The modest little apartment in Denbigh isn't much, but for 16 years it's been home to a former shipyard worker I'll call "Glenn."
In his mid-60s, Glenn is a short man of ebbing vigor, bald, with blue eyes and a horseshoe mustache. Emphatically Scottish, he keeps his clan crest on the wall and two kilted Highlander figurines on a bookshelf.
Power tools he can no longer use are stacked neatly by the door, where four white canes hang from wooden pegs.
Once a licensed tradesman, Glenn says he lost his welding job years ago when he lost too much of his hearing and eyesight. Nearly deaf and blind now, he's a hard man to communicate with. He speaks perfectly well, but you're not sure how much of the conversation has penetrated. He has hefty glasses with telescoping lenses, but doesn't always wear them.
Even his Meals on Wheels volunteer of six months, Kathryn "Kat" Heitman, has trouble conversing, but believes Glenn is worth the effort.
When she caught him pouring clumpy, sour milk into a glass, Kat began bringing him groceries. Soon she was taking him to medical appointments. Then outings.
"He has no stimulation or interaction with society," Kat says. "Every time I take him to a doctor, I take him to Burger King or Chick-fil-A. The first time, he sat there kind of shaking because of all the noise and the lights. He was so overwhelmed. Now we just go through the drive-through."
Last week when she found out Glenn is getting evicted, she jumped in again.
Now it was her turn to get overwhelmed. She discovered that figuring Glenn's place in the Big System — what he was getting or not or why — was a visit with the mad hatter even for a woman with five senses intact.
Glenn isn't being evicted for nonpayment of rent, but because of neighbor complaints. He smokes like an oil-burning engine, and plays his music and TV loud enough for a nearly deaf man to hear.
With hearing aids, Glenn could be brought up to 80 percent hearing, Kat says, but they cost more than $1,000 each and Medicare doesn't cover them.
And, she says, though clearly disabled, Glenn isn't actually on disability, but Social Security of $1,200 a month. Neither she nor he knows if he's entitled to any sort of shipyard pension.
Glenn also suffers from a severe case of ichthyosis — a skin disease in which cells fail to shed normally and accumulate in thick, dry patches. Known as "fish scale" or "fishskin" disease, it has no cure but can be treated with expensive prescription creams which, again, Medicare doesn't cover.
Glenn has had the condition all his life. When he was 3 years old, he said, he sat in a bathtub with a Brillo pad to scrub it off — "All I did was draw blood."
Kat suspects embarrassment is the third wall of Glenn's box of isolation. Injured pride could be the fourth.
As he watches Kat and me talk, his hand rakes his face and his shoulders shake. When he looks up again his face is flushed, eyes red. He gazes up at Kat and chokes out: "I asked him last night to take me. I can't live like this."
Kat rubs his shoulder.
"How do you walk away from somebody like this?" she says later. "I don't know how to do that."
Thank goodness she didn't. It took phone calls to everyone from Adult Protective Services to the mayor's office, but on Friday afternoon — eviction day — Kat's persistence landed Glenn another apartment through CANLINK, a housing program for homeless persons with disabilities, part of LINK of Hampton Roads. LINK is just one of the local help agencies that benefit from reader donations through the annual Daily Press Holiday Fund Campaign, now under way.
LINK will also offer Glenn supportive case management, says executive director Lynne Finding.
"People are not always easy to help," Kat says. "They're not always sweet old men and kind old ladies. They're not always pretty and perfect. We have to overlook all that and see the humanity.
"And it's not always a happy ending. But that's what you do — you just keep working for those happy endings."
Contact Dietrich at 247-7892 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on the Holiday Fund •For more information on the Holiday Fund, see Page 1 of News. •For details on how to donate, see Page 14 of News.