Akron has given a homeless tent city until early January to shut down.
Akron sent out a notice of violation/order to comply on Thursday, giving Sage Lewis LLC 30 days to close and remove the homeless tent city on Broad Street in the Middlebury neighborhood. The notice from the city's Department of Planning & Urban Development, dated Dec. 6, says campgrounds are not allowed to operate in a residential use district.
“Discontinue the illegal use(s) and/or violations(s) of this property within 30 days of the date of this letter,” the notice says in part. “Cease all use of the premises as a campground and permanently remove all tents, equipment, and miscellaneous material related to the illegal use of the premises as a campground.”
Failure to comply with the notice will result in further legal action by Akron, the city said in a news release.
A lawyer representing the campground and property owner Sage Lewis said she expects to respond legally to the notice soon. The city notice says Lewis has the right to appeal the order in writing to the Board of Zoning Appeals within 20 days of the notice, including paying a nonrefundable $75 fee.
The city and Continuum of Care providers have been working to help people at the campground find better housing, the news release said.
Continuum of Care on Friday ended its direct work at the Broad Street site to find better housing for the people in the tent city. Starting Monday, tent city residents will have to go through Summit County’s regular 211 system for housing services.
“The [Continuum of Care] providers made emergency housing services available to those 46 people staying at the campground, in order to offer each one a permanent structure housing option,” the city said. “The CoC providers have officially notified the city that, as of close of business Friday, Dec. 7, their workers will transition their temporary emergency housing services that were being offered to those at the campground back to their regular services, which are currently offered through the county’s 211 centralized intake system.”
Of the original 46 people at the campground, only six people still need housing, the city believes.
The site opened in 2017 and originally was called Second Chance Village. It is run by the nonprofit Homeless Charity.
“It’s a cruel and merciless act to be kicking people out at this time of year,” said Diana Simpson, lawyer with the Institute for Justice that is representing Lewis and the encampment. The organization is suing the city, saying Lewis has a constitutional right to shelter people at his private property.
“We are preserving all of our legal options,” Simpson said.
Simpson said she expects to have a legal response to the city notice next week. She has previously said that the institute will file an injunction if the city moves to shut down the campground.
“They are kicking everybody out after Christmas and New Year’s,” Simpson said. Under the notice deadline, people at the campground will have until Jan. 5 to find another place to live, she said.
The city should allow anyone who wants to stay at the campground to do so until a judge issues a final ruling, she said.
Annie McFadden, deputy chief of staff for Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, disputed Simpson’s characterization of the city’s plan to close down the tent city within a month’s time.
The city has been working with them to find "decent, legal and humane” housing, McFadden said. “We have been extremely patient in this situation.”
The city understands there are numerous reasons people become homeless, she said.
The city has given the tent city ample time to comply with Akron’s zoning laws, which make clear that campgrounds are not allowed in residential neighborhoods, McFadden said.
The city also has met face-to-face with Lewis on the campground issue, she said.
“I think we have shown patience and understanding,” McFadden said.
In addition, Continuum of Care has exceeded its traditional duties to provide services to the Broad Street residents, she said.
Akron/Summit County Continuum of Care is a coalition of nonprofit organizations that provide services to homeless people and to people in danger of becoming homeless.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ