The Capital of Annapolis

SEVERNA PARK, Md. (AP) — Fred Stamm isn’t sure how long he was homeless and begging for spare change on the streets of Severna Park.

But he’s thinking it was at least a decade. The years blend together for the 47-year-old, who found himself with nowhere to go after a fight with his father and stepmother years ago.

So he left the Pasadena home he shared with them and never looked back. Stamm stationed himself along Ritchie Highway, depending on the generosity of affluent strangers.

“And most of them helped me,” said Stamm, who lost his right leg to diabetes at age 34 and has been in a wheelchair since then.

“People helped me, but I still hustled.”

He doesn’t have to do that anymore.

For the first time in at least 10 years, he has a job, working as a sign flipper for Clement Hardware in Severna Park. Twice weekly, Stamm sits in front of Gordon Clement’s Ritchie Highway store, waving cardboard advertising signs. His friend and caretaker, Chuck Beck, said he’s in the process of lining up similar gigs for Stamm at other area mom-and-pops.

“I could get him more work than he could probably handle,” said Beck, a semi-retired Severna Park realtor.

For Stamm, the boost to his self-worth has been priceless.

“At least I know it’s my own money,” Stamm said. “People still help me here and there, but I don’t want them helping me all the time.”

Clement, whose family has owned the hardware store since 1969, said Stamm was a well-known figure in Severna Park. Many locals, including his mother, had a soft spot for him.

“He just needed a little help,” Clement said. “And the response from customers has been super – at least a half-dozen people have said how much they appreciate it, how happy he seems.”

The 6’5″ former linebacker for the former Andover High School worked a string of security jobs before he had to have his leg amputated. Disability payments helped him scrape by, as well as living with family members and significant others.

But then came the falling out with his dad and stepmom.

“I left altogether,” Stamm said. “I went to Glen Burnie and slept on the (B&A) bike trail. The cops didn’t bother me. They’re looking for troublemakers, and I wasn’t one of them.”

He said he hung out at McDonald’s and 7-Eleven locations along Ritchie Highway, and sympathetic patrons would buy him sandwiches and coffee. Sometimes he’d pull together enough money from donors to get a hotel room for a few days.

“Mostly everyone around Severna Park recognizes him,” Beck said.

Stamm was usually well-spoken and presentable despite being homeless, though it was apparent that he needed help, Beck said.

“The bike trail was his home,” Beck said. “So I would check on him, and other people would come and check on him.”

Last year, Beck noticed that his friend seemed to be in worse shape than usual. As it turns out, he hadn’t taken his insulin for about six months.

Though Stamm is quick with a witty comeback and can recite sports statistics with expertise, he has mild intellectual disabilities that make basic life skills a challenge, Beck said.

For example, Stamm’s disability payments went directly onto a debit card, and he would spend that on scratch-off lottery tickets in days, Beck said.

“He’s like a kid,” he said.

Beck took Stamm to the hospital and got him into an assisted living facility for a few months until he became healthier.

Afterward, he and a few of his friends helped set him up in a trailer in Glen Burnie. They also got him a cell phone, which he wears on a cord around his neck.

Earlier this year, Stamm moved into a tiny studio apartment in Severna Park. He pays his $500 rent with his disability check, his newfound earnings and a little help from Beck.

“We’re just dealing with how to manage his life so he can work,” Beck said.

He said he stumbled upon the idea of Stamm working as a sign flipper a few months back, when he saw a Liberty Tax Service employee dressed as the Statue of Liberty outside a local office, advertising the business’ services.

It seemed like win-win; businesses, especially small ones, need help advertising, and Stamm needed a job.

“He had the mentality of a beggar,” Beck said. “He needed to be a productive member of society.”

Beck first hired Stamm to wave a sign for his company, Beck and Co. Realtors, then approached Clement about taking him on as a part-time employee at $10 an hour.

Aside from changing Stamm’s life, it’s good for small businesses.

“It’s simple name recognition,” Beck said. “They might not be able to afford a full page of advertising (in the newspaper), but they can afford to hire somebody at $10 an hour.”

Stamm said he likes being productive and being around people.

“It beats staring at the wall all the time,” he said.

And Beck said he has seen an increased confidence in his friend.

“He has a home and he has a job, just like everyone else,” Beck said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (6)
  1. Frank says:

    There are many homeless men and women who are doing well, even in this tough job market. And they get better jobs than part-time sign flipping. With short term training, and a strong will to get back to where they were financially, they can and do succeed. There are many reasons for homelessness. Some are their own doing (drugs) and some are not (living paycheck to paycheck & being laid off). Nonetheless, it is good to see success stories instead of crime in the news.

  2. bill says:

    What a wonderful story. I agree with Frank that there is more he could potentially do then sign flipping but that is a start and unfortunately not many employers want to hire homeless people. I wish they would. Many are homeless b/c of drugs or drinking but not all of them. Some are like you and me, down on their luck and finances have run out, lost the house etc. People need to be given chances in life. Personally I think that there are too many people today holding down jobs that have the “I don’t care attitude.” They should be given a warning and if there is no improvement, let go. I’m sure with the right training a homeless person would love a chance to hold down a job and get back on their feet again. But there are too many stereotypes and of course, it wouldn’t work with every one of them.. Nice story

  3. Way To Go Beck says:

    Our mentality and self-image is what determines where we go in life.

    Unfortunately, Stamm lost a decade or more, to a low self-image, and lack of self esteem. Thanks to Beck, and his encouragement for Stamm, these negative factors and their inevitable results have been “turned around” for the better.

    It is important, for Beck (and others) to continue their encouragement and positive reinforcement for Stamm, as negative self-image is deeply ingrained in us, starting from childhood and carried into adulthood. It is not unusual, for failure to follow a period of success, despite the best of intentions of all involved.

    The bottom line is that Stamm has a great burden to overcome. One that has taken 47 years to construct; and must be disassembled and rebuilt “from the ground up”. A transformation of one’s perspective is the only way to develop the confidence needed to establish an unwavering confidence in our own abilities. And, for those who think that this is a problem experienced only by Stamm and those like him, think again. Even the strongest and most successful of us have our “moments” that result in lapses and “low points” in our personal outlook. Thus, we are all in the “same boat” as Stamm; although the majority are cruising “on the Top Deck.

    Cudos to Beck, in his self-less example of how we should all seek to “build each other up”, rather than tear each other down. Together, we really do have the ability to change the world for the better. In fact, if each of us were to help just one person to beleive in themselves, it would be possible to rebuild our society and nation to the standard that was originally envisioned by the founding forefathers of our great land.

    While this may seem to be a lofty and highly unlikely prospect to some, there are those that understand that disbelief in the concept (at first blush) is the very problem, and that the majority dismiss the idea, thus condemning the possibility to failure before it can begin.

    The question that is of paramount importance is this: What do you believe?

  4. sheriff says:

    You try living in the Severna Park , Arnold area on a minimum wage or flippin burgers everyday while people drive by you in their Lexus, Mercedes, Infiniti’s & into their high six figure homes & seven figure & tell me there’s a place for homeless? Stop blowing smoke up our A$$.

  5. Ann says:

    Great story but this is for the news, a diabetic not taking insulin for 6 months would be dead! My child has had diabetes for 17 years now so I can tell you 6 months of not taking insulin is a false statement, with in a few day of not taking insulin your blood glucose would get so high you would start vomiting and wind up in ketoacidosis which can lead to a coma or death.

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