“It Takes A Village...”

Community Effort To Help Fred Stamm Comes To A Happy Ending

As Chuck Beck crossed the parking lot to his truck one day after running errands around Severna Park, he saw a figure in a wheelchair seated next to one of the car windows, talking to Smokey, Beck’s golden retriever. The stranger began to wheel away when he saw Beck approach. “I hope I didn’t bother you,” he told Beck, explaining that he had a kindred spirit with retrievers, having been around them when he was growing up.

Beck came to know the stranger as Fred Stamm. A member of a surprisingly large homeless population in Anne Arundel County, Stamm was often seen on the sidewalks and in parking lots around downtown Severna Park, or along the B&A Trail, which he would traverse in his wheelchair all the way to BWI Airport so he could watch the planes land and take off.

After this chance meeting between Beck and Stamm about seven or eight years ago, Beck began a friendship with the homeless man and provided any help when he could. He soon spoke to other community members with the same interest, and an informal group formed to keep in touch about what could be — and was being — done. “We started to be proactive in his life,” Beck said. “We became his friend and advocate and tried to get all the help for him we could.”

Those who took the time to talk with Fred knew him to be a simple but fiercely independent person whose health and cognitive skills were his greatest challenges. In 1983, he was a star linebacker on the Andover High School football team. But despite his excellence on the field, Stamm struggled in the classroom, and after the last game, he dropped out, tired of being teased by his peers for being in special education classes.

Not long after that, his mother died and his father remarried. His stepmother had no patience for his struggles, and Stamm left his family’s house. Over the past 15 years, Stamm has made the streets of Severna Park his home, sleeping under the gazebo on the Hatton Regester Green along the bike trail and frequently visiting the parking lots of local stores.

He would receive some money from Social Security for his disability — Stamm lost his leg to diabetes — but the funds never lasted him through the month. Although he didn’t drink or take drugs (except the occasional cigarette when he could find one), Stamm struggled to manage his finances because of his mentality.

At long last, thanks to the efforts of “friends of Fred” in the Severna Park community, Stamm found himself in a safe, comfortable home at Autumn Lake Healthcare in Chestertown. As Beck wrote to other helpers in a recent email update, “He has 24-hour medical attention, the right medicines at the right time, the right food at the right time, total security, help with all his personal needs and, for the first time in almost 20 years, some dignity.” Beck added, “The staff loves him and the residents are entertained by his jokes and tales.”

The effort to help Stamm involved countless acts of kindness, some small and simple, others great and monumental. Phyllis Beardmore was one such good Samaritan who would have coffee with Stamm every morning. She recalled that her interaction started 10 years ago, when she offered to buy him a cup of coffee during her morning stop at Dunkin Donuts. “It developed into a friendship,” she said. “I think he just liked that I recognized he was a human being. I just offered him friendship - he’d offer me a joke or a quote from the Bible, and we’d talk about sports.”

Although some otherwise compassionate people will often overlook homelessness or have their reservations against helping those in need, Beardmore bore in mind Matthew 25:45: “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” The compassion was not lost on Stamm. “It gave him an inward reality that everyone doesn’t look at him as homeless,” Beardmore said. “It gave him the possibility that somebody still saw something in him.”

Beyond the morning routine cup of coffee, Beardmore continued to help Stamm when she could. On his birthday, she encouraged her students at Severn School to make cards for him, which she delivered. When it was pouring rain, she took his shirt and coat to launder. “A kind word and a kind smile go a long way,” she observed.

Gordon Clement, owner of Clement Hardware, offered Stamm a job, which was Stamm’s first employment in a long time. Clement hired Stamm to hold an advertising sign alongside Ritchie Highway, and Stamm took to the job with enthusiasm. “He showed pride in his work, and it gave him a sense of self-worth,” Clement recalled. “He did a good job and was always very reliable; when he was healthy, he was there.” Although some customers accused Clement of taking advantage of Stamm, Clement always gave Stamm the option of choosing his own days and hours, and Stamm would show up steadfast despite any poor weather to do his job. Beck even indicated that Stamm “felt like a million bucks” to be employed. “I know his advertising did more harm than good for your business, but the thought and the weekly money and the dignity afforded were wonderful for Fred,” Stamm wrote in praise of Clement in a group email.

The other friends of Fred included Jim Hiskey, who found Stamm shivering, wet and cold in his wheelchair one night and took him into his home, fed and clothed him and gave him a bed. Hiskey even bought Stamm a mobile home to try to live in. Peter Godfrey would put Stamm, soiled and smelling, in his car and take him to worship at Bay Area Community Church. Dee Torres would seek out Stamm in bad weather to take blankets, food, money and kind words. Mike Warwick would spend Tuesday mornings with Stamm to bring him friendship and spiritual mentoring.

In fall 2014, Stamm’s health started to deteriorate from his severe diabetes and the complications of street life. He went into renal failure, and diabetic neuropathy left him with a urinary catheter, loss of bowel control, incessant foot and leg infections and an MERS infection.

Beck explained that as winter approached, he realized Stamm’s life was at risk. He tried to convince Stamm that he needed to be in a home with constant care, but Stamm resisted, saying that if he died, it would mean only that he was going to be with his mom. In January, Beck helped Stamm get admitted to Anne Arundel Medical Center and later a rehabilitation clinic in Hyattsville. Eventually, through a combination of politicking and praying, he managed to have Stamm accepted on a permanent basis at the Chestertown facility, which will be covered by Stamm’s Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Those who had been integral to the journey were happy to hear its happy ending. “I trust he’ll be well cared for, have fresh clothes and good food and clean sheets,” Clement said. “It’s terrific.”

“It was a team effort,” Beardmore said. “It takes a village, and that’s the important thing.”

Beck recently went to visit Stamm at Chestertown, taking Smokey with him, and reported that the formerly homeless man was in good spirits. He is delighted with a new Sony PlayStation IV that his friends bought him, and he is looking forward to a Fourth of July fireworks outing in Baltimore, as well as a few Orioles and Yankees games.

As for Beck, he said that his friendship with Stamm has made him aware of the many homeless people living in area, and that he would like to be able to help some of them when he and the others are able. “If we can, we’ll look for someone else,” he said. “I know they’re out there.”