Future of Second Chance Village in doubt, but Akron leaders see gaps in homeless services
Future of Second Chance Village in doubt, but Akron leaders see gaps in homeless services
AKRON, Ohio – The Akron Planning Commission voted 3-1 on Friday to not recommend a conditional-use permit for Second Chance Village, a controversial homeless encampment at 15 Broad St.
The majority concluded the encampment is not an appropriate use of the land. Commission member Tina Boyes cast the only vote against the recommendation. Commission member Renee Green was absent.
City Council will make the final call. Because of council’s August recess, the commission’s recommendation likely will be considered by the full council in September.
Friday’s vote leaves the future of the encampment in doubt, but both city officials and advocates for the homeless say the debate over the permit has shed light on gaps in Summit County’s services.
What is Second Chance Village?
Starting in late 2016 with just a couple tents, the encampment is now home to about 50 people and has been given the name Second Chance Village.
The tents are on raised platforms in the fenced backyard of Sage Lewis’s historic brick office building in the Middlebury neighborhood.
Lewis applied for a conditional use permit in April and asked that the city consider the encampment a “campground, tent community.”
The office building also houses the Second Chance resale store, designated areas for food donations, a kitchen and freezer, a computer area, workshops and showers.
Two portable toilets are also on site. Rules are posted inside along with reminders to use the hand sanitizer that is provided.
Donations come in regularly: food, supplies and items for the store. Lewis started the nonprofit Homeless Charity to help support the village.
What do the neighbors say?
Some surrounding property owners oppose the encampment and have filed complaints about garbage and other nuisances.
Neighbor Sam Adkins filed a lawsuit citing harassment, barking dogs and disturbance of the peace. He withdrew the suit in June after Lewis agreed to buy his house.
Residents of the next-door senior housing complex, and developers of a new senior housing facility, have voiced strong concerns over the encampment.
But Lewis says the place is the only option for many of the residents, who, without Second Chance, would return to the woods and bridges because no services are available to them.
What services are available?
Each year, the city receives and disburses to local organizations nearly $6 million from the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department and other federal and state agencies. The money pays for a spectrum of care specifically for homelessness -- permanent housing, counseling, socialization and job training.
The local Continuum of Care (COC) gets $4.8 million to disburse to members agencies. The COC, one of about 400 groups in the country created by the federal government to address homelessness, comprises about 20 Summit County government entities and nonprofits.
COC member agencies include the Battered Women’s Shelter, Haven of Rest, United Way of Summit County , H.M Life, ACCESS Inc., Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority and many others. Lewis was invited to join, and meets with the group regularly, he said.
The remaining $1.5 million, HOME Investment Partnership and Emergency Solutions Block Grants, also pays for a range of local services for the homeless.
As a result, Summit County has enough beds for every resident of Second Chance Village, said COC members, Terri Heckman, executive director of the Battered Women’s Shelter and COC chair, and Joe Scalise, director of housing for the United Way of Summit County.
So is Second Village needed?
Yes, says Paul Hays, a founder of Second Chance Village and resale store, and a former resident of the tent encampment.
Hays said many of the homeless who choose Second Chance have lived in survival mode for so long - himself included – that they find it extremely difficult to undergo the process of becoming successfully housed.
Second Chance offers more manageable reentry.
“That’s what makes it special,” Hays said. “They start getting their hope back, they start getting like they matter again. It’s part of a process.”
Lewis agrees, saying homeless people are complicated. Their problems are not limited to drug and alcohol abuse, or the lack of a job and money. They often have suffered trauma and emotional abuse over a lifetime and that renders some of them unable to reenter society in the way the system requires.
“The homeless are not just without a house,” Lewis said. “This [Second Chance Village] offers a sense of society.”
Heckman, whose shelter is across the street from the village, agrees that Second Chance offers the residents a sense of community and engagement, possibly for the first time in their lives.
“The residents of Second Chance have had an epiphany of how important community is,” she said. “They’re setting up leadership and addressing their own issues in their way. They have really delighted in the opportunity to be a part of a community.”
Despite that,Heckman, Scalise and Lewis all agree - tents are not adequate housing.
How do the homeless become housed?
The United Way operates Akron’s 2-1-1 resource, which offers a 24-hour homeless hotline, Scalise said. Callers can get on the COC’s radar with one phone call, he said.
Then, through a centralized intake process, assessments are conducted to determine each homeless person’s situation and needs. This is where tougher cases would be identified.
Rapid rehousing requires the client to do the leg work of finding an apartment, with the help of the United Way and participating landlords. Many people fail to complete the process.
United Way recently sent its employees over three days to meet with Second Chance residents to start the intake process. Of more than 20 interested residents, only three followed through to seek permanent housing, Scalise said.
However, United Way also offers “supportive” housing geared for tougher cases, Scalise said. Permanent supportive housing is staffed round the clock and offers ongoing counseling and treatment for mental illness as well as drug and alcohol addiction. It also offers job readiness and training.
One hitch is that to get into supportive housing, residents must come from a shelter -- not tents. That makes their only option the Haven of Rest, a Christian-based organization, which some Second Chance residents reject.
Among their complaints are religious differences and rules, such as having jewelry and personal belongings taken overnight, as well as their veterans benefits or Social Security income.
According to Haven of Rest Executive Director Jeff Kaiser, the Haven only keeps residents belongings overnight to ensure they don’t get stolen. The items are returned each morning.
Also, only residents working with a Haven of Rest case worker would have income taken and kept for them in a savings account.
Residents are encouraged, but not required, to attend twice daily chapel services, and counseling, he said.
“The goal has always been, for men and ladies, to encourage them, to move them forward,” he said. “Some will, some will not. It’s a structured program. Every institution of has some level of structure - even the tent city.”
Scalise said clients would need to stay at the Haven of Rest until permanent supportive housing could be secured. If they leave the Haven to sleep on a friend’s couch or in a tent, it’s back to square one in the process, he said.
“It’s simply not that there are no other options,” said Akron Planning Director Jason Segedy. “Whether an individual chooses to avail themselves of those options is another story.”
Are there enough shelters?
No. Residents seeking housing vouchers through Akron’s housing authority have about a three-year wait, Scalise.
Akron also has three permanent supportive housing facilities – the Commons at Madeline Park I & II, each with 60 units, and Stoney Pointe Commons, which opened this month with 78 units.
But all three facilities have waiting lists. In 2016, the Akron Beacon Journal reported the wait list for Madeline Park had more than 1,000 names.
“There are people on a wait for housing no matter where they are on the continuum,” Lewis said.
Heckman has started talking with Lewis about a 20- to 25-bed house at 54 Kent St., property owned by the women’s shelter, as a possible shelter if the tent encampment is forced to close. The women’s shelter no longer needs the house and Heckman says she would take the issue to her board for consideration.
Lewis said he can raise the money needed to cost effectively develop old school buildings into shelters, or to provide the homeless with tiny houses.
What happens next?
Lewis said he plans to see the conditional use request through to its outcome at City Council.
“I wish they weren’t so afraid because this is an easy thing,” Lewis said. “We can do this. We all can do this and set the example of how to fix homelessness in America. We did it for AA and we can do it for homelessness.”
Both Heckman and Scalise said they understand Lewis’ perspective. They also said the solution will require work and innovation, because people can’t live in tents year round in Akron.
“Some of us didn’t want to leave our dorms in college because we were comfortable and happy,” Heckman said. “But we had to move on and had to let go. There are steps you have to take in life.”
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