Amid the coldest and most severe weather in years, love, kindness and tenderness warmed the hearts of several homeless men and women this week.
Inside a 101-year-old building that once housed a 24-hour tavern that served rubber workers in nearby factories in South Akron, a volunteer effort took in men and women who had been staying in tents and abandoned buildings or on friends’ couches Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.
“We have one more night,” Joe May, founder and director of the Peter Maurin Center, said Tuesday morning as the temperature remained several degrees below zero and the homeless people began preparing to leave the building until later in the day.
“God help them,” he said, referring to those who stayed in the center overnight.
Volunteers with the group that is affiliated with the Catholic Worker Community of Akron organization, took vans to the streets to pick up the homeless to get them out of the cold weather each night this week.
On Sunday night, five people stayed at the center; eight slept there Monday night.
Record cold temperatures were set Monday and Tuesday.
Several centers extended hours during the day and into the early evening Monday and Tuesday in Akron, including 11 community centers, but none of those centers was open all night.
The Peter Maurin Center at 1096 S. Main St. is named for the man who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Dorothy Day in the 1930s. It formerly was Ted’s Bar and Grill and was a funeral parlor when it first opened.
On normal weeks, the group opens the center’s doors on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays for a midday meal, prayer and fellowship. The organization also provides food and clothing and supplies weekly to the needy.
May said he and other volunteers at the center were concerned with the safety of the tented community around Akron in the subzero weather.
Social workers have estimated that there are between 100 and 125 people in the Akron area who live in tents, doorways or abandoned buildings. Another 800 or so stay in area shelters.
Some of those who live in tents initially were going to take up the offer to stay at the South Main Street building, but then decided to go back to their tents, May said.
“That astonishes me,” May said.
Schuyler, 22, who has been homeless since he was 16, said his fingers were very cold when he waited for a bus Monday. He spent the day at the Goodyear branch library until it closed. A friend picked him up and took him to the Maurin Center.
He said he plans to move to Florida in the spring to be with his girlfriend.
‘It’s a blessing’
Joe, 48, who has been homeless for 13 years, heard that the Maurin Center would be open during the cold spell. He spent Sunday and Monday there and planned to stay Tuesday night as well.
“It has been a blessing,” said Joe, who said he has also hopped freight trains for years and has been living in a tent in South Akron.
“I got a new pair of shoes today,” he said Tuesday. “I had some that were split. Wet feet and cold don’t mix.”
Katt, 26, and her boyfriend, Cajun, 29, were thankful that they landed at the Maurin Center after living in an abandoned, unheated Akron home or with friends in recent weeks.
“They’ve been really nice to us,” Cajun said. “It’s been hard to get ourselves up on our feet and stay there.”
The couple plans to move to New Orleans in March.
Coaxed into warm
Bill Young, manager of homeless outreach at the Peter Maurin Center, said that at the Metro Transit Center late Monday night he picked up a man who often can be seen walking the streets of Akron.
“He wasn’t going to go to a shelter,” Young said. But he was able to convince the man to spend the night out of the elements. “Some have been out all winter and last winter, and their mindset is, ‘I can do this.’ ”
Young and May were concerned for the safety of those who decided to sleep in tents with wind chills approaching 40 degrees below zero.
The homeless who spent the night at the center “represent the many,” May said. “They are desperate.”
He said many who live in tents simply can’t pay their rent and have no other options. Many are dealing with addiction and mental illness.
“It is a wide variety of people who are out there,” he said.
May said he dreams of working with other agencies that serve the needy and homeless to come up with a plan to open a shelter for them.
“There is a pent-up desire,” he said. “It is never an issue of money. That always comes.”
For more on the Peter Maurin Center, go to www.petermaurin.org or call 330-258-9006.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.