After more than a decade on the street, Richard Kreimer is about to become rich.
Kreimer, 42, sued a library that wanted him banned because he smelled and stared, and the police, who he said harassed him. He settled for at least $250,000.
Supporters hail him as a champion of the homeless; critics call him a money-hungry publicity hound. Kreimer just wants to retreat from the spotlight and get his life together.
“It will be the most difficult job of my entire life,” he said in a recent interview. Beyond following his favorite baseball club and traveling, he said he isn’t sure what he might do with the money.
Kreimer describes himself as an avid reader who goes to the library to read newspapers, magazines ranging from People to National Geographic, and sports biographies.
Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, he sued after the Joint Free Public Library of Morristown and Morris Township had ejected him several times because his smell and his staring had upset other patrons. He also filed a separate lawsuit accusing police of harassing him.
A judge last year overturned the library’s rule that banned loitering, staring at people and hygiene that is a nuisance to other patrons. The library appealed that decision, but its insurer settled with Kreimer. A source close to Kreimer said the settlement was close to $100,000.
The town settled the police harassment lawsuit for $158,000. Kreimer and his supporters say he fought to defend his rights to use the library and end police harassment of the homeless. Opponents say he is an opportunist who bothered library users and lied about the police harassing him.
“What the media has made him out to be is not what he is,” Mayor Norman Bloch said. “He is not an advocate for the homeless. He is an advocate for Richard Kreimer.”
Elaine Weil, head of the library’s board of trustees, said: “Every library has a right to reasonable rules. Otherwise, it becomes part of the street.
“Richard keeps claiming his rights, but he never claims his responsibilities,” she said.
Kreimer said his sudden fame had put a burden on his shoulders.
“I’m a little nervous about whether I’ll be able to pull it all together,” he said.
“I now represent an image of homeless people even though it’s not that way. It’s Richard Kreimer. I am now like a martyr for homeless persons.”
Margret Brady, a former councilwoman and friend of Kreimer’s, said there is “a lot of pressure” on him.
“Everyone is waiting to see what he does with the money,” she said. “I think he was really looking forward to getting the money. He thought it would be the end and it’s really the beginning.”
Kreimer, who grew up in a middle-class family in Morristown, a town of 16,000 in the New York suburbs, worked at his family’s warehouse and as a landscaper before becoming homeless.
Asked what he plans to do now, he talks of undergoing “lifestyle counseling” with social work professionals at Rutgers University. In return, he hopes to design a curriculum from his experience to teach students about homelessness.
He said he plans to shave his beard and replace his lucky jacket once he gets his money. Larger plans remain uncertain beyond traveling, publicizing the homeless issue and getting used to “quote, ‘normal life’ again.”
“Springtime is coming,” Kreimer said. “Baseball is coming and I want to see how my Reds are doing. I want to take the next six months of my life and be anonymous. It’s been very stressful the last 11 years.”