Meet Brandon Peck and you notice his hands. Specifically, you notice the fingernails that have been chewed down to short stubs. That's because of an attention disorder. He needs something to do when he's bored. Peck, 24, has been homeless or on the verge of it for years. Right now, he's staying in his grandmother's apartment in Hudson. He worries the manager will throw him out. Before that, he lived in the woods for nine months.
Two weeks ago, he found out he lost his job at Denny's in Bayonet Point. His 5-year-old son, Nicholas, lives with Peck's father. Peck doesn't get along with his dad and only sees his son occasionally.
"I feel like I'm a bad father because I don't have a good job," he said. "There's no money to go places like a father should."
Peck, tall and lanky, wears glasses and a buzz haircut. He had on an Atlanta Falcons jersey and a silver necklace this week as he visited Pasco's new mobile medical van for the homeless and those without health insurance.
Peck still faces a series of problems. But on Tuesday he had one less. He got a prescription for low-cost blood pressure pills, the first time he's had such medication in four years.
"This is more of a no-questions-asked program," said Dan Kolb, who runs the ACTS resource center on U.S. 19, where the medical van was parked that day. "This is showing love to people who are normally shunned. That right there is a big thing."
The medical van, which began making regular rounds across Pasco this month, is tailored for patients such as Peck. Common ailments are minor wounds, blood pressure problems or infections.
Soon, there will be a rotation of dentists who donate their time for tooth extractions and simple fillings.
"We're trying to get people out of the emergency room," said Lori Beucler, the van's nurse practitioner. "If we can catch it here, it's going to save hospitals a lot of money."
Essentially a doctor's office on wheels, the medical van is the brainchild of Commissioner Pat Mulieri. She bought the used vehicle from Pinellas without using county money. Instead, she solicited donations from community groups and hospitals.
There was enough money to hire Beucler and a full-time driver after Sen. Mike Fasano included $165,000 for the state budget of Pasco-Pinellas Public Defender Bob Dillinger, whose office oversees the project.
Jim Paar, the driver and EMT, said patients must meet just one standard. They must be indigent or uninsured.
"We don't care who you are," he said. "If you're here and uninsured, that's all we care about."
But Kolb, whose faith-based operation takes donations of clothes and household goods and gives them to the needy, said many homeless people are wary.
"You've got to gain people's trust," he said. "People say, 'What are you trying to sell? What are you trying to push?' "
If things are busy, Beucler spends her time glued to a seat in the van's triage area. She's writing prescriptions, focusing on free or cheap drugs offered at grocery stores. Often, she acts as an impromptu counselor.
Such was the case last week with Louise Dessert, who moved from Oregon to Port Richey in May with her adult son. About a month later, he got laid off from his call center job. The family recently pawned several electronics to pay the power bill.
Dessert, 52, said she has a series of health problems that stem from a gastric bypass surgery. She has a stomach ulcer and low blood pressure and sleeps only a couple of hours each night.
"My stress level has gone through the roof because he's been out of work for two months now," she said.
When the pair stopped by the medical van at Metropolitan Ministries in Holiday, Beucler gave Dessert a blood pressure prescription. She also gave her some advice.
"You have so many health issues that you really need to get established somewhere," she said.
Back at the ACTS center in Hudson, Scott Rice got a prescription for a new asthma inhaler. But like Peck, he faces several other problems. Rice lost his wife of eight years, Donna, five months ago. He started drinking to dull the pain, and lost his job doing landscaping and electrical work. Now he lives in the woods in Hudson.
"It hit me so bad, so hard, that I just stopped caring," he said, wiping away tears.
In May, he was arrested on a probation violation for an earlier animal cruelty charge. Rice, 43, spent six weeks in jail. The day after he was released, he went to ACTS to turn his life around.
He volunteers there several days a week, mainly to occupy his time and boost his self-worth. He recently landed a job doing home remodeling.
"Get up out of the woods," he said. "Put one foot in front of the other and move on."
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.