The homeless residents of Akron’s well-known, and maybe only known, tent city have until Thanksgiving to leave their benefactor’s private property.

Whether they return to the woods and streets or find help hinges on promises made Monday night at City Hall.

A divided Akron City Council voted to reject a zoning request made by Sage Lewis, who’s been using his commercial property in Middlebury as a campground for homeless people since January 2017. The city, with no rules on campgrounds, first asked Lewis in December to seek an exception to keep the camp open.

Council members Bruce Kilby, Russ Neal, Zack Milkovich and Tara Samples voted against closing the camp. Linda Omobien was absent.

Lewis thanked the four for “working tirelessly” and supporting his mission. Then, he chastised the others, including members of Mayor Dan Horrigan’s cabinet who have firmly stated that tents should never be considered a suitable transition to safe housing.

“You have washed you’re hands of this and you have thrown all of the homeless people out of an airplane without a parachute,” the passionate Lewis, who was kindly asked to speak softer, said. “You’re assuming it’s all taken care of, that it’s all OK. But all you really did was move this off your desk.”

Prior to the vote, every council member present approved the plan by which the city and its partners -- including homeless service providers with the Continuum of Care (CoC) of Summit County — will disband the camp with the goal of moving every homeless person into a shelter or housing unit.

Lewis reminded the council that the CoC already missed its self-imposed deadline of Aug. 1 to get everyone in houses.

"This was a tough, tough decision,” said Councilman Jeff Fusco, who said he opposed the tents based on applicable property use under the city’s zoning code.

 "The process would not be an eviction," Eve Belfance, the city law director, said in response to concerns that Samples raised about the residents waking up one morning to a possible three-day notice to get out.

Fusco said the CoC and city would follow the action plan to find a “safe landing” for all residents. The plan has a seven-day requirement to convene CoC leadership and 60 days to offer housing to all living at the tent city. That would give residents until Nov. 23 to vacate Lewis’ property.

"We support people living in safe housing indoors, not tents,” said City Planner Jason Segedy, who crafted the action plan after consulting the CoC. Segedy added that he and the CoC are committed to working with Lewis to move the needle on homelessness, and not just for people living in tents at 15 Broad St.

The city’s eight-point action plan to move the homeless on Broad Street into permanent housing:

• Calls for the city to continue to work with the Homeless Charity to create indoor housing and establish a memorandum of understanding

• Convene CoC leadership within seven days to form a “housing team” and offer housing within 60 days to all current 15 Broad St. residents

• Have the Coc meet with and create a registry of tent city residents

• Determine available beds

• Give a weekly status update

• And address the needs of individuals not currently living at the tent city.

Fusco and Council President Margo Sommerville offered a resolution -- which passed unanimously --  enumerating all the local, state and national funding the city allocates to combat homelessness. The resolution urged an ongoing collaboration among the city, which contributes nearly $1 million annually in tax revenue to fight homelessness, the Continuum of Care, which has applied for $5 million in federal funding for next year, and the Homeless Charity, which operates on private donations.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.