TAMPA — Daniel Byrne was in a bad way earlier this month. He was living on $600 a month from his part-time job at a car wash, staying in a dilapidated house without heat.
At 74, he was on the verge of homelessness.
His situation has improved dramatically, thanks to the Homeless Veterans Outreach at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, and a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputy who took a personal interest in helping out a U.S. Army veteran.
Byrne's home was drafty and dirty, and the circuit breaker would blow when he turned on the heat. He lived on the modest salary that comes with a part-time job at a car wash on Dale Mabry Highway, where he had worked since the 1980s, he said.
He has lived in Tampa for 40 years and gets around town on buses.
“The guy worked his heart out; he wasn't even aware of Social Security,” said Bruce Roberts, a social worker with Homeless Veterans Outreach. “He's 74 and he's still working at a car wash. I told him, 'You need to apply for Social Security. You're of age. It should have kicked in at 62.' ”
“I wasn't too familiar with all that,” Byrne said.
Roberts arranged for a ride for Byrne to the Social Security Administration building earlier this month.
“Come to find out, he's eligible and he even qualified for six months of back pay,” Roberts said. “Now, he's getting $1,400 a month and a new place to live. Someone donated furniture, too.”
Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Stephanie Krager, who has helped Byrne for the past three weeks, has forged a friendship with the veteran and gave him a lift to the veterans hospital Thursday because he wasn't feeling well and didn't show up for work, a rarity.
Among the obstacles that were overcome this month:
“Social Security would only pay Daniel if he had a bank account,” she said. He had never had a bank account. She took him to a local bank, which helped him open an account where he could deposit the Social Security checks.
An accountant who works with homeless veterans has volunteered to oversee Byrne's account, do shopping for him and take care of his financial needs, Krager said.
Last week, Krager helped Byrne move into his new apartment at Rocky Creek Village.
When he's not working, he sleeps, does laundry and shops for groceries, he said. He doesn't know if he still has family in his home state of Wisconsin, but now he might just begin to look, he said.
His plans for the future?
“I'll probably go back to work,” he said. “I feel great.”