. His marriage fell apart. He moved out, stayed with friends, and then, seeing no other option, pitched a tent in some woods in Renton, where he was beaten and robbed again.

On July 9, 2004, the mathematician encountered another number — 607 — on the door of his new home, a room at the St. Charles Hotel, a facility for the homeless run by the Plymouth Housing Group.

Win, 54, couldn't help but shuffle the numbers before him: Six-plus-zero-plus-seven.

Thirteen.

"I am not afraid of that now, of the number 13," Win told me a few days after moving in. "It's good luck now."

Good luck in the form of a key in his pocket, a bed to rest on at night. A bathroom, a phone number. Stability and possibility.

Win is one of 64 people who will reside in the St. Charles, the newest of Plymouth's 12 properties to offer housing and guidance to homeless and low-income people. The nonprofit is supported with local, federal and private funding.

Win has agreed to let me chronicle his life, in an effort to better understand the homeless community and the challenges of coming off the street.

"This place is a safe place, a safe haven," he said the other day as we sat in his room. "I see this place in a positive way because every tenant comes in empty-handed, and they give you what you need."

His transition, like most, has been made up of small steps — Win walks with a cane — and small events with big meaning.

One recent afternoon, we checked his mailbox for the first time. Inside, a box of checks and a state identification card, both bearing his name and new address. And there was a "Free trial!" disc from AOL.

To some, junk. To Win, evidence that he exists, and can be found somewhere, after so much upheaval, so much pain.

He has been married and divorced twice. His first wife and daughter live in Myanmar. His second wife lives in Ballard with their two daughters, 14 and 9. He speaks to them often and sees them whenever possible.

Last week, Win negotiated the Metro bus system to meet them in Ballard. They ate lunch at McDonald's, played Scrabble on a park bench and spent an hour in a Rite Aid store. Win hopes to see them once a month, for starters, now that his life is settling down.

For now, he fills his time watching television on a new, flat-screen Magnavox he got at Best Buy for $149 — $163.90, tax included. Always, he has his numbers.

He stopped drinking in 1999, and doesn't do drugs, but takes antidepressants and pain pills.

He walks every day but not for long, since his leg was injured in the attacks. Usually, he ventures out to the Chinatown International District for some chicken or fried rice ("$2.95 a box"), and brings the leftovers home, where he plays Scrabble alone.

The attacks have made it hard for him to trust people.

But this place, this room, has him opening up to the world.

"Now, I have a place to be," he said. "I was sitting in the dark all the time and waiting. Finally, my dreams come true."

Reach Nicole Brodeur at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She feels a little like Bogey.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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