Like many of the temporary residents of the Depot, James Ryan, 42, lost a parent through death, disease or divorce early in life. But he exudes purpose and self-confidence like few of the rest. That was God's work, Ryan said.

His father died in World War II. His stepfather seemed to reject him. He quit school at 15, stole a few things and married a woman who was persistently unfaithful. He was discharged from the Army for heavy drinking. At age 25 he was sent to prison for three years for child-molesting.

He found life at the Florida state prison at Raiford "rather nice." He earned a high school credential and became a born-again Christian. But after his release his sexual and financial problems continued. In 1972 he left Florida for a life of warehouse jobs, Salvation Army beds, occasional preaching and big dreams. It is the life he still lives.

He said a Los Angeles psychiatrist paid by the Veterans Administration helped him put the child-molesting behind him in 1976. He failed to get a job as a marine diver, his fondest ambition, but that was because "the Lord . . . wanted me to study for the ministry, . . . so he couldn't bless me."

Ryan had some money from an unemployment check and might have found some lodging last January but felt driven by God to spend some nights at the Depot anyway.

Some people said he was taking advantage. In the six months since his Depot stay, he has lived at another Pasadena-area shelter, in a friend's car and in a downtown shelter called Transition House, where the staff tries to turn derelicts toward productive work during a 60-day stay.

But Ryan says he is doing the Lord's work, "working with people on the street, helping them to get their lives squared away."