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Stories & Insights
Learn about the Harold Lewis House and how Crossroads serves veterans overcoming homelessness.
November 08, 2018
by Jennifer Watkins, Vice President of Emergency Shelters
When I think about the Harold Lewis House, Crossroads' housing for those 50 and older, I think about my parents who are 76 and 77. I think about how they have a safe, warm home to stay in.
I also think about the elderly who don’t have that same basic human right.
I think of our first tenant who moved into Harold Lewis house the day it opened on January 13, 2006. He was a military veteran, struggling but attempting to become sober. He found himself staying with his sister, niece and then eventually on the streets. Through the help of his sister, he came to Harold Lewis House. He moved in with tears in his eyes, overwhelmed and excited to have a new place to call his home.
I think of Harold Lewis.
Like the Harold Lewis House's first tenant, many of its residents are military veterans. This is fitting as Harold Lewis, the property's namesake, was a veteran himself. After fighting in the Vietnam War, he too found himself homeless. With no place to go, Harold came to Crossroads Rhode Island’s community room (then called Traveler's Aid) in October 1999.
When I met Harold, I had just started at Crossroads, working as a Program Manager. Harold was quiet. He stuck to the same routine every day, standing against a building on Weybosset Street with three black bags that held all his belongings, waiting to return to the community room for the evening.
I always walked past Harold on the way to work, and each time he commented "You left your window down," or "You left the key in the door." Every day was something different. As a new mother, there were days I would have a baby bottle in my pocket, a pacifier hanging from my shirt and even baby vomit on the back of my coat. Harold didn’t miss a trick. He would tell me about it each day.
We existed like this for two years.
Something was different when I walked to work on November 16, 2001. Harold was not in his usual spot on Weybosset Street.
Upon my arrival at Crossroads, a client came out of the community room, insistent that I check on Harold. He sat in the community room, his head down on the table.
Pushing through a crowd of 50 people, I approached Harold. I tapped him on the shoulder and called his name. No response.
I touched Harold's neck to find him cold, without a pulse. Even as myself, other staff, nurses and paramedics jumped into action, I knew Harold would not make it.
One thought repeated in my mind: "If only he had a place to call home, at least he wouldn’t have died alone like he did, as soon as he did, surrounded by people in a community room."
From that day on, I could never forget Harold and how, if he had a house of his own, maybe he would not have passed that day.
Three years later, I was promoted to Operations Manager of Crossroads' new permanent supportive housing program for individuals over 50 years old experiencing homelessness.
During the program's initial stages, I was tasked to come up with a name for the new property.
That’s when Harold Lewis' name came into my mind.
It was the perfect way to honor him, a way to give his name a home, knowing that others in a similar situation would see a different fate thanks to Crossroads’ program.
The ribbon cutting for the Harold Lewis House occurred on November 16, 2005, marking the four-year anniversary of Harold's passing. This was the day that Harold Lewis was remembered and honored. Now many veterans like him would have a place to call home.
Today, the Harold Lewis House provides permanent supportive housing to 14 formerly homeless adults and veterans. Five units give preference to veterans, regardless of their discharge status, to recognize and support those who have served this country, just as Harold Lewis did so many years ago.