A tarp-covered tent on land she hasn't been chased off of has been a blessing to Reina Grosser.
The 31-year-old mother said she wouldn't be homeless today if she'd have stayed near family in Minnesota. But she moved to Las Vegas, had kids and then followed their father to his hometown of Akron. After three years, she lost a serving job at Red Lobster. Desperate, she sent the kids to live with their dad 18 months ago, thinking it would be temporary.
"The kids hadn't been away from me for a day," she said. "It's so much f****** pain, every day."
Grosser is among the last in line to be housed as the city and its partners converge on 15 Broad St., a tent village run by homeless people with the permission of the private landowner, Sage Lewis. The City Council and Mayor Dan Horrigan rejected Lewis' request to keep the tents up. That started a 60-day clock to find housing for 46 people. The mayor gave his partners in the Continuum of Care (COC) two more weeks to finish the job when that deadline passed.
Friday is the new deadline. The city isn't publicizing its next move. But it also hasn't given the usual two weeks' notice before police start the eviction process. Instead, the difficult work of helping the last and hardest to house continues, even as the tent city appears to be taking on new tenants.
Grosser and her current husband, who have no income, hope that Home Again, a COC member, can convince a landlord to take a subsidy and let them move in. The first month's rent would be paid. Rent assistance would taper off as Grosser and her husband regain their footing. With no car, they fought to live in Firestone Park, close to Grosser's kids. "But now, I'll take whatever we can get," she said.
Sunday at dusk, she leaned against a two-by-four railing running along cinder-block steps buried by homeless people in the earth behind 15 Broad St., hoping this would be her last night outside. "Every day — every hour — you don't want to live in a tent," she said. "I hope I don't offend anyone. I love Sage. He's done so much for us. But I'm glad they're shutting down this place because it's expedited the housing process."
Down the hill, tents have spilled further into the backyard of a neighbor who sold his house to Lewis. A man named Sully cleaned up after some of the 22 people who've left the village, most of them housed and a few just disappearing. He looked at a rustling tent. "Those people are new," he said.
When the zoning request was denied, the city agreed to expedite housing for Lewis' 46 residents. Roughly half have left and the many who remain are like Grosser, in the pipeline waiting for the last piece of the housing puzzle to fall into place.
Sully counted 23 people who would crawl into a tent Sunday night. "We're not supposed to be taking anyone in. But we're accepting the more severe cases," especially women, who can be more vulnerable in the world of the homeless, he said.
The Firestone Park native said he's one of the "difficult cases" who won't be housed, even after Monday. "Now, they do a great job, don't get me wrong," he said of the COC.
In the summer of 2016, he said, he took shelter from a hard rain in an abandoned building that collapsed on him in Canton. His injured hand now swells with repetitious tasks. But it "isn't bad enough" to get disability benefits. It's why he turned down a factory job offered by the last agency that housed him. He's had trouble agreeing to any new arrangement offered in the past 74 days.
"Driver's license restrictions ... Struggles with drugs and alcohol ... Limited ability ... These are the challenges, hurdles I'm trying to overcome," the 53-year-old said. "Here, I can."
In the past month, Sully has launched a bike repair business from Lewis' basement, which belongs to the homeless during the day. He's not giving up, even if evicted. "We're staying here until they drag us out by our heels."
"The city has not given any official notice that the homeless camp has to close," said Diana Simpson, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is suing the city over Lewis' "constitutional right" to shelter the needy on his private property. "We still don’t expect that they’ll come through and throw everyone out, and if they do, we’ll file an injunction to stop them."
Akron officials have been "exploring" their options, which include evicting those who could not be housed or would not accept help. Deputy chief of staff Annie McFadden said the mayor's office "won't be releasing anything" on their plans until this week.
Jim Orenga will be one of the first to know.
Orenga is a board member of Lewis' nonprofit, The Homeless Charity. But he also runs the Peter Maurin Center, a homeless outreach and day center. Becky Sremack, then in the law clinic at Case Western Reserve University, had sued former Mayor Don Plusquellic on the ministry's behalf for not giving notice before dismantling a homeless camp under the Y-Bridge.
Attorney Sremack now represents Lewis. In the precedent-setting 2014 case, a judge ordered the city in the future to give the Peter Maurin Center time to help homeless people being forced off public or private property.
“So far, the city has been excellent about that. I’ve got five phone calls over the past year and a half. I have not yet received a phone call about 15 Broad St.,” Orenga said Sunday.
The calls typically come two weeks in advance, "which is plenty of time," he said.
Orenga’s staff stands ready to help the holdouts and new arrivals find new lodging or just move their tents and belongings. The transient population tends to settle into other hidden corners of Akron. The center gets to help, the homeless get helped and the city doesn’t look so bad, Orenga said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
But while the city says the tents must go, “they never tell us where to move them to, except to another site," Orenga said. "That’s the problem, you can’t get instantaneous housing.”
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.