Hackberry House offers non-traditional assisted living

    Evelyn Belcher headshot

    Hackberry House Lancaster, Assisted Living

    A person does not have to be elderly to need some assistance in their living – especially when faced with exceptional challenges in an already tough to navigate world.

    Which is why Hackberry House in Lancaster exists.

    “The most significant thing Hackberry House offers is a stable place to call home and consistently having your needs met. I encourage residents to create the best life they can and I’m willing to help facilitate,” said Hackberry House director and founder Evelyn Belcher.

    Hackberry House, named after the street it is on, is a small assisted-living facility that provides permanent supportive housing for adult males with physical or mental impairments. The program helps with personal care, meals and snacks, on-sight medical services, medication monitoring, laundry and housekeeping, case management, and recreational activities. The goal of the housing program is to be able to provide supportive housing services to improve the overall quality of each person’s life.

    Long-Term Living Arrangements

    Hackberry House provides long-term living arrangements in a warm environment much like a personal home for those who face the challenges of physical or mental impairments. The average stay for a resident is 10 years or more. They offer an affordable quality alternative for those who can no longer live alone and need the extra assistance, supportive care, and monitoring.

    “Hackberry House has been home to many residents over the past 19 years. Residents have moved on or passed away and the family ties have not been broken. Calls are still being made to check on each other, and before Covid, former residents and family would stop by,” Belcher detailed.

    Hackberry House opened its doors in July of 2002. Belcher, who has a master’s degree in social work, had worked in community residential programs that provided support to individuals with mental or developmental disabilities. The idea for Hackberry House came to her through working on a mental health crisis team for the county and witnessing first-hand the housing conditions and options available for those with mental illness.

    Or, as she noted, the lack of options.

    “Some of the homes were poorly run with overcrowding, non-working utilities, inadequate food, inadequate medical and psychiatric care, and a lack of general supervision,” she said. “The people were treated poorly and often left on their own.

    “These conditions added to the depression, stress, and anxiety that these individuals were already experiencing, which made their overall symptoms worse and created a revolving door for them to be hospitalized for stabilization or in jail, then discharged back to a boarding home that lacked the support, then the cycle started over.

    “Traditional assisted living facilities generally target the geriatric population and are not too interested in admitting or retaining someone that has a chronic mental illness and the disturbing symptoms that sometimes come along with the illness, or the other residents may be afraid of them.”

    Belcher explains why Hackberry House caters to men only.

    “When I first started out, I had two women and six men, I believe. It became an issue because the men were flirty with the ladies and that caused issues among the residents,” she recalled. “After the ladies left, I decided all-male was best to keep down confusion.

    “Although having the ladies did help the men improve their personal hygiene,” she added with a chuckle.

    There is no set age for a resident of Hackberry House, Belcher said, as long as they are appropriate and meet the admission criteria. That criteria includes being able to evacuate unassisted in case of an emergency.

    “If possible, I like for the person to have a pre-placement stay to see if they fit in with the other residents, and if not possible, I visit them in the hospital or wherever they are to be assessed,” she said. “Once they are admitted they can stay as long as we can provide care.”

    Belcher said even though they are licensed for twelve, ten is a comfortable number, because it allows two residents per room.

    Funding Help Needed

    “I usually stay full as the residents have long stays. The first person I admitted back in 2002 passed this year,” she said. “I have one that’s been there 18 years, so heavy marketing is something I have not had to do because I always stayed full. I have signed up with placement agencies, but referrals are slow or not appropriate.”

    Funding for admission at Hackberry House comes from whatever financial sources the resident has. Belcher said COVID-19 has created an economic hardship for the facility. They are asking for support with basic operating and advertising expenses through a GoFundMe campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/f/aufn7v-save-our-home?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer).

    “Before the pandemic we were marketing for admissions, but when the pandemic began COVID-19 restrictions would not allow me to admit any new residents, nor could I enter other facilities to market for new residents,” she said. “Even though admission requirements are less restrictive now, the facility still struggles with receiving admissions.”

    Earth Angels

    Marty Cooper is a longtime resident, having come to Hackberry House in 2003. His sister, Leslie Cooper Smith said, “There are people who come into our lives at just the right time and under the right circumstances who could be classified as ‘angels on earth,’ bringing love and light to others when everything seems hopeless.

    I was never much into believing in earth angels until I met Evelyn. We met at a very dark and difficult time involving my mentally ill brother. He was my best friend growing up and I promised my parents – now deceased – that I would always look out for him.”
    Marty was the perfect candidate for Hackberry House. He was living in rough conditions in Richardson, did not qualify for Medicaid, and his family could not afford the prohibitive cost of other facilities, along with his mental illness also being a challenge.

    So a desperate Leslie called Hackberry House.

    “Marty was rail thin, and his mental condition had deteriorated to the point he might be hospitalized again. Both of us were frightened. At the time, I was a full-time working mom with a toddler, and I was responsible for my brother’s well-being. All my research had been leading to dead ends. Some of the facilities I visited were horrific,” Leslie said.

    “Evelyn’s calming and reassuring manner on the other end of the phone was a godsend. She had opened this facility exactly for exactly this purpose – to serve individuals with chronic mental illness or related disabilities who may not have anywhere else to go. Evelyn has always worked with me through the years so that we could afford to keep him in this wonderful and caring environment.

    “In the 18 years Marty has been at Hackberry House – and as he has experienced the ups and downs of his condition – there has been one constant. He has consistently received the care he needed, delivered with respect and compassion.”
    With Marty and other residents, Belcher has often taken it upon herself to get them to doctor appointments, pharmacy, even helping with details such as insurance, etc.

    “The world needs many more like Evelyn and her staff who are truly ‘angels on earth,’” Leslie said.

    Looking For Volunteers

    Belcher said volunteers are always welcome to help Hackberry House.  At the moment, they are in need of assistance with fundraising and grant writing, resident activities and light maintenance, such as painting and gardening.

    “I often tell the story of when you ask God for something, it may not look exactly how you pictured. I was the youngest of three girls and always wanted a brother. Somewhere along the way I got the idea – now I realize how crazy it was – that I wanted eight boys,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to be the cool mom where everybody hung out.

    “Well, I thought, I would have to have help because I couldn’t take care of eight boys by myself – didn’t even consider a husband helping. Fast forward many years later, I have no children, but I have an assisted living facility that I initially licensed for eight – eventually all men – and I have the staff to help me take care of the residents. Even though they are not my children, I care for the children of others, so God really gave me what I asked for.”

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    Rick Mauch
    Rick Mauch is a veteran of more than four decades in the media. He began writing in high school and immediately went into broadcasting for almost a decade after graduating, working his way to morning drive in Birmingham, Alabama. However, realizing how much he missed writing (though he did continue to do some during his time in top-40 radio), Rick returned to what he loved and has been doing it ever since. Rick's career has spanned a plethora of media outlets, including community journalism, sports, entertainment, politics and more. He's worked in print, broadcast and online media. He also spent several years doing public relations for a children's home in East Texas - still writing on the side, of course. When he's not writing, Rick loves to play golf and do Bigfoot research. He's an avid believer. He also made his first hole-in-one in June of 2020. Rick is married to Junell Mauch. They have five children and three granddaughters