To the general public, he was the unnamed old man with a cane who – in a grainy video – tried without success to fight off a younger man who fatally stabbed him in broad daylight.
Since Baltimore Police released that video and arrested the suspected perpetrator, 19-year-old Christopher Straham, the victim of the December 2 killing has remained in the shadows.
I’m writing here to say that he was Andras Horvath, a 73-year-old chronically homeless Hungarian man.
I knew him.
He was fully blind in one eye. Given his age, he had an enviably full head of silver hair. He went by “Andy.”
When he first began working with Health Care for the Homeless, Andy seemed hardened, indifferent to help, and apathetic about his life.
He often spoke in devastating, bleak detail about his potentially fatal medical conditions and 10 depressing years living at Baltimore Rescue Mission.
He would shrug before stoically concluding, “It’s OK.” Our team soon realized that this was self-protective behavior.
Hobbled by Missing Paperwork
During the decade that he was homeless, numerous organizations began but ultimately fell short of untangling problems related to Andy’s nationalization documents.
Andy had a documented, legal work history in the U.S. and received SSI. But having lost all of his official identification, he was unable to apply for any of the subsidized, affordable senior housing that his age should have allowed him to enter.
This seemingly simple and banal problem of missing paperwork was decisive in perpetuating his homelessness.
Though Andy was eager to convey that he was proudly solitary, he was interested in connecting with other people. He loved long conversations. He was often observed spending whole afternoons talking with people that he did not even particularly like.
Given the amount of stability, respect and love he was denied, Andy was uncommonly genial, social and gregarious.
He did not have material stability as a young person. Moving abruptly from one caregiver’s home to another’s probably affected his relationships for the rest of his life.
To escape an unhealthy, abusive family situation as quickly as possible, a 16-year-old Andy forged paperwork so he would appear old enough to join the Hungarian Army.
Andy served as a lieutenant in Vietnam. Returning from deployment, he was soon incarcerated for participating in a group resisting Soviet occupation. After experiencing four years in Russian prison, he decided to leave Europe altogether.
A Job and Wife in America
He arrived in America and found work as a cabinetmaker.
But when his wife of 23 years died, Andy began drinking heavily. He was a functioning alcoholic until he retired at 65.
Without routine or purpose, he drank still more, which led to him losing his apartment and contributed to several serious medical problems.
Recently, things finally seemed to be improving for Andy. I talked to him the week before he died.
The birth certificate we requested from the Hungarian Embassy had arrived and he was close to getting his green card.
Multiple medical specialists were finally communicating with each other and devising a plan of care to treat him. He said that he was physically pain-free for the first time in several years, and allowing himself to feel hopeful.
He was beginning to believe there was some possibility that he might be able to leave the Baltimore Rescue Mission.
Andy believed strongly that people should be logical, independent, and self-contained. And he was dependable, always doing his part to show up at numerous appointments he needed for urology, oncology, and gastroenterology care.
The police did not release his name after he was killed because they hoped that they might be able to notify his family. As best anyone has been able to determine, he had none.
At Beans and Bread, where he was a regular presence, Andy was well-liked by residents and staff at the shelter.
At tonight’s homeless person’s vigil for those who died in Baltimore this year, he will be one of 165 people remembered.
– Phill Sheldon is the convalescent care coordinator at Health Care for the Homeless.