'Tent city' in Akron closes after increased police presence, safety concerns
Few belongings remain at a "tent city" in Akron after the land owner who let unhoused people camp there closed down the encampment this week.
About 10 people have moved their tents elsewhere in the city, said Sage Lewis, the property owner. Most of them went “back into the woods” because some homeless shelters in the area are full, and many of the individuals are hesitant to go to them, Lewis said.
“They go on private property land. They go on to other businesses' lands. They go on people's land where they shouldn't be, but they just have nowhere. There's no other option,” Lewis said.
Some of the individuals avoid shelters due to their criminal backgrounds, he added, or because they simply want to retain their privacy.
Lewis said he shut down the camp due to increasing problems and police presence there.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, raided the camp on June 14 in response to allegations of sex trafficking violations.
According to officials, deputies found 13 people staying at the camp with felony warrants for non-trafficking offenses such as burglary, having weapons while under disability and possession of drugs.
The trafficking investigation is still ongoing. Lewis said sex work occurred there, but he was not aware of any trafficking.
Additionally, the city of Akron sued Lewis in early June to shut down the camp, citing zoning violations. Lewis wonders if that was why police were coming around more often, he said.
“I wasn't going to change anything when the lawsuit came, but then a couple of weeks later, we had this raid, and then police would just continually come around and continually come around. And I just felt like they were not going to stop,” Lewis said. “I felt like I was putting these homeless people in the middle of my legal battle, and they were taking it out on them.”
The city declined to comment on the pending litigation. The first court hearing is July 8. Lewis hopes the city will drop the suit after he cleans up the camp.
The encampment, which was behind Lewis’s property on Kent Place, began after a previous "tent city" run by Lewis nearby shut down in early 2019. The city ordered the camp, known as "Second Chance Village," to close due to zoning violations.
Lewis said he rarely had issues with crime at Second Chance Village, but he admits the most recent camp was not always a safe place, citing instances of burglary and violence among some of the individuals staying there.
“I would say that I was not happy with the overall safety of it, I think,” Lewis said. “If I build another camp, I’m only going to do so if I have paid security.”
People have until next Monday to clean up any of their remaining belongings, Lewis said, and he plans to throw out anything that is left.
In the meantime, Lewis is helping the individuals set up their tents in other areas around the city, he said.
“The truth is, there is nowhere for these people to go. So, I am going to illegally be putting them on other businesses’ property, because I mean, I don't know what else to do with them,” Lewis said.
He also plans to buy a trailer to take supplies to them.
Lewis said he does not currently plan to build or operate homeless encampments in Akron in the near future due to the safety and security risks. While he understands people have issues with his tent cities, he hopes the city will take some sort of action to move the needle on addressing homelessness.
"I'm trying to make a point here that we have people on the streets of Akron that have nowhere to live," Lewis said. "And that's the point. If you don't like what I'm doing, that's fine with me. But the status quo is a nightmare."