Terry Reed — back out there, somewhere

Loads of Sun readers express concern for the President Street panhandler

January 04, 2012|Dan Rodricks

As I write this, the thermometer indicates 17 degrees Farenheit in Baltimore, and Terry Reed's whereabouts are unknown. He's no longer at Union Memorial Hospital, where I saw him last, just before Christmas. Tuesday night, when I checked, he had not returned to his customary panhandling spot along President Street in downtown Baltimore.

Perhaps he made it back to the North Avenue motel room he rents when he has enough money, or to the flophouse on Pennsylvania Avenue that charges him $50 a night. Hopefully, he didn't end up in the freeze.

If you see him — and he's hard to miss, the panhandler with prosthetic arms and legs — please tell Mr. Reed I've been looking for him. And please give me a call (410-332-6166) or send me a Tweet (@DanRodricks). I'd like to speak to Mr. Reed again, if only to let him know this:

Lots of people want to help him. Two have offered to buy him an electric wheelchair; another has offered a wheelchair that's practically brand new and no longer needed. Two people have offered to pay for an upgrade of Mr. Reed's prosthetics.

Before he left Union Memorial, against medical advice, his care-givers there had a plan to help Mr. Reed arrest his addiction to heroin. Health Care for the Homeless is willing to work with him, too; one of HCH's outreach workers met with Mr. Reed while he was hospitalized.

Sunday marks my 33rd year of writing a column for this newspaper, and over all that time few stories have provoked reader response like the one last month about Terry Reed.

In eloquent and heartfelt letters, dozens of readers reported having seen Mr. Reed in the traffic along President Street. Many had given him money; all said they had long wondered about his circumstances. Several offered to help in some way, from donating money (assuming a fund could be established in Mr. Reed's behalf) to offering advice on where Mr. Reed should go for help with his drug addiction.

There were a few mean-spirited and harsh judgments about Terry Reed made by the usual suspects — the sarcastic and ridiculing readers who anonymously post online comments at the tail of Sun stories and opinion pieces. But they were an insignificant number compared to those who responded with sympathy and a desire to help Mr. Reed to a better life.

I visited him twice at Union Memorial, where he had been treated for a serious abscess in his left shoulder, and he seemed to be doing OK. He was quiet, but he smiled when I told him about all the response to the column. He expressed a lot of gratitude for the attention and high-fived me with the stump of his right arm. A Sun reader reported during Christmas weekend that she and her husband had visited Mr. Reed in the hospital as well.

A few days later, Mr. Reed walked out of Union Memorial, having signed an "Against Medical Advice" (AMA) waiver. In so doing, he walked away from an addictions treatment plan that had been made for him. A few days later, however, he showed up again, apparently to accept treatment at a long-term care facility. But he turned and walked away from that opportunity, too, again AMA.

That's how it often goes in this realm of life, where irrationality and dysfunction, disability and illness, homelessness and poverty all meet. Many readers — some of them speaking from experience with drug addiction — expressed real appreciation for the challenges Terry Reed presents for those who would try to step into and change his life. Happy endings do not come easy, and often not at all.

"The whole situation has made me reflect quite a bit over the holiday about the meaning and nature of successful outcomes in this work — quite different in each and every case, to be sure," says Kevin Lindamood, who runs HCH. "Success often comes in exceedingly small but important increments. We've tried our best not to write off instances like this as the 'choice' or personal failings of the individual in need of assistance — something easy to do the second or third time someone wanders away AMA."

Instead of giving up, Mr. Lindamood says, the committed people who work with the homeless try new approaches. "We just haven't found the right way to help Terry Reed yet."

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sundays. He is the host of the Midday show on WYPR-FM.

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