KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An unhoused man in Powell was given the gift of a home in January. David had been experiencing homelessness for a little over a year when he was approached by community members who wanted to help.
Through the community's generosity, David secured an apartment at Frank Callaghan Towers in Oak Ridge. However, he only got to live in it for around 5 days.
The community gathered to support him starting around the beginning of January with two people from Powell, Anthony Novarro and Susan Adams-Butcher.
"I've seen him quite a few times. And then I finally stopped on a Saturday morning because it was cold," Novarro said.
Adams stopped at the same time.
When they first approached David, Adams recalls him hunching behind the rock to protect himself from the wind. David's dog Lacey laid on top of him.
The two listened to David's story, what happened, and how he ended up on the streets in Powell.
Turns out, David had hip surgery in Powell a year ago.
"While he was in the hospital, he had to go through a 2-month therapy. And, from there, he lost his place of living and all his income to where he was forced on the streets," Novarro said.
All David had was his dog, Lacey, and his positive attitude.
According to Cody Ellison, an employee at the Shell Gas Station off Emory Road, David was a regular in the area. Ellison saw David sitting on the rock every day. At night, David took shelter behind the gas station and even developed a relationship with the employees.
"Him and Lacey basically just slept down here and hung out," Ellison said. "He would come up and talk to me and the rest of the staff if he ever needed anything or wanted someone to talk to."
David slept on a wood palette with some old blankets to keep warm.
David, with his positive attitude, would never admit to it, Adams said. But, he was hurting.
"When I looked in his eyes, he was so broken. And he did not ask for anything. Nothing. He just wanted food for his dog. That was it," Adams said.
Novarro and Adams offered David a place to sleep. Novarro paid for his nightly motel room fees while they searched for a more permanent solution.
"When he found out he was so excited," Adams said. "Everybody was excited. But he was so excited."
That's when Adams took to Facebook. She posted a picture of David in his new apartment and it gathered hundreds of likes and comments. People across Powell wanted to help.
Mary Ghist noticed the number of people reaching out and decided to help. She put together an Amazon wishlist with everything David would need for his new apartment.
Within 3 hours, everything on the wishlist was purchased.
"Everybody was asking, like hundreds and hundreds of people," Ghist said. "I think at one point, thousands of people had asked how to help."
The community reaction didn't come as a surprise to Novarro. He said he would expect nothing less from the Powell community.
"I've lived here my whole life and I know how everyone in this community is," Novarro said. "This is one great community. I won't leave Powell because of things like this."
A few days later, most of the boxes arrived.
"He was so happy. I remember he bent down to Lacey and he said, 'Lacey, girl, we're in paradise,'" Adams said.
He only stayed in his home for 5 days.
Adams was the one who found David. She went to check on him after not hearing from him for an extended period of time.
"I went there and opened the door," said Adams. "There he was laying with Lacey right there. The same way she was when I found them, trying to keep him warm."
Adams had only known David for 13 days, but she said it felt like a lifetime. They became such close friends. Adams said she was going through a hard time when she met David. Helping him and seeing his gratitude helped her find healing in her personal life as well, she said.
When David died, Adams was devastated.
"It was, it was the most hardest thing. A part of me left that day," Adams said.
"I think that God sends people to us for a reason. And I think in hindsight, God knew what was going to happen. He didn't want David to die on the streets," Ghist said. "I mean, he was warm. He was with his dog. His dog is taken care of now, and David was taken care of for his last few days."
The boxes of new home goods were re-gifted to other seniors in the Frank Callaghan Towers. The apartment is available to be rented again.
While David's death ends a chapter for these community members, his life also taught each of them a lesson. Novarro said he learned to look at people experiencing homelessness in a different light.
"It's changed my life in a better way," Novarro said. "I know that unfortunately these people that are sitting on the roads and in these tents, they're needing help. We judge books by their covers, but everybody has a story on the streets."
David's dog, Lacey, now lives with Novarro's sister. Ghist said David taught her about the power of love.
"David has taught me so many things in such a short amount of time, just to love, even if you have nothing just to love — love everybody," Ghist said.
And, Adams said he taught her about kindness.
"He gave so much kindness to me, for me helping him. It was amazing. Just the whole, everything. It was just amazing. Absolutely amazing," Adams said. "Love is what changes everybody. You just got to give them love and acceptance."
David's funeral was on Saturday at the Mynatt Funeral Home in Halls. There was a Receiving of Friends at 5 p.m., then a Celebration of Life at 6 p.m. The whole service was donated and paid for by Robert Rutherford, a funeral director at the home.
Dozens of people showed up to pay their respects, many people never even met David personally, they just heard his story.
Susan, Anthony, and Mary were all in attendance. They said it was the perfect way to end this chapter of their lives.
David will be greatly missed.