Homeless man, in death as in life, is lacking aid

January 18, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Barney Bostick lived without government aid. Now, those who knew him must figure out a way to get him buried without it.

Mr. Bostick, a homeless man, spent his days huddled in a doorway near the Burger King at Fayette and Charles streets in Baltimore City, and his nights in the parking garage next to the federal building on Lombard Street. He was found dead in that garage on Jan. 10, after a weekend of sub-freezing temperatures.

A social worker had been trying to get Mr. Bostick into a state program for disabled adults. Now, state burial assistance is out of reach because he never signed up. Unless money can be raised, Mr. Bostick's body will be used for medical research, according to a social worker.

"If you don't get public assistance in life, you can't get it in death," said Jeff Singer of City Advocates in Solidarity with the Homeless (CASH).

Yesterday, Mr. Singer and others who knew Mr. Bostick met near his daytime spot for a brief memorial service, after attaching his name to the "cage," a metal structure built over the steam grate on the Fayette Street median to keep homeless people from congregating there.

Mr. Bostick's name was the 64th to be wired to the cage.

In the past few weeks, advocates for the homeless already had tied other names there, in memory of homeless men and women who have died in Baltimore in recent years. And there is talk on the street that another unidentified body at the morgue may be that of a homeless man, the surviving twin of a pair who had panhandled in tandem downtown.

Forty-seven of the deaths were last year, said Joe Lynch of HUSH (Helping Our Unsheltered Homeless), which is seeking donations for Mr. Bostick's burial. Those people did not necessarily die on the streets or from exposure -- in fact, many died in hospitals or nursing homes.

Mr. Bostick's death may have been atypical, but his life was all too typical, said those who came to mourn him yesterday.

He gave his age as 43 or 49 -- but 43 seems to have been correct, said Lauren Siegel, the social worker who knew him as well as anyone in Baltimore. Sometimes he went by the name of Harvey Salaway, but Barney Bostick appears to have been his given name.

Dogged by tragedy -- he told Ms. Siegel he had lost a wife and child to cancer, and was estranged from the rest of his family -- he came to Baltimore from South Carolina.

He had a drinking problem, as those who knew him readily admit, and trusted no one. It was only in the last few weeks that he started confiding in Ms. Siegel. He had an appointment with her on the day he died.

Instead, other homeless men came to her office, carrying the news already moving on their grapevine. Later, Ms. Siegel went to the morgue and identified Mr. Bostick's body; the cause of death has not been established by the medical examiner's office.

Yesterday, she knelt in the snow at Charles Center and scratched out "How Many More?" as the Rev. Ed Heim, a Lutheran minister, held a service for Mr. Bostick.

"He was just starting to tell me what drove him to drink so much when he died," Ms. Siegel said later. "But I'm not sure how much I should tell -- I don't have his permission."

Federal employee Leroy Spriggs, who had stopped at the ceremony on his day off, interrupted the reverend, complaining about people he had tried to help but who wouldn't work. He then continued on his way, leaving the homeless men and women there to defend Mr. Bostick's memory.

Merrill Jackson, a homeless man who sometimes bought Mr. Bostick food, said he was "a beautiful person when you got to know him."

"I hung with him," Mr. Jackson said. "I drank with him. I tried to get him to go to the missions [for shelter] or to stay with me at my friend's house. He just wouldn't go."

During the cold-weather months, the city has about 1,600 shelter beds. That's 300 more than usual but far short of accommodating the 2,400 people estimated to be homeless on any given night. A Mass Transit Administration bus offers a free ride and the guarantee of shelter to those who show up along the stops on its nightly route through downtown, Fells Point and South Baltimore.

Still, some homeless people, like Mr. Bostick, refuse to go to shelters. And shelters do not take people who are intoxicated or using drugs.

"It's impossible for a shelter to operate without rules," said Norma Pinette, executive director of Action for the Homeless.

"However, when you go to a shelter, some are cot after cot after cot, just inches apart. I don't find it hard to understand that a young man who does not have a job does not want to be in at 6 p.m., unable to socialize or to have a sense of his own individual life," she said.

The city has appropriated money for a so-called "wet" shelter, which would take in intoxicated homeless people. At one point, it was hoped that the shelter might open as early as the fall of 1993. But a site still has not been selected and any site is expected to be controversial.

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