WHEN I FIRST wrote about Tom Nager almost two years ago, he was a man at the end of his rope.

His health had broken, followed by his finances.

Out of work because of illness, he was about to lose the little he had - his Upper Darby apartment and his two friends, which happen to be cats.

Thanks to the generosity of Daily News readers, about $10,000 got to Tom, who stretched out the money like pizza dough. Still on crutches because of crippling osteoarthritis in his knees, he got back to work, he was doing OK - until illness slammed him again early this year.

Now 57, Tom's at the bottom of a well.

His savings are gone, and if he can't make the rent by next Tuesday, he'll be evicted. "I'll have to live in my car," he says. His voice doesn't break until he talks about Buddy, 6, and Misha, 14, his cats, who can't live in the car with him. "If I have to turn them in . . . " he starts to say, then sobs.

His friends will die if he turns them in, and he can't stand that. He also can't stand that he is calling me again because his father always told him a real man takes care of himself.

Tom Nager is a real man, part of the working poor. He may be on crutches, he may be bent over, but he is a real man and he is in real trouble.

He's lived in Upper Darby all his life, worked all his life, never married, never had a good-enough job to finance a vacation on the Riviera.

His phone, TV and Internet have been cut off. He's talking to me on a prepaid cellphone with dwindling minutes. He can access email through a free computer at the local library, but going there burns gas in his 12-year-old car.

He wasn't paid when he was out sick, and he needs money to pay the rent until his work - he's a security guard - picks up in the fall.

He's out of money and out of hope. There's a dark despondency in some of the things he says.

If it comes to it, I can use my animal resources to get Buddy and Misha into new homes. They won't like it, Tom won't like it, but they'll be safe.

As much as money, Tom needs a new place to live, a place for less than the $900 a month he pays out of a $1,068 monthly salary. He also has to eat, buy medicine and pay for insurance for the car he needs to get to work because his knees are shot. He works overnight, when public transportation is near nonexistent.

I think he needs some institution - whether state, county, church or fraternal - to help him through this bad time. He's a few years away from Social Security, which will be small. He can't apply for disability because he works and would likely die before being approved if he stopped working. It's a grim Catch-22.

He needs a job that pays him more, so he can live. Aside from his cats, Tom's one joy is his porcelain collectibles - Marvel and DC Comics superheroes, such as Batman and Superman, numbered and signed by the artists. He will sell them to stay afloat but doesn't know how to do that effectively.

So I ask you if you can help. I ask you to ask your friends, your neighbors, your employer, whatever network you have, to ask about help for Tom, who hates the idea of charity and hears echoes of his stern father's voice when he is forced to ask for it.

I usually don't do a column like this more than once on an individual. I'm breaking that rule because Tom's down a well, and I'm about the only lifeline he has.

Me - and you.

Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns: