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Former homeless veteran aims to get people off Valley streets through nonprofit

Cleo Lewis Vets 6-23-22
Posted at 8:35 PM, Jun 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-23 23:35:07-04

PHOENIX — With the uptick in homelessness across the Valley, one man is making it his mission to help get people off the streets.

In the process, he is helping lift some weight off of local shelters as the number of homeless individuals continues going up.

Cleo Lewis says he knows all too well what it’s like to not have a place to live.

“Here, trade hats,” Lewis told a woman in a park.

“Thank you!” she responded, with gratitude.

“There’s a mister,” he said.

“Oh perfect,” she answered, with a smile.

Lewis, a veteran and former first responder, is doing what he can to help those who are homeless.

“How long you been out here?” he could be heard asking a woman in a park.

“About four months now,” she responded.

Lewis says while he has a home now, it didn’t always use to be this way.

“I spent 10 years out here so I get it,” he said to a group of men at a park, as he handed them ice-cold water.

Lewis gets it because he too was on the streets.

“Part of being homeless is you lose relevance with hope and you just get into a deep depression,” he told ABC15.

At one point, he was encouraged to go to Central Arizona Shelter Services for help.

“CASS actually saved my life,” Lewis added.

He’s since gotten back on his feet, even starting a nonprofit: Cleo N. Lewis Ministries Inc.

It’s a program dedicated to homeless outreach helping those who are now where he once was.

His whole operation starts at his sanctuary, the place he calls home.

“This is your home base,” ABC15 asked while walking with Lewis to his car.

“This is my command post. This is my home base. Let me pop this trunk,” he responded.

Inside the car, you’ll find water, sunscreen, misters, hats, cool bags, goody bags, and even Narcan.

Every day Lewis drives over to local parks to hand these items out.

“I wanted one of those really bad. Thank you very much,” a man told Lewis, after receiving a mister.

“What do we have to do to get you off the streets?” he said to another woman in a park.

Lewis builds trust and offers resources along the way.

“I establish a bridge of resources that will help somebody from where they’re at to where they potentially need to get to,” he added.

He says lately he’s been seeing a great deal of families, and now more than ever, he is seeing older adults in the streets.

“I’m running into senior citizens where their dream of what was going to happen when they were in the twilight of their life was not to be homeless, but they’re homeless,” Lewis told ABC15.

“You come back, two, three times a day?” our crew asked Lewis.

“Absolutely,” he answered.

Though, regardless of their age, Lewis says he is always there to help.

It’s a labor of love.

“We just can’t sit here and allow this to continue to happen,” he said.

It’s a cause he is extremely passionate about because, for Lewis, it’s finally come full circle.

“We going to work with this okay? Pinky finger?” he said to a young lady who is homeless.

“Pinky promise,” she said while interlocking her pinky finger with Lewis.

“Got you girl,” Lewis told her with a smile.