Skip to comments.Homeless man had little, gave much (Supported two Senegalese kids)
Posted on 12/25/2011 11:21:40 PM PST by Hetty_Fauxvert
Kevin Christopher Fitzgerald's life ended Saturday night on the cold asphalt of Highway 101 in Santa Rosa when the 57-year-old homeless man walked into the path of a southbound pickup truck.
The driver, traveling at 65 mph, swerved and tried to brake, but had no chance to miss Fitzgerald, the CHP said. The man had lived on the streets and been to local hospitals so often in the last 25 years that paramedics immediately recognized him.
Fitzgerald, the fifth homeless pedestrian killed by a vehicle this year in Santa Rosa, carried a secret that stunned most people who'd known the gentle, soft spoken man who suffered from mental illness all his adult life.
Surviving lately on about $600 a month in disability payments, Fitzgerald sent $56 a month to an international charity to support two 9-year-old children in the west African nation of Senegal.
"For a lot of people that's a drop in the bucket," said his older sister, Kathleen Fitzgerald-Orr of Santa Rosa. "It's like giving up a latte a day."
But for a man on the edge like Kevin Fitzgerald, donating nearly 10 percent of his income sometimes meant he had to "do without," his sister said.
"That's remarkable," said Nick Baker, program manager at Catholic Charities' Homeless Services Center, who knew Fitzgerald. "I've never heard of that before."
Fitzgerald, who started making the payments to ChildFund International in March 2009, was one of the 250,000 people whose donations support 13.5 million children in 31 nations.
"An amazing story," said Cynthia Price of ChildFund. "Someone who had so little chose to give to children halfway around the world."
Fitzgerald's funding provided three meals a day to an unrelated pair of Senegalese children, Waly and Bintou, who live in rural areas where families typically make $800 a year, Price said.
For her brother, who never married or had children, the donations were a chance "to give to someone who had less than him," Fitzgerald-Orr said. "It was his one claim to doing something he felt was important."
Fitzgerald came by his charitable nature as a lifelong Roman Catholic, educated in parochial schools in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, who attended Mass at St. Rose Church in Santa Rosa when he was able.
"He didn't have a mean bone in his body," Fitzgerald-Orr said.
Fitzgerald was badly injured in an assault on the street, and Fitzgerald-Orr said she and her sisters -- Linda Trowbridge of Santa Rosa and Becky Kough of Eureka -- feared for his safety.
Whenever Fitzgerald was arrested and jailed, they were relieved to know that he was temporarily in a safe place.
Baker said he knew Fitzgerald as one of chronically homeless men who'd drop by the homeless center on Morgan Street to get out of the cold, get a cup of coffee or sign up for a night at Sam Jones Hall, a shelter in southwest Santa Rosa.
"There was something very likeable about him," Baker said. "He was clean-shaven most of the time I saw him. You wouldn't really know he was homeless."
Fitzgerald knew plenty of hardships, but never displayed the bravado common among street people as a survival tactic, Baker said.
"He was such a gentle soul," Baker said. "I can't see him trying to hurt anyone else or himself."
Fitzgerald's life had few high points. He was a brilliant youth in the early 1960s, whose parochial school teachers wanted him to skip several grades and enter a university-bound program, Fitzgerald-Orr said. Fitzgerald suffered a psychotic break in his early teens and never recovered his mental health, she said.
His father supported him at first, and his sisters took over that responsibility after the four siblings came separately to the North Coast in the 1970s.
But Fitzgerald, who became drug-dependant, turned for the worse about 25 years ago and began living mostly on the streets, going in and out of rehab programs, group homes and shelters.
"He went from being brilliant to struggling to stay alive," Fitzgerald-Orr said. Her brother's bad choices "have broken our hearts for years," she said.
A Sonoma County homeless survey conducted in January found that one-fourth of respondents were suffering from mental illness.
Fitzgerald-Orr has no idea what was on her brother's mind as he ventured onto the freeway near the downtown exit about 8 p.m. on Saturday night.
His Catholic faith would keep him from suicide, if he was thinking rationally, she said. But Fitzgerald had been taking methadone, a drug used to treat heroin addiction, and may have mixed it with alcohol that night and wandered unknowingly onto the highway, she said.
"He didn't do it purposely," she said.
Fitzgerald walked onto the west side of the freeway and was struck by a Toyota Tacoma pickup six feet from the shoulder, the Highway Patrol said.
Another homeless, mentally ill man died at about the same spot last year, walking onto the freeway from the east side in the daytime, Officer Jon Sloat said.
The location, near the exit ramp that leads to Davis Street, is second to the Highway 12 and Dutton Avenue interchange as a crossing point for homeless people, who camp in the roadside landscaping, Sloat said.
In both locations, there are pedestrian routes that pass underneath the highways. "There's no reason to be up there (on the highway), but they are," Sloat said.
A relative saw Fitzgerald a few days before he died and said he "seemed to be his normal self," Fitzgerald-Orr said.
She wishes now she had tried to intervene in Fitzgerald's life one more time, but doesn't know if it would have made a difference.
To commemorate Fitzgerald's life and to continue his support of the two Senagalese children, his family has established a savings account at Redwood Credit Union [Santa Rosa, CA], number 383078 and donations are welcome.
"You know what, his life was meaningful," Fitzgerald-Orr said. In his passing, she has one consolation.
"I know he's in a good place," Fitzgerald-Orr said. "He's out of the pain he was in most of his adult life."
I know enough homeless people that I can state that they don’t always have a choice about their situation.
I also think that homeless people should be forcibly institutionalized, to separate them from their drugs, then streamed for their ability to be independent. Some would be functional, if they were checked up on monthly and others could really be independent.
Better do that, then letting them die in the streets in their filth and despair.
Because of the liberal movement to give the homeless and mentally ill rights, the only way to force someone into a mental hospital is if they are homicidal or suicidal or totally unable to do any of the daily tasks of life.
Tomorrow I’ll call Redwood Credit Union and find out exactly how to donate to the fund for the two children. We were too busy this Christmas to seek out a good charity to give to. I think this might fill the bill for us. I’ll post the info tomorrow after I get it.
Closing the rubber rooms, because they weren’t perfect was the worst decision we’ve made for homeless people.
We could have improved them in whatever way they needed improving.
We lost a good person. However, his good works and sacrifices can serve as an inspiration to others.
I know your intentions are good. But I think you should study the problems caused by giving out hand outs in Africa. You can Google, I think, an article from two years where an African UN minister begged the West to quit making Africans dependent on foreign aid welfare. I don’t know about this particular charity, but most food, medicine, for sure money goes into the tribal armies to keep the killing going.
Yes, the liberal idea to “free” the homeless and mentally ill has probably done more harm to them, and society, than help
Sad story about this homeless man. However, I have no sympathy for all the “Mental Illness” spin. Having been abused by mentally ill people...there is zero sympathy for a group of people who continously refuse help and continue to get in the same dire predicaments all the time. Sympathy for the mentally ill leads to harm for someone else...usually to someone who does not deserve it
“Whenever Fitzgerald was arrested and jailed”
“There was something very likeable about him”
Many mentally ill people don’t have the capacity to know when they need help. It’s unreasonable to expect something of somebody that they don’t have the ability to perform to your expectations.
It’s like expecting a five year old to understand calculus and being upset at their inability to perform to your expectations.
When I speak, I’m not talking about borderline personality dosorders, where the person has the capacity for being normal, but they choose not to do so.
Where did he get the money that he sent to the organization that was feeding the children?
Closing down the mental hospitals was a "victory" for the Left and "human rights" but, it was inhumane.
There are programs that work to mainstream homeless who are able but they have no funding and lack capacity. In many cases there are no beds, particularly for men.
This is a place where the "social safety net" fails while migrants and grifters get their paydays.
Rest in Peace, Kevin.
I agree...as much as we want to help out the less fortunate in Africa, the money gets stolen or forced out by threats of killing them, by the ruthless tribal leaders or corrupt governments. Look at the food trucks that hijacked and sold on black market to these people who are starving....
I help America first because when we fall....there will be no one financially able to give overseas to the less fortunate.
How sad for this man...he had a mental break down about the age that schizophrenia hits for young men......he then got involved in the cycle of self medicating.......but through all this he had the clarity of thinking beyond himself to help others....
As someone who has family who have lived with mental illness, your callous "just get over it" response belies an ignorance of mental illness. Those afflicted with this terrible, destructive disease are unable to respond normally to situations and people. Those with mental illness know who display kindness towards them and those who are harsh and unaccepting of their condition. I would suspect that you are of the latter, thus the response you receive from such people.
But it's not just about mentally-ill people, is it? Those who lack compassion and refuse to accept others who do not conform to their standards find fault in just about everybody around them.
Thank you newzjunkey, for noting the following:
It's not always about drugs or alcohol either. Mental illness is a scourge. It can stalk for a life time. Since it's your own mind, it's unavoidable.
Remarkable that he could pay all those hospital bills and still send $56 per month on such a small income.
This was a private donation to what sounds like a private charity. Not US foreign aid to some faceless,useless NGO.
But your overall point is a good one. US Gubmint foreign aid to the third world is about as useful as handing a $20 to the drunk with a sign on the off ramp.
Group homes for the mentally ill seem like a better solution than the old large institutions but there doesn’t seem to be enough money for all of the people who need them. There is money for all kinds of abuse and nonsense but not for the people who are truly in need.
The first thing, as a conservative and a Christian, believe is that we need to show mercy and kindness to our weaker brethren. However, we are also bound by the laws of economics to be kind within boundaries that we can afford.
It’s nice, if we can put people in homes, with back yards and swingsets and such. It’s just a question as to, when you consider all societal responsibilities, whether we can afford idealized solutions to problems or if we have to give more practical solutions to the problems in society.
If we can honestly afford group homes for mentally ill and deficients, then we should. However, if it is at the expense of our economic integrity to give an idealized solution to so a societal problem, then we have to be more practical minded and do what we are able to do.
I don’t believe, personally, that the institutions were the problems, as opposed to the, sometimes, barbaric psychiatric practices within them.