Mother's burden remains heavy

October 18, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

The difficult matter of Howard Fry, victim of crime and quadruple amputee, remains so: He still lives on the edge of homelessness. He continues to stay with his disabled mother in a small rowhouse in the Brooklyn section of Baltimore, and while Betty Fry manages to care for her son, he's often more than she can handle. Not only does Howard Fry have physical disabilities, but he's intellectually limited and given to outbursts of anger.

"Nothing new," Betty Fry said yesterday, her 58th birthday, when I asked if any of the city or state agencies assigned to help her son have been able to find him a home. "No, he's still here."

As detailed in this column on Sept. 28, Howard Fry, 35, was beaten by thugs in a Southwest Baltimore alley in January 2005. The attackers were attempting to steal what little cash remained from Fry's monthly disability check of $560.

After the beating, Fry spent several hours exposed to the bitter cold and suffered severe frostbite. As a result, he lost his legs beneath the knee, his left forearm and all the fingers of his right hand.

You would think a man in this condition, and living in poverty, would qualify for special housing - that there would be a government program for such a severely impaired person.

But there is no simple answer to Fry's housing needs. There are limited funds for a person in his situation, according to officials, and the whole matter is complicated by his volatile behavior.

A few months ago, Betty Fry accused her son of assault, saying he had slammed into her with his wheelchair. As a result, a District Court judge ordered Howard Fry to stay away from his mother.

But Betty Fry, faced with the prospect of seeing her son homeless - and suffering from injuries from a spill on Patapsco Avenue in early August - let him back into her house. She keeps a bed for him by the front window.

"I had no choice," she said. "The police came here one day and said I had to go get him because he was up on Patapsco Avenue and the wheelchair wouldn't work. That was a Friday. The following Monday, Aug. 6, he went flying out of the wheelchair and landed on the street and busted open his head, a leg and the stub of his left hand. He was all bleeding. What could I do? I had to take him back. I had no choice ...

"Some days," she said of her son's behavior, "he's pretty good, and somedays he's not so good."

The city's Adult Protective Services (APS) agency has been working with the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) to find a landlord willing to accept Fry. So far, no luck.

Several readers contacted The Sun after the story appeared and offered to help. Some were willing to drive to Brooklyn and look for Howard Fry outside the Royal Farms store there - he's known to spend the day panhandling at the bus stop by the store - and slip him a few bucks. Others wanted to send his mother some money.

A man who used to hire Howard Fry as a carnival and produce worker contacted APS and offered to take him in. But the man is elderly and has had two heart attacks, Betty Fry said, and she's not sure the proposed arrangement is practical. "I don't think it would be a good idea," she said, "but I wouldn't stop it."

She would really like to see her son in a place of his own, with a daily visit from a home health worker.

Some days, Betty Fry becomes profoundly depressed. I hear it in her voice.

Yesterday, she sounded relatively happy.

"It's my birthday," she said. "I'm trying to enjoy myself."

A mixed milestone

I'm never sure how to feel about an anniversary like Beans & Bread's. Is it a good or bad thing that this soup kitchen turned full-service resource center for the homeless is still going strong after 30 years?

Obviously, this is a milestone worth noting; it represents thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours by selfless men and women who prepared meals for the poorest of Baltimore's poor - the hungry and often homeless. But that Beans & Bread, which started out serving about 75 meals a day in 1977, now serves about 400 men and women daily says everything about the persistence and concentration of extreme poverty in Baltimore.

It was the late Benet Hanlon, a Benedictine priest, who opened his rowhouse doors to the hungry of Fells Point in 1977. His was a one-man, soup-pot ministry, quiet and steady, until he turned it over to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Baltimore in 1986.

In May 1992, on the very day of Hanlon's funeral, Beans & Bread opened at a new, larger location on South Bond Street. More meals could be served there - 300 a day - and more services offered: job referral, health screening, legal assistance, telephone and mail access.

Loyola College students got involved and added a meal on Sundays, when Beans & Bread was usually closed. Other services have been expanded over the years, and in 2008, Beans & Bread undertakes a $3.8 million capital campaign.

We should give high praise to those who have kept faith with Benet Hanlon's mission over these three decades. I just wish we could have said "Mission accomplished" by now.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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