When Tacoma police filed through the Jungle homeless camp beneath downtown freeways April 18, Craig Frady gathered up his few belongings and tromped up a muddy hillside to leave.
Along the way, he stopped to talk to a newspaper reporter. Frady, 41, mused about how he might recapture the productive life he had before heroin led to homelessness.
He could, he said, sell off his food stamps on the black market, use the money to buy drugs to resell. He might clear enough money, he said, to replace the welding helmet and gloves he needed to resume his life’s work.
He said using the drugs was no longer an option.
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Tuesday, one week later, a man Frady had never met before walked him through Pacific Welding Supply on Center Street to pick out new equipment.
Jim Cavanaugh, a retired machinist, read Frady’s account in The News Tribune and decided to help. He spent $148.83 on welding gear, then used his Land Rover to drive Frady through Tacoma’s industrial zones for hours to look for work.
“Too many people are stuck in homeless life because they prefer to do that,” Cavanaugh said. “If somebody’s willing do some work, I’m willing to spring for that.”
Cavanaugh, 74, lives on Anderson Island, where he retired after 25 years of oil refinery work in California. He is not wealthy, but said he was glad to come up with the money in hopes it would give Frady a serious chance at rebuilding his life.
“It’s the least I can do,” Cavanaugh said. “I’ve been in pinches before where someone helped me out.”
He said he was moved to contact The News Tribune because Frady’s situation seemed to have a straightforward potential solution.
“It’s equivalent to the old saying about the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him how to fish,” Cavanaugh said when he called to find Frady. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Their lives intersected in the aisles of the welding shop after Cavanaugh called April 19 to ask how to find Frady. A reporter tracked down Frady through Positive Interactions, a homeless outreach service. Brandon Ault of Positive Interactions said the homeless man had impressed him and — crucially — left a phone number.
“He’s a decent individual, I can tell you that, man,” Ault said of Frady on Thursday. “He’s got a really good heart.”
But he doesn’t have a reliable way to stay in phone contact. Cellphones are easy to carry, but being homeless means a place to charge one is rare.
After city officials asked Frady and other Jungle residents to move along, he ended up living under a nearby bridge. It lacks an electric outlet, among other deficiencies.
“You got a real strong smell of sewage,” Frady said.
It took him until Monday to return the reporter’s messages. He was taken aback when he heard someone wanted to help.
“Wow. Shocker. I didn’t think words could make people change their mind like that,” he said.
On Tuesday, Cavanaugh got to the welding store early and nursed a cup of coffee. Frady arrived two minutes late and out of breath. He wore a black knit cap, a sweatshirt and several days of beard growth.
He reported being exasperated by the other homeless people under the bridge. They had, he said, been more interested in smoking marijuana than in telling him the time.
Cavanaugh and Frady exchanged a brisk greeting.
“Talk to me. Tell me what’s up. What’s your agenda?” Cavanaugh said.
Frady described his qualifications and hopes, talking fast. Cavanaugh said later that he’d gotten a good feeling from what he heard.
“If I can help a guy who really wants to work, I’m for it,” Cavanaugh told Frady.
“I really want to go to work,” Frady responded.
Cavanaugh offered up a helmet he had scoped out — a mid-tier model by Lincoln Electric with an auto-darkening visor. Frady nodded eagerly.
“Pick out a pair of gloves and get going,” Cavanaugh said.
After Cavanaugh paid the bill and guided Frady to a cup of store coffee, he asked what Frady was doing next.
“Want a ride?”
“You got it.”
Driving Frady to the place where he hoped to arrange work ended up requiring multiple stops, several hours and a trip to a temp agency in Fife that had a copy of Frady’s résumé.
“He couldn’t have done all this in one day walking,” Cavanaugh said while Frady was out of the car.
Cavanaugh is single and fills his days with ballroom dancing and various projects around his home. His children are grown.
He dispensed fatherly advice during the drive, talking up virtues in work and life.
Frady could stay “off the intoxicants” by working hard, Cavanaugh said. He encouraged Frady to look far and wide for work, and said he’d done well in his career at a refinery in Wilmington, California, before retiring to the South Sound.
Frady said that because his son is an adult and he is single, he will chase work wherever he must.
Applying for work with a felony record means he may have to. Frady has a 2002 conviction for possession of stolen property. Cavanaugh asked if he’d been clean long.
Frady’s voice dropped when he answered.
“A little bit. Not that long, but a little bit,” he said.
A carton of Guinness bottles jingled in the back of the Land Rover while Cavanaugh drove. They talked about drinking beer, Frady of high-alcohol beers 211 Steel Reserve and Hurricane around a campfire, Cavanaugh of a pint of stout beside a fireplace.
Cavanaugh crossed the Murray Morgan Bridge for the first time in his life following Frady’s directions down to Globe Machine Manufacturing Co. in the Tideflats. He said seeing the manufacturing district reassured him that he could go back to work if he needed to.
Frady went in the shop door and had a long conversation with a friend, who hugged him. Then he carried his resume and copies of the welding certifications he’d lost in a foreclosure into the company office.
When he emerged, Cavanaugh advised him to call the company every morning to ask if there was a job for him. Be courteous, Cavanaugh urged.
“If he does that enough,” Cavanaugh said, “she will get the point that he really does want to work. That’s how I got my first job in a machine shop.”
He then ferried Frady to a state office that offered a program to help him get work despite his criminal history.
A few hours later, Cavanaugh reflected on the interaction while waiting for his ferry home to Anderson Island.
“Good Lord willing and the river don’t rise, that kid’ll be working soon,” Cavanaugh said. “I didn’t do it to impress anybody. I thought it would just be the right thing to do.”