By ALLISON BOURG
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.)