Tired, beaten and broken, Chris Lewis had enough.
Enough of sleeping in shelters, on the streets or on a friend’s sofa. Alcohol and drug abuse led Lewis to homelessness, but he soon found the willpower to change.
Lewis journey from homeless to hopeful began about seven months ago. He committed himself to a 15-day treatment at East Central Regional Hospital. From there, he found help at the Augusta Rescue Mission on Watkins Street.
Now, Lewis works five days a week saving his paychecks to eventually move into a house of his own. The transition to independence has not been an easy task, nor one he could complete without the support of an agency like the Augusta Rescue Mission, he said.
“I’m not trying to get on my feet. I’m going to,” Lewis said with determination. “And then, I’m going to help somebody else.”
Lewis, 45, will share his story this week during a four-day exhibition sponsored by the Greater Augusta Arts Council focusing on local agencies that serve Augusta’s homeless.
Headlining the exhibition is a series of photographs entitled “14 Stations” by nationally-renowned artist David Michalek. The photography captures images of individuals transitioning from street-living to a new life, similar to the Christian devotional “Stations of the Cross” depicting Jesus’ walk to his death and resurrection.
The four-day series also includes an expert panel discussion on the state of homelessness in Georgia and Augusta, public art displays, a Mayor’s prayer breakfast and more.
The art exhibition is intended to draw the community’s focus to a particular social issue, said Brenda Durant, executive director of the arts council.
In the year spent working on the exhibition, Durant was surprised to find the success of several area agencies helping the homeless become productive members of society.
“It’s easy to think of the homeless as panhandlers, or an annoyance. I found a real collaborative effort among the agencies,” she said.
At the Augusta Rescue Mission, Lewis has progressed through a three-phase resident worker program with an end goal of finding employment and transitioning to a residence in the local community. His first six months were spent getting sober, fulfilling work at the shelter and raising money to get his driver’s license back after more than 20 years without one.
“Now, I’m getting all that back. I needed to get my life straight and turned around,” he said.
Augusta Rescue Mission also helped Lewis get dental work to fix a missing front tooth, a confidence-booster during job interviews, he said.
On April 2, he started the program’s second phase and was hired at Carolina’s Rigging and Crane within two weeks. Before finding help at Augusta Rescue Mission, Lewis wasn’t motivated to work.
“I want to keep my job. I want to keep my relationship with God. I want to have my own house,” he said.
On July 10, Lewis enters the third and final phase. He will have to start finding his own way to work instead of depending on transportation from the rescue mission. He can live rent free at the mission for three more months, and then start paying rent or move out.