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Monday, June 18, 2018

City of Akron Delays Decision on Future of Second Chance Village Homeless Community Until Later This Summer

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2018 at 2:28 PM

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Following an emotional and lengthy meeting of the Akron planning commission last Friday the city announced it will delay a decision on a conditional permit that would allow a homeless encampment on private property to continue operating.

Sage Lewis, a local businessman, opened his land to homeless last year and installed toilets, a kitchen and security cameras to facilitate their encampment. Second Chance Village has since been the subject of a lawsuit from a neighbor and endless rancor, not least because of its location. As the Akron Beacon Journal's Doug Livingston wrote, "The building now bustles with homeless people in the heart of a neighborhood poised for development. After decades of decline, private and public investment are gelling at the nexus of Arlington, Market and Exchange streets with road projects, new shopping centers, housing developments, a neighborhood development corporation and, soon, a new fire station."

Akron has argued that it's an illegal campground, a contention that was challenged at the meeting by supporters, residents and even the neighbor who’d filed the lawsuit, who now says he supports the camp.

The city nonetheless said that the property’s current use is a nuisance, the subject of more than a hundred police calls since it opened to a population it says the fire department has found to be overcrowded.

"We believe in housing the homeless and we take our responsibility seriously to examine land use decisions in keeping with what protects the common good, wherever that may be," Akron planning director Jason Segedy said.
Lewis, who applied for a permit from the city to keep the camp operating, said that while shelters exist in Akron, there’s still a sizeable homeless population that is unsheltered and that Second Chance is meant to be a transitional housing opportunity.

"Our dream from the very beginning was to have this be a start of a conversation. This was a new concept of a new way of working with the homeless," Lewis said at the meeting. "Idealistic me thought officials were going to come and we were going to have this really cool discussion of the needs of the homeless and how we can make Akron a better place by taking care of these people. But all I'm getting is 'no.'"

The ACLU of Ohio, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, an assortment of other nonprofits and a group of law and housing policy professors penned an open letter to the city last week imploring them to protect the village and cease punishing the homeless.

“Encampments such as Second Chance Village save lives,” the letter read. “Disbanding this sanctuary would jeopardize the safety of its residents and would be illegal.

“The City of Akron has spent far too much time over years attempting to criminalize and exclude people experiencing homelessness. For several years, the City has descended on encampments, seizing everyone’s belongings, including donated tents, blankets, personal mementos, legal documents, and other prized personal possessions. The Kramer Legal Clinic at Case Western Reserve Law School previously filed a suit, arguing that this practice violated the Constitution. The City settled, paying for the damage it caused and agreeing to a protocol before disbanding encampments in the future.

“When harassing encampments in the past, the City argued they were unlawful because the property owner did not agree to house an encampment. But, now that a property owner has generously welcomed his neighbors — providing facilities and trying to accommodate the concerns that neighbors and the City had — the City concludes people seeking shelter are not welcome there, either. We write to change the City’s view.”

The city’s official decision didn’t come Friday, and probably won’t come until the end of the summer. The planning commission voted to postpone a decision on the conditional permit in order to gather more information. It doesn’t meet again until July. After that, a recommendation would be made to city council, which is on break during August and doesn’t reconvene until September. Until then, Second Chance Village lives on. 

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