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Kevin Cullen

Moving story of a once-homeless veteran

Steve Parrott’s father thought he was doing everybody a favor when he bought a house in Rockland and moved the family there.

But Steve and his sisters were city kids, OFDs, originally from Dorchester, and so as a child Steve ran away, over and over, back to the bright lights. Then his father threw them out of the house in Rockland, and it was moot. Steve Parrott’s grandmother let him stay with her in the projects in Southie, but the street beckoned and he always answered.

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By the time he was a teenager, he knew how to drink and drug with the best of them. But that life always ends in heartache and handcuffs and so, one year out of his teens, he stood before a judge who gave him a choice of the Army or a jail cell.

He chose wisely.

If the Army gave him the structure he desperately needed, that discipline didn’t stick after he was discharged and found himself chasing his destiny at the bottom of an empty bottle.

His sister Sue Rockwood was trying to forge her own life. She went to BC, became a schoolteacher, but she was struggling at that awkward intersection of love and guilt, trying to help her brother while not being overwhelmed by his problems.

“When he’s sober, my brother is a really good guy,” she said. “He would do anything to help anybody.”

More than one person saw that. Jerry Foley, who runs the fabled tavern in the South End, was one of the first. Foley and his family never gave up on Steve Parrott, even when he kept hitting rock bottom. They kept giving him odd jobs, encouraging him to get sober, to get healthy.

Jay Patel, who runs the smoke shop right around the corner from J.J. Foley’s, did the same. But for the last 15 years, Steve Parrott’s home was the street. For years, he lived in the T tunnel leading into Broadway station. The T workers knew him and let him be until somebody decided he was not a lost soul so much as a looming liability.

Steve Parrott stayed at the Pine Street Inn sometimes, but he’s not big on shelters, so he slept where he could, sometimes on the floor of a Mexican restaurant owned by a kind man, more often on the street, in a sleeping bag.

If Steve Parrott often gave up on himself, his sister and the people he met, all those years he was homeless, did not.

Jerry Foley and his kids, each one bigger than the next, stayed on him. Jay Patel stayed with him.

Ray Flynn, who used to see him on the street when he was mayor in the 1980s and once gave him a winter hat, never gave up on him. Neither did Ray’s wife Cathy. And the counselors Steve Parrott met at the Veterans Administration in Jamaica Plain and Brockton insisted that, as a man and as a veteran, he live with dignity.

All of those people pulled off something remarkable about a month ago. They helped Steve Parrott move into an apartment, his first real home since he squatted with his grandmother in D Street 15 years ago. One of the Foleys, Mike, even put up the down payment.

Everybody assumed that Steve Parrott would move into some place in the South End or Southie, because it was on those streets he has been a fixture for much of the last 40 years. But he insisted on getting a place in Rockland, not because his father forced him to live there once, but because his mother is now in a nursing home nearby.

He and his mom had a relationship that was rocky, to say the least. But if Steve Parrott has learned anything in his 54 hard, rootless years, it’s that you don’t give up on the people you love and who love you.

“I’m kind of doing OK,” he said, as cautious as anyone who knows what one day at a time really means. “I have my family back. That’s the best Christmas present in the world.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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