Akron City Council votes to end homeless camp, find housing for dozens

AKRON - Akron City Council voted Monday to end a controversial homeless encampment and passed a resolution supporting an action plan to find housing for dozens of people who live there.

By an 8 to 4 vote, council denied a conditional use request by the property's owner, Sage Lewis, that would've allowed his Homeless Charity Village to continue as a legal campground at Broad Street and East Market Street. The separate resolution expressed support for the city's efforts to combat homelessness, including an action plan for helping nearly 50 people living in the tent city.

"It's somewhere you gotta go when you have no place to go," said Joyce Petsche, who said she moved to the encampment two months ago after fleeing an abusive relationship.

Lewis, who heads the organization The Homeless Charity, said he supports finding housing for everyone within two months, but said he does not believe that is realistically possible and he worries people will end up on the street. The camp has been on his property for about 18 months.

"It will be like Moses parting the waters to get 50 people into housing in 60 days," Lewis said. "Pretty much, these are people who have lost everything, including all of their social connections, so they like this place simply because they find a new connection with peers."

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan provided a statement, saying the city is committed to continuing to work to address homelessness in Akron, but will never accept the notion that tents are an appropriate housing option.

"There have been no orders to remove anyone from the encampment. The goal here is to provide viable housing options to all encampment residents," Horrigan said in the statement.

Continuum of Care, a coalition of dozens of homeless service providers in Summit County, is tasked with finding housing options in place of the tents.

"It just can't sustain human life for a long period of time and provide you all that you deserve: food, shelter, clothing, happiness, love, friendship. And, you can get those things when you begin to move into a permanent, stable surrounding," said Continuum of Care Chairperson Terri Heckman.

Heckman said there are enough available beds in the county to accommodate those affected, many of whom have mental health or substance abuse issues. The action plan calls on Continuum of Care to meet with each person and develop housing options for each.

"It's going to be very aggressive, one-on-one case management that is going to take hours and hours of time," Heckman said.

Lewis said he plans to expand the hours of The Homeless Charity Village's day center, which offers computers, laundry and bathrooms, and his organization is buying housing to help some people in the camp.

Petsche said she welcomes a roof over her head, but questions whether the city's plan will work.

"I think it's going to be kind of hard for everybody to find a place in that matter of time," she said.