By: Katie Sobiech
As a part of the Point in Time Count (PTC), the homeless themselves are selected by the Continuum of Care (CoC) to share their knowledge of where other homeless stay at night. This works towards the CoC’s continuous efforts to understand the issues of homelessness, as well as finding solutions.
Mike Bullock, a volunteer who runs the Tarry House, a non-profit group-home for the mentally ill, drove to each of the homeless “hang-outs” as Bear directed.
“Bear”, who calls the steps of a school downtown his home, led one of the groups.
“The first time it snowed, everybody who slept up there on the steps with me bounced,” Bear said.
Many homeless head to local shelters as the temperatures drop.
It’s interesting to get a homeless man’s perspective on homelessness.
“In some cases guys will behave themselves long enough to stay in (a shelter) for the wintertime so they don’t have to be out in the cold, but when it’s hot outside, you don’t have to. The heck with it… You can sleep out here in the park or the woods when its 90 degrees,” Bear said.
Because most of the homeless are indoors during the winter, the PTC makes sure to count soup kitchens and shelters during the day to make sure they don’t miss anyone.
“There are a handful of folks that for some reason just don’t use the soup kitchens or shelters,” Bullock said.
Bear says that he doesn’t stay at one of Akron’s well-known local shelters because “It’s like prison”.
“They have rules,” Bullock said.
“They have an agenda. We just happen to be the lowly pawns that don’t have nothing better to do. I don’t need them,” Bear said.
When asked what his days are like, there was a long pause. “Let’s see…get up…” Bear said.
On a good day he will visit his family, and girlfriend, who is pregnant with his child.
“I’m going to have to re-arrange how I do some things cause I can’t have my child looking down on me,” he said.
Reasons for Homelessness
Bear says the biggest reason people are homeless is that they are addicted to drugs.
“I know people who get checks but sleep on the street cause they want to spend their money on drugs. They will sleep out in the cold to get high,” he said.
“Then you have people who just don’t know any better. They need help because they are not really all there to know where to get help and that’s why stuff like (PTC) this helps. They need supervision,” he said.
“Sam”, another homeless leader, has been homeless for seven years.
“Part of his reason is he feels boxed in when he’s inside. And he likes nature, he calls it camping,” Bullock said.
Having a disability and felony record has made it difficult to get housing as well.
“He tries to work but has a mental illness so he has a hard time with that,” Bullock continued.
Many are facing obstacles such as these that make it nearly impossible to get a clean start without having to jump through seemingly impossible hoops.
Others just don’t care to do anything about it.
“You do the things you need to do to make sure you don’t have to do anything,” Bear laughed, “A lot of us have chosen not to do it, and that’s why I try to tell folks not to feel sorry.”
“I’ll be the first to admit I’m irresponsible. I don’t have to do this (be homeless). I could go do the responsible thing but …. (Long pause and sigh)… I’m irresponsible, that’s why I’m here. I’m not a drug addict, don’t have any habits that should have me in the street, but it’s the easy way out,” he continued.
Bear says he might get tired of being homeless one day, but makes a point that it’s not because of cold weather or being hungry – but it’s the other homeless people.
“You’ve got a lot of angry homeless,” he said, “And it seems like every time something wrong happens to them, it’s somebody else’s fault. Rather than admit it, some people like to live in a fantasy world.”
“This is a good county because it’s the only place where homeless people can be homeless and comfortable,” Bear said, “I hear (homeless) guys talking about coming all the way from Youngstown or Cleveland.”
“I used to work at a crisis center and people were sent here from New York and Pennsylvania because they heard of the Haven of Rest,” Bullock said.
“You should never be hungry in Akron because there are not many places around here that have food they don’t give to the homeless. If someone walks up to you and says they are hungry, they’re lying,” Bear said.
“It’s really a generous community,” Bullock agreed.
How Far They’ve Come
Bullock has been volunteering for the PTC for 11 years.
“When we first started it was just four of us walking downtown. It’s really grown,” he said.
PTC leaders are pretty aware of all of the homeless hangouts by now.
“They hang at the McDonalds on West Market cause its warm and they can sip on their cup of coffee,” Joe Scalise, Housing Coordinator at the Ohio Multi-County Development Corporation, said.
Bear even pointed out a spot many probably wouldn’t have thought of – outhouses.
“This is the spot, right here,” he said, opening up the door and looking around.
One of the newest places that they’ve discovered homeless setting up camp is in the woods near a local shopping center.
“Sean Freemon and Keith Stahl have been interacting with them for years, so they know exactly where to go into the woods to get the count,” Scalise said.
Eight teams total went out the night of January 25th, and about 160 homeless individuals were counted, besides those staying at shelters. The other totals will be tallied up by the end of February and turned into Housing and Urban Development.
The Continuum of Care is on a mission to understand and eliminate homelessness in our community. If you are interested in becoming a part of this group, please contact Fred Berry at 330.315.1385.