A tent city for homeless people in Akron lost an appeal before a mayor-appointed panel this week. Now, the fight to reopen the camp moves out of City Hall and to the courts.
Attorneys representing Sage Lewis’ nonprofit Homeless Charity have until March 1 to appeal a decision Wednesday by the Akron Board of Zoning Appeals. The board of five residents selected by Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan denied Lewis’ request to reinstate the use of tents to shelter the homeless on his private property at 15 Broad St. in Middlebury, where his charity continues to operate an overnight warming center and support the homeless during the day with food, work opportunities and contact with social service providers.
The city had given Lewis until the beginning of January to clear out what over the past two years had swelled to more than 40 tents. Nearly all of the transient inhabitants were housed through an expedited process offered in coordination with Lewis through the Continuum of Care, a network of local agencies that spend millions of federal dollars allocated by the city to help the homeless each year.
The mayor’s order to clear out gave Lewis the legal right to appeal after the city council shot down an earlier request to operate a homeless campground. On Wednesday, he and local attorney Becky Sremack presented an amended version of that conditional land-use application, offering to limit the number of tents and keep them more secluded from the public, especially senior citizens who have complained from apartments looking down on the camp.
The Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously rejected the proposal, which city planners received in September in the form of a 14-page argument with about 1,300 pages of supporting documents. The Akron Planning Department subsequently rejected that argument as not well articulated and fundamentally in conflict with the harmonious use of land in the surrounding Middlebury neighborhood.
Other pro-bono attorneys representing Lewis with the libertarian Institute For Justice plan to appeal in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, where they’ve already filed a separate but related complaint against the city on the basis that government has infringed on Lewis’ constitutional right to shelter the needy on his private property.
“Ultimately, I think we’ll get both of these cases up in front of a judge,” said Diana Simpson with the Institute for Justice. “Both of these cases will be decided by the Ohio court system.”
Reach Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.