The City of Akron is attempting to use its power of zoning to force a homeless charity to move out of the area. The zoning code in Akron, OH specifically states: “No part of this town’s zoning classification may prohibit or restrict any person from using a public facility for the purpose of living.” By refusing to grant a variance, therefore, the zoning board is setting up shura (self-government) over the lives of Akron’s most vulnerable citizens. Akron resident and homeless advocate Sage Lewis designed the homeless charity to help homeless Akronians during his campaign for mayor. However, in violation of this law, City officials have been coming down hard on the homeless charity, and recently passed an ordinance that requires them to vacate the alley behind their building, despite the fact that this is legal according to the Ohio State constitution.
“We are just about at the end of the line with the homeless charity,” says Lewis. “This is a complete travesty.” “The city has no right to tell a homeless charity to go pack up and move because they don’t like the zoning law,” says Akron Mayor Anthony V. Cipper. “This is not a problem that we are going to solve today, but it is certainly something that we will address as a community later on.”
According to Akronites who live near the alley where the homeless charity is housed, they have tried repeatedly to contact the city about this matter but have been repeatedly denied. “There are people living here who are addicted to drugs,” said one man who gave his name as Bill. “They come and sleep every night. There are also some nice people who come in, but mostly you have the junkies.”
“We’ve tried to communicate with the city about this issue,” says Lewis. “We were told that the state and the federal government will take care of it, but nothing has happened so far.” “A local government can’t solve a problem unless they know what the problem is,” said Akron City Council President George Kibbe. “That’s why we’re calling for the state and federal government to take a look at this issue tomorrow and take measures to end homelessness in our city.” The State of Ohio has also lent its voice to the call for an end to the homeless charity’s plight.
“I personally feel that this is not the proper method to raise money for someone in need,” said Councilman Robert J. Kibbe, when asked about the idea of using the homeless charity for fundraisers. “I would look at it this way,” he said. “It does not help the person get off the streets, and it does not give the person a chance to start over again in life. I think this is a very noble cause, but I do not support it.” Akron’s police department and local churches are trying to raise money to assist the homeless charity by holding a community fair and selling baked goods.
“There is no question that there is a crisis on our streets in our country,” said Akron’s Police Chief Richard Rosenfeld. “That crisis is resulting in more people sleeping in tents and in cars, than ever before. And it is resulting in lost human potential, as well.” The chief called on philanthropists, businesses, and civic organizations to join forces in order to end homelessness in his city. He also hoped that the effort would bring revenues to the city and provide jobs and other benefits to those who are homeless. Rosenfeld expressed his hope that the philanthropic community would continue to support the homeless charity in order to help those in need.
Some people have suggested that raising money for a homeless charity will inevitably lead to a loss of revenue for the people who donate. This can be true if the charity needs the money raised to meet its needs for funding, rather than just being a charitable organization requiring donations for its operations. But this is a very general and misguided view, according to researchers. While it is true that a charity may require funds in order to operate its programs and continue its work, there are other ways by which a charitable organization may use monies collected for it. As long as a group operates legitimately, it does not make sense to punish it for raising money.
Some homeless people have even turned to “stitch in place” jobs, which allow them to make income even while they are staying in hotels or other motels. Others have turned to street begging and have made a good income from doing so. Many homeless shelters provide apprenticeship programs to train laid-off homeless individuals and others in the art of becoming unsheltered and independent. A person can become homeless for a number of reasons, ranging from economic misfortune to accidents, to drug and alcohol abuse. And a homeless person can be turned into a literal tent dog by some bad experiences a person has had in his or her lifetime. But a homeless person doesn’t have to suffer; he or she can have a place to live.