Akron city officials still grappling with the future of one homeless village are about to face plans for a second.

Dave Murray, who launched the idea of a single shelter for a man living in the woods near downtown last year, closed a deal last week to buy a foreclosed funeral home on the corner of South Arlington Street and Minota Avenue in East Akron.

He envisions using the building on the property — the former J.E. Scott Funeral Home — as a shower house with restrooms, kitchen, laundry and community meeting space.

The 65-spot blacktop parking lot behind the funeral home, he said, would be where homeless people live in individual shelters — each 7 feet by 7.5 feet — clustered in groups of three with access to electricity.

“I don’t like passing by somebody in need, thinking to myself, ‘I could give them a couple bucks, but it won’t do any good,’ ” Murray said. “I think most people really want to help. I want to help. I want to make real change.”

On Saturday, Murray’s workshop in a small South Arlington Street plaza about a mile south of the funeral home smelled of wet paint and sawdust.

Volunteers from Murray’s church — Grace Church of Bath — had formed a sort of assembly line to build the first five of the 42 shelters needed for his plans, which he will submit to the city Tuesday.

Murray admires the work of Second Chance Village, a tent city that sprang up in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood in 2016 after park officials asked the city to clear the woods of the homeless.

Yet Murray is trying to win the city’s blessing before opening his own enclave for the homeless.

It’s not clear whether he will succeed.

City spokeswoman Ellen Lander Nischt last week said officials must consider the health and safety of all involved, those who live in the homeless village and in the neighborhood.

She said the city works with homeless advocates and experts when considering homeless options, including the tent city overseen by Akron businessman Sage Lewis or Murray’s shelter idea, because they understand the challenges and needs of the community.

“No Akron resident should be living in a tent or a shack – period; and they don’t need to,” Lander Nischt said in an email. “Unlike some other urban communities across the nation, we are very fortunate here in Akron and Summit County to have healthy, stable, clean and safe housing available for any homeless person or family who needs it.”

Murray disagreed, saying that both he and Lewis are trying to help the chronically homeless, people who for whatever reason reject the help of Haven of Rest and other traditional shelters.

Once those folks — there’s an estimated 150 in Akron, though Murray thinks that’s a low estimate — lose an address, many things become impossible, he said, including getting a job or Medicaid benefits that pay for psychiatric medication many homeless need.

Bridge back to society

The tent city and the proposed shelter village act as a bridge, Murray said, helping ready people to re-enter society.

Earlier this month, after city officials threatened to close the tent city over mounting complaints and mounting trash, Lewis formally asked the city of Akron to accept his commercial property as a “campground and tent community for the homeless.”

No action has yet been taken.

Summit County’s network of traditional shelters and homeless support providers — called the Continuum of Care (COC) — has said it hopes to find a more permanent solution for a couple dozen people in the tent city by August.

In a recent letter, COC recently floated the idea of a small shelter village as a possible solution.

COC Director Terri Heckman didn’t return a call last week and it is unclear whether the idea had anything to do with Murray’s proposal.

For now, the funeral home property Murray bought sits dormant, waiting.

But Murray is pushing ahead in his workshop.

Construction underway

On Saturday, people sliced long swaths of firm, green insulation to fill the shelter walls.

In a small, adjoining room, others cut treated boards to specifications hanging on a wall over a circular saw.

And in a large, open space in the back, teams worked together to assemble what will ultimately become the second shelter for Murray’s proposed village.

Outside, the first shelter was nearly finished.

Lauan plywood paneling covered the interior walls, hiding the insulation. The back wall was hinged to flip up, sort of like a food truck might. And the front door and the transom window were each waiting to be filled.

All the other shelters will have the same build, Murray said. But the colors and names will each be different.

The first will forever be identified as “Casey.” It’s named after the cat of the woman who donated $1,000 to build the shelter. The outside of the shelter has been painted brown to match her cat’s fur.

“You know, when you write a big check to United Way, you never know where that money ends up,” said Murray, whose nonprofit is called People4Homeless.

“People will know what happens to their money when they give it to us,” he said.

Grace Church is paying for the four shelters its volunteers are building over the weekend, he said. Each will have its own name and personality, decided by the volunteers who build the shelters.

Jeri Ball of Clinton was working Saturday alongside her husband, Bob Ball, a homebuilder who helped Murray bring the shelters’ design into compliance with building codes.

Jeri Ball last year went on a mission trip to Haiti and said she was surprised at how joyful people there who had nothing could be.

On the flight home, she said she prayed about what she should do next to help. Another mission? A different kind of volunteering? By the time she landed, she knew she wanted to help people at home.

At the same time, her husband — who didn’t go on the mission trip — told her when she got home that he wanted to help the homeless.

Together, they dived into Murray’s project, though Ball said she’s looking forward most to the time the homeless village is up and operating.

The funeral home site is a retail district and sits between a gas station and a Walgreens drugstore. The rear of the parking lot where the homeless shelters will be backs up to a residential neighborhood.

Murray said he wants to build a fence 6 to 8 feet high around the parking lot to provide privacy on both sides of the fence.

But he wants to leave the repurposed funeral home building open so the community can stop by for coffee and interact with the homeless without fear.

Ball said that is where she comes in.

“I just want them to know there are people who want to love on them,” Ball said, “and there’s hope.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.