Calling it an issue of civil rights, an advocate for the homeless told a crowd gathered at Grace Park near downtown Akron on Thursday that no one would choose their plight.
“None of you got up in the morning and said, ‘I have a great idea: I think I will be homeless,’ ” said Army veteran Phil Talty, 69, who organized the Rally for the Homeless. “You are a victim of circumstances.”
About 50 people, including officials from social service agencies and the Department of Veterans Affairs attended the rally in bitter conditions. With the wind chill, the temperature felt like 3 degrees above zero.
Brian Moledor, office manager of the Akron Community Based Outpatient Clinic of the Department of Veterans Affairs and other officials with the agency brought personal items for veterans and other homeless people in attendance.
“No way would I miss” the rally, Moledor said.
Sue Pierson, chairwoman of Summit County Continuum of Care for the Homeless, attended the rally and said the most recent homeless count from January of this year indicated that there are about 120 to 150 people living on the streets and in seven or eight homeless camps in the area. An estimated 800 people live in shelters in the Akron area, she said.
At the beginning of the rally, Pastor Randy Baker from Akron Bible Church asked God to “keep encouraging everyone here, feeding them and clothing them.”
Army veteran James McCune, 42, said he has been living in a tent in the area for about three months but will sign a lease for an apartment through a program for veterans with Community Support Services on Monday.
He said he was new to the experience of living in a tent city and sympathizes with those he will leave behind.
“It is sad,” he said, adding that he believes government policies need to be changed in order to bring more help to the homeless.
Al Raddatz, of Perry in Lake County, drove to the park in an old gray and blue bus from his group, the Sub Zero Mission. On the side of the bus were the words: “Nobody should freeze to death in America.”
A Marine veteran, Raddatz passed out tents, sleeping bags, shoes and other gear to many of those that came to the rally. Akron officials have said that those in tents are told that they cannot camp on private property and are given ample warning that they must leave before any action is taken to remove them from private property.
That kind of policy doesn’t sit well with Talty, whose car also is adorned with words: “Chaplain to the poor of spirit and oppressed.” He spoke critically of how the city deals with the homeless camps.
“This is a new era of discrimination,” Talty said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.