By Debbie Gregory.
Marine Corps veteran Lewis Morris has found solace at his Indiana childhood home. The house is empty and in disrepair, and it’s been some 20 years since Morris last lived there. But the 63-year-old said it still feels like home, and that’s why he settled into its backyard earlier this year.
It’s been 42 years since Morris received an honorable discharge from the Marines. He has a laundry list of health and substance abuse problems, and sleeping on a discarded mattress under the trees in the yard behind his late mother’s home isn’t helping.
Morris has chosen to stay outside, even though the home’s windows are broken and entry would have been easy. But he has too much respect for the law.
“They’d call that trespassing and it’s against the law,” he said. “It’s not right. I don’t need trouble.”
Morris joined the Marine Corps in 1972, and served a two-year stint as a mechanic. When he left the military, he worked a series of temporary jobs, had a child, and fell victim to drug and alcohol problems.
He eventually left Indiana for a VA treatment program in Kentucky, and then went to Ohio, where he was homeless for much of the time. His youngest sister, Martha Haynes-Eaton brought him back to Indiana two years ago, hoping that being closer to family would be good for him.
After a few months, Morris left, and once again became homeless. Last March, he walked over to his childhood home, its windows boarded up and shattered, trash and debris strewn across the weed-covered lawn. That’s when he began sleeping in the backyard.
In recent weeks, family and strangers alike have set out to help Morris.
The Morris family home was lost to foreclosure after his mother died 13 years ago. When city contractor Tony Roberts came across Morris in the backyard, sleeping on the old mattress, he realized Morris’ last name matched that of the home’s former owner, and when Morris told him about his time in the Marines, Roberts knew he needed to do something. “I wasn’t going to let someone who’d been willing to die for this country sleep unprotected in a backyard,” he said.
Roberts and his boss, a Marine veteran named Dave Jackson, decided to buy the property from the city, which owns it as part of a program aimed at reducing the number of vacant homes in the city. Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration, meantime, worked to remove from the bill a series of outstanding fines for health code violations, and the administration’s Veteran Service Officer, Matt Hall, reached out for help from John Way, another retired Marine who is part of a team at Eli Lilly and Co. that tackles issues facing veterans.
Morris recalled Way saying, “I’m here to help,” and feeling like he had a new friend.
Way and others have connected Morris with local assistance programs for veterans and the homeless, and he is getting help with his health issues and substance abuse issues.
Way has established a Go Fund Me page with the goal of raising the roughly $35,000 to rehab the home. Others are reaching out to businesses for support with the renovation project.
If you know a homeless Veteran in need of help, dial 1-877-4AID-VET to reach the National Homeless Veterans Call Center.