Falling into, rising out of homelessness in Lewisville

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Elke Macy, proprietor and namesake of Elke’s Beer Haus on Main Street, was tending bar in the evening with her husband, Dan, keeping her company. Dan Macy went out front to have a smoke .

There he saw, in broad daylight, on the bench in front of next door Beasley’s Jewelry, a woman fellating a man. Elke Macy knew the woman to be a member of Lewisville’s homeless population.

With two of Lewisville’s biggest resources for those in need, the Salvation Army and the Christian Community Action Center, both around the Old Town area, Macy said homeless people living in Lewisville are a common sight, and she knows many of them. Macy said in recent years, the population has been more active and taken more liberties at her bar. She said people will dine and dash, unplug employee’s phones from their chargers and plug their own phones in, spend inordinate time in the bathrooms or even grab the bar phone.

“They get their food and then disappear,” she said.

Macy said she feels like there’s been a recent influx in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Lewisville and theorizes that the A-Train station opening in Old Town in 2011 may be the culprit. Additionally over the past year, Dallas has cracked down on homeless camps like Tent City, something that may be driving people experiencing homelessness to other nearby cities. But it’s difficult to know precisely why she’s having these experiences.

According to a Magnify Money survey published last year, more than 56 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings account. For many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, homelessness is just one unexpected expense away. Many of the people who provide aid to the homeless in Lewisville say they see more people falling into homelessness than they see already homeless people migrating to Lewisville.

John Worawut, who is experiencing homelessness in Lewisville, can attest that it only takes one wrong turn for things to spiral out of control. When Worawut’s mother died, he fell into alcoholism, saying he drank the first minute he woke up to the minute he went to sleep. He lost his job, his wife and, eventually, his home.

“It’s like a domino effect,” he said. “One thing happens, and then you’re homeless.”
Salvation Army Lewisville director Stephen Thomas said that he saw several people experiencing homelessness displaced from Dallas, but that most of them quickly moved on. He said that most of the people experiencing homelessness in Lewisville became homeless in Lewisville.

“We give food and clothing and resources to help find a job and such. A lot were coming with a different expectation of coddling,” he said. “I told a lot of them about the way it was going to be and what was expected here, respect both ways, and they moved on.”
Thomas, who was hired as director nine months ago after volunteering for two years, said there isn’t a systemic way to help people rise out of homelessness, and that help must be administered on a person-to-person basis. He said that by working with people experiencing homelessness individually and setting up specific goals, the Salvation Army has been able to help lift more than 30 people out of homelessness in the past three months.

“That takes out some of the folks from the homeless ranks,” he said. “From a bike to a car, an old car to moving boxes in a warehouse or food service or maybe getting a real job that they started with years ago before they had an addiction.”

Daphne Adams, family services manager at the Christian Community Action Center said her organization specializes in preventing people from falling into homelessness, and that she has seen an increase in request for financial aid.

“We see an increase in a lot of the homeless prevention aspects,” she said. “It has to be some kind of illness or major crisis that has caused them to come to us, but we have definitely seen an increase in individuals who are requesting rent in order to prevent evictions and becoming homeless.”

Thomas said Salvation Army Lewisville provides a host of services and needs volunteers and funds to continue them. Thomas said the red kettles, which he said provide funds for the entire year, represent 400 shifts he needs to fill. He said 850 families are served by the Angel Tree program, which requires sorting through thousands of bags of gifts, and he needs people who can undergo disaster relief training to help operate the canteen disaster relief/food truck, which can feed 1,000 people daily.

In the immediate term, he said the Salvation Army needs volunteers to help the service center stay open 6 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. as the temperatures dip below freezing at night. He has 15 FEMA cots to form a sleeping area on the cold nights, but needs volunteers in order to open and use them.

“I’ve got my volunteers stretched to the max,” he said. “I’m calling churches to see who can partner with me here. There’s about 30 that I’m aware of that are finding a place to sleep each night. A lot of them are just finding a tree or a bush or something.”
Thomas said the work is like drinking from a fire hydrant, but he relishes the opportunity to serve.

“It’s incredible to be in a position where you’re helping 200 people a day,” he said. “There’s such a brokenness in a lot of ways, but God shows his strength perfect in our weakness, and that’s what happens here every day.”

The Salvation Army of Lewisville is located at 206 W. Main Street. To volunteer, readers can call 972-353-9400.

Lewisville City Council member TJ Gilmore and Chasz Parker, president and CEO of Christian Community Action, represent Lewisville on the Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team. The team partners with United Way Denton to end and minimize homelessness in the county. The next public meeting, or Denton County Homelessness Summit, will be 8 to 9:30 a.m. Jan. 12 at United Way’s offices, 1314 Teasley Lane in Denton.