For seven years, Lavorn “Bear” Merryweather called a doorway his home.
Over the winter, Merryweather even tried to complete college-level work on a laptop at the de facto homeless shelter at an empty school in downtown Akron.
This summer, with the assistance of workers from the Homeless Outreach at Community Support Services, Merryweather moved out of the doorway and into his own federally funded apartment.
Merryweather, 48, said he was living on the streets of downtown Akron seven years ago when he and a former girlfriend discovered a large doorway at the closed St. Bernard School on South Broadway.
His memory of that first night?
“It was cold,” Merryweather recalled.
Over the years, Merryweather became a kind of safety officer in the doorway, he and his caseworkers said. He made sure that people behaved and because the 330-pound man is a large presence, people listened.
The homeless people who use the doorway have been told they will need to leave by Wednesday and remove all their gear. The building is to be torn down by Thanksgiving to make room for more church parking.
On Tuesday, Merryweather visited some of the people with whom he used to live.
“There are a bunch of people at St. Bernard that I love like family,” he said, speaking not only of the homeless, but also the volunteers in the sandwich program and the church staff, including the pastor, the Rev. Dan Reed.
St. Bernard Parish even paid his $50 deposit required on his apartment.
Now that he is in his own place — thanks to a federally funded voucher through the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority that pays $482 a month rent — Merryweather said he appreciates “the normalcies of everyday life. Going to the bathroom, you don’t have to fight with anybody to get in the shower.”
After dropping out of school in seventh grade at the old West Junior High School in Akron, Merryweather said he eventually served about 11 years in prison in Ohio for robbery and breaking and entering. Later, he served 43 more months for parole violations. He obtained a GED while incarcerated.
Merryweather said he has not been arrested in Akron since 1987.
This winter, Merryweather took three classes at Stark State College and worked on school papers on a laptop in the frigid, outside doorway at St. Bernard. He was not able to finish the classes, however, and said he would like to go back to school and get a job.
He said it feels great renting his own apartment, but also said his “time on the street” made him a better person.
Ashley Kearney, his homeless outreach worker from Community Support Services, took him to a grocery store Tuesday to help him find healthy foods. Merryweather recently was diagnosed with diabetes.
At St. Bernard on Tuesday, one of the homeless men living in the doorway called him “Papa Bear” because “nobody messes with him.”
Merryweather said he feels for those who must move out of his former residence in the church doorway.
“Seeing people on the streets reminds you of what you were and what you are now,” he said.
Merryweather said Reed had indicated for a long time that the building would come down some day.
“They will survive,” Merryweather said of his friends. “They will survive. ... They have no choice.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.