The operator of Akron’s tent city is facing a new challenge in his fight to keep his homeless shelter open.
About a week ago, Sage Lewis was aware that there could be movement from the city to urge him to find a solution. His tent city was not operating legally according to the city’s zoning code.
On Friday, Akron's planning director, Jason Segedy, issued a letter to Lewis to discuss a pair of options for Second Chance Village.
Lewis was given two options:
- "Cease the illegal use of your property as a tent city."
- "File another application for conditional for your property and seek to comply with all legal requirements incidental to such use."
“It does make sense,” Lewis said.
But Lewis also noted that it still was difficult to immediately process.
“When you get a letter like this it is, kind of, a ‘punch to the stomach’ type situation.”
Lewis said simply shutting down tent city is not an option. He is now working with his legal team on the next steps to find a solution.
Segedy’s letter noted that there are “several regulatory and safety issues with the current use of the property as a ‘tent city.’” He mentioned that some violations reported by the fire department on the property have been addressed, while others remain.
Segedy stated that the building on the property “lacks the necessary space and facilities inclduing bathrooms and kitchens) to serve as a dwelling for the individuals who currently reside at your property.”
The letter also included a mention of the “ongoing issues with trash, litter, and sanitation, as well as complaints and calls for service regarding illicit drug use and other prohibited behavior on the property.”
But in that same letter, Segedy noted a focus on keeping safety a priority for residents of the village, especially during colder nights. He referenced a 2016 fire at an Oakland warehouse that left 36 people dead.
“If the temperature dips below freezing, odds are that a lot of these folks are going to be going into the building to stay warm,” said Ellen Lander Nischt, press secretary for the city of Akron. “If you have 60-70 people in a structure not built to house that, you could have a tragedy. There’s not enough exits. If something happens, they could be trapped.
Segedy's letter also included an invitation to meet with "representatives of the City, social service provides, and homeless advocacy agencies to discuss long-term solutions that will help meet the needs" of the tent city residents.
"In all honesty, I want people to be housed," Lewis said. "My goal isn't to keep people in tents."
Lewis said he's more than open to meet with city officials and is hoping they are able to visit the facility.
"We got to talk as a group and have our plan so we can work in a meaningful and sincere way to end homelessness in Akron."
If Lewis does not pick either option presented by Segedy, the city would be forced to issue orders of violation in relation to its zoning code.