Howard Fry was already beset by behavioral problems and a beating that left him disabled. Now he needs a new home.

safety net, unraveling

September 28, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Howard Fry is a 35-year-old survivor of some of Baltimore's meanest streets, a feisty and at times combative man who was considered disabled even before a vicious crime left him without his legs and hands.

He lives with his middle-aged mother, also disabled, in the Brooklyn section of Baltimore, but for many reasons - including a judge's order - he shouldn't be there.

He needs a new place to live.

But that - like almost every aspect of Howard Fry's troubled life - is a complicated matter. The people assigned to help him have been unable to place Fry where he could get the daily care he needs. Two shelters accustomed to serving the homeless refuse to take him.

There are several reasons for Fry's predicament. One is the lack of public funds to house poor, disabled people like him. Another is Fry's history of behavioral problems that existed long before thugs left him for dead on a winter day more than two years ago.

The circumstances of this man's life are remarkable, but not unique, according to city social services officials.

There are many others like him - brain-damaged from accidents or violent crimes, or dependent on aging parents as their primary caregivers - who have limited choices in housing and medical services. Some end up in jails or prisons; some end up homeless, the men and women we see on median strips asking us to lower our car windows and spare some change.

"One of our very difficult clients," Tom Curtin, manager of the adult protective services unit in the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, says of Fry. "It's the combination of severe disability and behavioral problems. ... And I would expect cases like this to be more frequent, with the number of gunshot wounds we see and the number of adults with substance abuse problems. We will see more cases like this as their safety net deteriorates."

If not for his mother's willingness to let Howard Fry stay in her house - against a judge's order - he would probably be homeless.

"He's my son, and I love him," says Betty Fry. "But his rage since [the attack] has been a hundred times worse than before. He's been a lot more angry. When he acted terrible toward me before, I could put him out of the house. I can't no more."

Howard Fry has a limited intellect, and he cannot read. "Mildly retarded" is how his mother describes him.

When he was an infant, she says, he had an abnormal accumulation of fluids in his skull.

"I don't remember why exactly anymore, or the doctor's name - he was at University Hospital 30 years ago - but I remember him saying [Howard] might not live past the age of 7," Betty Fry says. "But Howard just kept living and living. He just kept living and living and living. ...

"At the age of 3 1/2 or 4, he was diagnosed as hyperactive. He went to school and, after the first or second grade, he was always in special [education] classes."

Howard Fry dropped out after eighth grade.

When he was 13 or 14, Betty Fry says, he became violent and attacked his mother - at least one time with a baseball bat.

"I've had to have him locked up five or six times," she says.

During at least part of his teenage years, he lived in a foster home.

Since the age of 18, however, he's lived a relatively independent life, staying with his mother - sometimes peaceably, sometimes not - or sometimes renting a room in a rowhouse.

Before January 2005, Fry was just one of many poor, disabled adults you might see on a city street, though his disabilities were not as apparent as they are now.

You would have seen him on a bicycle, not in a wheelchair.

And you probably would not have been aware of his disabilities unless you stopped to talk to him.

If you stopped to talk, he likely would have asked you for a dollar or two.

"My mom don't like me panhandling," he says. "It's against the law."

He can be pleasant and playful; he can be short-tempered and profane. There are moments when he surprises you. One day in July, when I asked about the thugs who beat and robbed him, Fry said: "Money is the root of all evil. Look what money did to me - took my hands and legs. ... But you know what? It didn't take my life."

Before January 2005, Fry received a monthly disability check of $560.70 from the Social Security Administration and made extra cash from time to time as a carnival worker or as a helper for a man who sold produce on the street and at flea markets.

"I made good money," he likes to boast. "I gave a lot to my mother. ... I bought her flowers."

That he can no longer perform those tasks adds to the fury that emerges, sometimes with a spray of profanities, when he thinks about the past 2 1/2 years.

The attack

On Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005 - it is not clear exactly when - he was walking in a stretch of Ramsay Street in Southwest Baltimore known for drug addicts and vagrants. As he walked toward the room he rented in the 1800 block, Fry noticed three men following him.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.