The stadium? So what?

Dan Rodricks

October 04, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

At dusk, feeble men in pajamas lay on beds in a makeshift hospital ward in the old parochial school on Greenmount Avenue. Someone turned up the volume on a TV set. Somewhere a baby cried.

An anchorman grinned broadly across the TV screen and announced that the governor of Maryland finally had named the multimillion-dollar stadium in downtown Baltimore. The men in the pajamas -- all homeless and ill, all freshly dropped from the state's General Public Assistance Program by the same governor -- groaned.

Terrell Lewis, a homeless cancer patient, shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the pathetic irony in the news.

"I hear a baby crying," I said. "Is there a baby in here?"

"Two and a half weeks old," said Terrell Lewis, an occupant of one of the eight beds for men in this "extra-care" shelter in the old school at St. Ann's Church.

"Twenty-seven days old," said Joyce Brumfield, who runs the shelter. "We have another one coming in here tonight. The mother had a C-section. That's what this is for."

She pointed to a small, cloth-covered cradle in a hallway outside the extra-care ward for women.

"You mean these babies were born homeless?"

"That's right," Brumfield said.

Terrell Lewis nodded. Of the eight men in this special shelter, he was the best dressed and healthiest in appearance. He was tall, trim, good-looking, and well-spoken. He seemed detached from the others in the shelter, as if he had been put there to study the scene, rather than be a part of it.

But he was, most definitely, a part of it -- and not by choice.

Until last November, Lewis, who is 41 and divorced, had a career as a nuclear medicine technician. He was making $30,000 a year. He had been employed at Sinai Hospital for three years when a layoff notice came.

"I lived off my savings after I lost my job," Lewis said. "I tried to find another job, but hospitals are in desperate trouble. Things are tight everywhere. And just try to get a job after you've had cancer . . ."

The testicular cancer had been diagnosed in 1985. Lewis had had surgery. He had undergone chemotherapy. "I was doing well until last February."

That was when his doctor said he needed another operation. It cost $5,000. The money came out of Lewis's savings. He could no longer afford his apartment. He put his furniture in storage. He went to the extra-care shelter on Greenmount Avenue.

"While I was here, there were some men in here on dialysis," he said. "And always someone who'd been attacked. Broken arms, broken legs. A lot of mentally ill people. One guy, all he did was laugh all the time . . . I had to have more radiation, and that made me really sick, so I stayed here."

The radiation ended in August. The last report from his doctor said the cancer in Terrell Lewis' body had stabilized.

"I had a good attitude about staying alive," he said. "And I'm determined to leave here and find another job."

Since March, Lewis lived on $205 monthly from the state's General Public Assistance program. The governor has announced the elimination of the program as part of massive budget cuts. GPA is for thousands of people like Lewis and the other men in the shelter at St. Ann's -- out of work, sick and poor. People who will never see the inside of a skybox.

Lewis used his GPA to pay for the storage of his furniture, to buy personal items, to pay for transportation to Hopkins Hospital, to make resumes and mail them off.

"I'm a registered Republican," he said. "I was one of those working people who generalized about people on welfare. And I always assumed there was some big agency out there to take care of people when they needed help." But soon there won't be, if the budget cuts stick.

Without GPA, Terrell Lewis would have had nothing -- except for maybe Social Security disability benefits. He applied for those last May, but was told the waiting period for a finding on his claim would be six months to a year. This is one of the ways the kinder, gentler government in Washington keeps the walking wounded of America from even asking for help.

"There was a man with lung cancer in here for a while," Lewis said. "He started getting benefits right before he died."

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