Homeless IDF Vet Finds a Home, at Least for Now

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Andras Szekely
Photographer Andras Szekely displays greeting cards that feature his work. (Photo by Julie Savitch)

Andras Szekely, the homeless Israel Defense Forces vet, school bus driver and photographer the Jewish Exponent profiled in October, is homeless no more.

But the question of whether he’ll find a permanent home remains.

Szekely’s new living arrangements come courtesy of an Exponent reader moved by his story who decided to offer what she could.

“I’ve always believed that, given a different set of circumstances, any one of us could be homeless,” Malvern-based real estate agent Nancy Dougherty told The Washington Post, which recently ran its own profile of Szekely.

That belief led Dougherty to extend herself: She opened her house to Szekely.

It’s the first time the self-taught photographer, who still believes his photography is the key to his ultimate financial security, has slept in a proper bed in more than seven years.

Part of it has been surreal: “There I was, actually lying in a bed like a real human being,” he told the Post.

To Szekely, Dougherty’s generosity feels like a gift he doesn’t know how he’ll repay, but the arrangement has been mutually beneficial.

While Szekely doesn’t have chores, per se, Dougherty said, “He’s been extremely considerate and respectful and tries to be so helpful, always walking the dog.”

Dougherty, 59, lost her husband two years ago and has been living with just her dog in their four-bedroom home ever since. So for her, it’s nice having a person to talk to again.

“He’s quite a talker, definitely not a wallflower,” Dougherty said. “He’s got a lot to say. He’s very interesting and intelligent and knowledgeable on so many subjects. He’s a really good man.”

If the arrangement seems too good to be true, in a way, it is.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t a permanent solution for him,” said Julie Savitch, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s incoming chair of women’s philanthropy, who is also trying to help Szekely resolve his situation.

Dougherty confirmed that she has an interested buyer for her house and has identified a new home. She’s planning a vacation in early January and feels that it would be most appropriate for Szekely to have made new arrangements by then, although she hasn’t broached the subject with him.

“He always says he doesn’t want to pry,” Savitch said about his reticence asking questions. “I told him, ‘Andras, that’s not prying, you need to know.’ But that’s Andras.”

Savitch has called places throughout the area trying to secure Szekely housing once this dream arrangement ends. So far, she’s found Szekely unable to take the next step. She gives him numbers to call and, when she checks back in, he often hasn’t called them.

“He’s overwhelmed,” Savitch said. “There have been offers that have come in from other places, but Andras is choosy.”

Of course, an old line about beggars and choosers comes to mind, but Szekely is not a beggar.

“That’s just the thing,” Savitch echoed. “My hope is that now that he has a positive reference (from Dougherty) and everyone can see how well that arrangement has gone, someone else in a similar situation might offer a similar arrangement.”

Szekely confirmed that while he’s grateful for everything Dougherty has done, dealing with what will come next has been overwhelming. He’s found it difficult to discern, among the staggering amount of advice he’s received, the best option.

“To tell the truth, there’s too much going on,” he said. “Everyone is trying to tell me what to do, but I don’t want handouts. I want to build a business where I can succeed instead of getting government help and all these things. People try to be helpful, but they tell me to go backwards; I want to go forward.”

Szekely remains steadfast in his goal to get his photographic greeting cards into a big box retailer. He believes it’d be a win-win: Szekely would be paid well for his art; the retailer would reap the benefits of a public relations boon.

Is he ready to start thinking about a backup plan? Don’t count on it.

“I’m hoping to make connections with someone who can get me into a major store,” Szekely reiterated. “In today’s world, people see someone in this situation, they assume all I’m about is ‘gimme, gimme, gimme.’ But I’m an artist. I have something to give. I mean to achieve, not to receive a handout.”

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