Local activist Sage Lewis will continue the holiday tradition he started last year, when it was a much colder and he slept outside on Christmas Eve to raise awareness and collect donations for Akron's homeless population.
Lewis, 50, will again remind the public that Jesus was homeless as he camps at the corner of West Market Street and Portage Path in the city's Highland Square neighborhood. Lewis said he will be there by 6 p.m., staying overnight and collecting goods and food from anyone who wishes to stop by.
He said the usual food, clothing and blankets help — but he could really use tents, tarps and sleeping bags to pass out to the city's unsheltered population.
Under the The Homeless Charity nonprofit he started and later left, Lewis allowed space for a community of and by homeless people who camped in the tree-edged backyard of his commercial building at 15 Broad St. in Middlebury. Citing city zoning code and complaints from neighbors, Mayor Dan Horrigan's staff shut that operation down in early 2019. Lewis unsuccessfully fought the decision in court.
Now under a new 501(c)4 social welfare organization called the Houseless Movement, Lewis is at it again with two tiny houses, a tent and a camper on the property. He continues to offer rooms to homeless people in a nearby red house, which he bought from a disgruntled neighbor a couple years ago.
"I'm not stopping," Lewis said. "That was my theme when they shut us down, and I got a mini little village back up."
His new nonprofit organization is better suited to activism, he said. He's encouraging the public to join him, at no cost, by signing up to become a member at https://houselessmovement.org/, where he continues to advocate for tiny home villages and other innovative solutions to the persistent problem of homelessness.
"We are the richest county in the world, the most Christian country in the world and we have American citizens living unsheltered in our country. And that is wrong," he said.
"We need new ideas," he continued. "I'm not saying the old ideas are bad. There's a lot of people doing great work in the city."
One idea that still won't fly is housing homeless people on his private property. The city sent Lewis a letter in June saying the tents in the backyard of 15 Broad St. have attracted complaints from neighbors and violate the property's zoning.
"I said I will close down these tiny houses and tents when there is no more need for tiny houses and tents in Akron. And I haven't heard back since," he said.
The city shared a copy of the letter Wednesday. An "order to comply," which would trigger enforcement action, has not been issued, said Ellen Lander Nischt, press secretary for Mayor Horrigan.
In addition to enforcing zoning rules, the city of Akron funnels millions of federal dollars each year to area nonprofits that shelter, feed and clothe the homeless.
Meanwhile, Lewis is asking everyone to give the homeless population some attention for Christmas.
"People just sharing the fact that we need to do more," he said. "I think that's what activism is: talking and not letting up even when the powers that be want us to do otherwise."
Reach Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.