I'm getting pretty excited about the new book I'm releasing on my birthday, September 28. I'm turning 50.
All the proceeds for the book are going to the Houseless Movement.
Here's a video trailer I just made to get people familiar with the book:
I just got our electric bill. Here's a screenshot of it:
We currently have two people living in the house (an elderly, disabled man and a veteran with cancer).
We have 2 tents that each usually have at least 2 people in them at any given time.
We have a woman living in the garage.
And we have a man living in our tiny house.
The house, tiny house and garage have air conditioning. And the tents have electric. I think both of them have small refrigerators.
When you think about it, it's a wonder our electric bill isn't a lot higher.
I know you contribute so much to our cause, but if you are able to donate a little more this month it would be greatly appreciated.
If you'd like to make a one time donation you can do so here:
If you'd like to become a member of the Houseless Movement or would like it increase your level of membership you can do so here:
HOUSELESS MOVEMENT MEMBERSHIP
I am continually in awe and thankfulness for your endless support of our American houseless brothers and sisters. We couldn't do any of this work without you.
I don't know how to best describe these situations. We must learn about experiences with homeless people so we can learn and try different things. But at the same time, I don't want to violate people's privacy.
I think I don't need to discuss specific names when talking about internal struggles. But I feel it's important to understand the ongoing thread of their journey.
I'll try talking anonymously about these two guys and see how it goes.
Yesterday I drove a man back to the woods from the Houseless Movement Sanctioned Camp. He had enough of being in our little group. Someone seems to have angered him and he couldn't take it any more. I feel like this move is a set back. I suspect he is using more drugs. I liken these unsanctioned camps to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The woods is a place of lawlessness, garbage, no hygiene. And worst of all, people hate being there. They don't like the people. They don't like the setting. Yet they stay. It represents a darkness of thoughts and emotions.
I've lost people to the woods before.
You might be tempted to think it's because of the the rules I have in place. But it's not. I have no rules about drug use. The only rule I have is keep the place clean and tidy. The man who left was great at that. He always was willing to help clean.
He left because of the people around him.
He wouldn't tell me what had happened. But something happened between him and another person and he was done.
Another man told me he was seriously thinking about leaving as well. In his case he believes the people around him have put hidden cameras around his space. He believes he is being tracked and videoed by other residents. He is covering up every possible hole in his shelter with boxes and paper.
Again, it's the people. Not the rules.
We must be open to this issue. Some people are not able to stay in places because of the social dynamics.
I've had two women on separate occasions leave free housing in the middle of the winter because of social anxiety.
It's important to note that I am not a drug counselor. I am the shelter guy. That's my role. Half a million men, women and children in the richest, most Christian country in the world live without shelter. It is a human rights crime. The way we leave American citizens stranded shelterless on the streets is an abomination. That's all I'm focused on. It's all I have the mental and physical space to focus on. If you want to add resources and other avenues to these people please do so. You are always welcome to visit The Garden.
To think the single antidote to homelessness is four walls and a roof is naïve. Homeless people leave and get pushed out of free supportive housing all the time.
I don't know what to do about the guy who is paranoid about cameras. I asked him if he could show me the cameras. He said he couldn't. They move them around all the time, he said.
The guy that left just left. His mind was made up. All I could do was drive him to his new location (which was a location he has lived at many times before).
I think we are always going to need space where people can get away, even if it is terrible. My hope is that if the guy who left becomes ready, he will come back. And if they guy who thinks he is being watched leaves I can just hope he knows he can come back if I have space.
That leaves me with two guys to work with. They both still want housing. But ironically, I thought they were not as ready for housing as the guy who just left.
A drug counselor once told me that you never can guess who will succeed and who will wash out. All you can do is try your best and let the chips fall where they may.
There are actually 5 men I'm sheltering right now.
One I am making leave by the end of this week. I've LOVE to shelter him but I'm staying committed to my 2 tents and a tiny house.
Another man has been sleeping on this bench in the garden:
He's been a huge asset to the garden. He is constantly cleaning up. And recently he has been filling pot holes on our street with rocks because we have a friend that is severely disabled that comes to visit. His electric wheelchair gets stuck in them. But again, I've committed to 2 tents and a tiny house. So I've given him a tent, mat and sleeping bag, due to your generosity, and had him move near us, but not on the property.
And then there is CJ. He lives in our tiny house. Here's a video of him, if you haven't seen it:
He is very happy. I feel like this tiny house is perfect for him right now. He uses the bathroom in the house. He has air conditioning. He pays $100/month. All is well.
But the man pictured on the bench and the 2 men in the tents are the people I'm really focused on right now. (I'd love to help the man I'm kicking out. He has serious mental health issues. But because all of this work is considered illegal in the eyes of the city, I just can't help him right now.)
The 3 men living in tents ALL want housing. One of them nearly broke down crying thinking about how he'd have to spend another winter living in a tent. He's spent the last 3 winters living in a tent.
I have no problem with people living in tents, if that's what they want. But all 3 want out of tents.
This gets me to the point in this story that actually matters. We need to ask the question: Why do they live in tents if they don't want to? All 3 have lived in tents for at least 3 years.
2 of the 3 men are pretty active drug users: pot and meth (or ice, which is a crystal-like substance, where meth is more of a powder.) The other man has told me that he is slowing down on all of that. And he does seem more calm.
Before I go any further I need you to understand that drugs do not make people homeless. If you really wanted to pin me down on one thing making someone homeless, (Homelessness is not caused by 1 thing. Homelessness is caused by a lifetime of trauma and bad situations... some self-imposed and some imposed from family and the system.), I'd say mental health issues are what cause homelessness.
Our brain drives everything. I feel confident that all 3 of these men would be diagnosed with serious mental health conditions. But I can't get them to go to the hospital due to serious physical injuries, getting them to go to a mental health doctor is like moving a mountain.
They self-medicate with pot and meth. Pot calms them down and meth makes them feel euphoric. They are powerful coping mechanisms for a person who is literally living in the dirt in the richest, most Christian country in the world all while having huge mental health issues. The juxtaposition of a homeless person living next to unimaginable wealth is its own form of psychological torture.
Addictions are crutches for dealing with our emotions. Whether it's coffee, donuts, alcohol or meth, we use these substances to create an emotional response. And sometimes these emotional responses become not just some sort of occasional add-on to our lives. They become how we manage our lives. I believe most of us do this. Whether it's through eating or yelling or binge-watching Netflix, the vast majority of us default to some form of escapism so that we can ignore what is really going on in our lives.
Until we deeply understand what addiction is, we can't begin to meaningfully begin to treat it. And the same goes with homelessness. Until we deeply understand what it means to be homeless, we can't have any hope of thinking we can solve it.
Housing first is a perfect example of the profound lack of understanding of homeless people. If you don't know, the idea of housing first is that you get everyone in a house and then you deal with their other issues. The way it really works is, a person gets put in a house and then is left to fend for themself. And for real real, housing first is a lie. Most people with addiction issues will not get a house until they quit their drug of choice.
But you only need to look at the people who get a house and then end up back on the street. Those people were not ready for a house.
I'm telling you: some people need to be in a tent, whether they want to be or not. Some people need to be in a tiny house. Some people need to be in a hotel room. Some people need to be in transitional housing. Some people need to be in a shelter. And yes. Some people need to be in a traditional house.
The human brain is the most complicated thing in the known universe. It makes us incredibly complicated.
This gets me back to my 3 men in tents.
All 3 want to be out of tents and in houses. That's an incredibly important first step. You have to want it first.
But just because they want it does not mean they are ready for it.
I believe the next step is to get mental health help. I'm telling you: at least 2 of these men will not likely stay in a house if they were given one today. They aren't ready. (The guy on the bench might actually be ready.)
A house comes with a lot of pressures. Neighbors. Bills. Case workers. It's a lot for a person who has been living in the woods for years.
So, the first thing I think they need is a case worker and a mental health professional.
And then I believe all 3 of these guys need to be in their own space. A group home will be a recipe for disaster. It doesn't have to be much. A hotel room would be a great next step.
I also believe they should be housed near where they currently live. The neighborhood they are in is everything to them. If they are moved to another city or even another area of our city, they will likely experience intense isolation which probably will lead to depression which will increase their drug use, which then will likely lead to them inviting their friends to move in, which will lead to them being kicked out of the house.
Homelessness is an incredibly complicated condition that is not understood at all. We need psychologists and sociologists to find these people's lives interesting enough to start doing studies with them. But right now society just hates these people and chalks them up to failed, drug addicted losers.
All of society suffers by not taking time to understand our homeless neighbors. Trash, disease, theft. It all increases when we leave behind our fellow American citizens.
This Code Compliance Inspector was taking pictures at our homeless camp today. I fully expect charges to be coming any day now.
Every week I fill a dumpster of trash that would otherwise be left in our parks. That is Andrew and Kenny (both still homeless after the city committed to housing them 2.5 years ago) repairing a bench in their little village.
I will not back down this time. Homelessness in the richest, most Christian country in the world is a crime against humanity.
I don't think I showed you this. So, I wanted you to be aware of it.
On June 10, 2021 I have received my first letter from the zoning department.
“Please immediately remove all tents and bring the property into compliance with the Zoning Code. Failure to comply with the Zoning Code will result in an Order to Comply and possibly Administrative Penalties.”
I responded to the letter on Facebook by saying:
Dear City of Akron, Ohio - Mayor's Office and I'm copying my attorneys who you described as the "recently transplanted, slick, out-of-town lawyers from the Institute for Justice"
Please let this serve as my official response to your letter demanding that I "remove all tents."
I will happily remove all tents when no more Akronites need tents. Until then, I will continue to offer emergency shelter to those who need it on my property owned by Houseless Movement.
I wanted to show you this because I fully expect the "Order to Comply" letter. My answer will be the same.
I wanted to tell you this because I want you to know that this is what you are supporting. The Houseless Movement is standing against a governmental machine that is cruel and heartless and has no concern if its citizens starve and freeze to death on its streets. I refuse to be complicit in this humanitarian hate crime.
Here is the full letter:
I like to keep up on the national news of what is going on in the homeless environment. I post stories I find interesting on our Discussion Forum here.
There are two big hotspots of governmental involvement right now: Los Angeles and Austin. (New York is likely coming.)
This just happened:
Los Angeles passes measure limiting homeless encampments | Business | americanpress.com
Austin is deciding how and when to enforce newly-restored camping ban | The Texas Tribune
These laws ban sitting and lying in public areas.
"Among other limits, the [LA] ordinance that passed 13-2 would ban sitting, lying, sleeping or storing personal property that blocks sidewalks, streets and bike lanes or near driveways, fire hydrants, schools, day care centers, libraries, homeless shelters and parks.
I know something about how homeless people think. I am here to tell you they do NOT want to live exposed on a sidewalk. It's embarrassing. It's dangerous. It's humiliating.
I think most people don't truly understand that homeless people are 100% human. They have every single feeling and thought that you and I do. So, let me ask you: if you had lost everything would YOU want to live on the sidewalk where everyone can see you and gawk at you? These are people. These are not animals.
I believe that we are experiencing with homeless people what we experienced with slaves. Many people felt slaves were not people. There was a powerful group of people backed up by scientists and theologians that taught the idea of Polygenism. That human races came from different origins versus monogenism which says that humanity came from a single origin.
And, as you might imagine, Africans came from an inferior race of people and Europeans came from a higher stock of people.
We can't promote polygenism with homeless people because American homeless people came from us. They come from all kinds of families. So, instead, we teach a kind of individual inferiority. That these people came from good families but they became lazy and weak minded. Homeless people are even worse than a genetically inferior race. Homeless people are just losers.
So, it makes perfect sense to not let losers sit or sleep or store their belongings. I mean, who can argue with the idea that losers are the most un-American people imaginable? At least Africans couldn't help being born into an inferior race. Homeless people have let this happen to themselves. They are trash. And trash deserves to be thrown out.
If all of this isn't cruel and inhumane enough, it also is absolutely insane. Imagine deciding you are going to institute a city trash service. You are going to pick up all the trash in the city. You make it a law. "We will clean up all the trash we find." But you don't have a place to take the trash!
Where are you going to take the trash?
This is the policy Los Angeles and Austin have instituted. They have determined these people, these American citizens (veterans, moms, dads, children, senior citizens) are trash that needs to be cleaned up off the street. Yet they have no plan on where to dump their trash.
That's how you know this is based in nothing other than homeless hate.
People hate homeless people. People hate the way homeless people make them feel. People hate looking at homeless people. People with money should have the American right to not be subjected to the painful reality that America is broken and cruel. People with money should have the right not to look at poor people.
That's what this is all about. And you know that's all this is about because they don't have a plan on solving homelessness. They just have a plan of making homelessness invisible at ANY COST to the person who has lost every single thing in their life.
I had a couple observations I wanted to share with you.
First, there are 2 new tents that have appeared in The Garden.
In Mayor Horrigan's Op-Ed about our original village he wrote: "Sage Lewis has made little progress on actually moving the needle on homelessness. Just because he attracts homeless people does not make him an expert in homelessness."
He seems to be right about one thing, I do seem to attract homeless people. I actually consider it a great honor and an almost sacred responsibility.
In our new evolution of our village, I am trying something much smaller than what we had in the past. I am very strict about 2 tents and 1 tiny house.
We began this experiment around April. Since then we have had at least 8 different people who have tried to move in.
It seems like almost every week I am having to move people out.
Right now we have 2 new tents that have appeared.
This is incredibly difficult for me. I know these people are coming to us because they know it is much safer than living in the wild. But I simply can't shelter them right now.
This week I started putting notes on their tents. These are the tents and the notes I put up today.
I have tried to make these letters as personal and empathetic as I can.
I know why these people are coming to me. The city has swept every known camp. And they simply don't know where else to go.
But these are just the people who have shown up and put their tent up. Many others ask me if they are able to move into our camp. I am having to say "No" more than I ever have before.
In other news, both of the $200 tents have been quite seriously vandalized. I found these slashes on this tent today:
That is Andrew's tent. And last week someone cut the entire door off of Rob's tent.
Homeless on homeless crime is very real and a true threat.
Rob is regularly asking me to set up fences around the tents. I have tried to not create barriers to the Garden. Many people come and spend time here. But clearly the people living here are at risk.
I'm trying to figure out how to balance that openness versus safety.
Those are the ideas that are in my mind today.
The vegetables in the raised bed gardens are looking healthy.
Thank you for all your support.
That title sounds more diabolical than it is.
This is what I know about SOME homeless people: The here and now is all that matters. If their phone bill is due tomorrow they don't need to worry about it until tomorrow. They have a very difficult time accepting responsibility for their own actions.
They are fully human yet have almost no human dignity left. So, trash collects, they don't care where they go to the bathroom.
There is a joke that goes: You can take the man out of the trailer park but you can't take the trailer park out of the man. That's the question I'm wrestling with. Can you take the homelessness out of the man?
I used to run a 50 person tent village. But now I am focusing on 3 people. I have 2 tents and a tiny house. All three of these men exhibit these characteristics.
My projects are very small at this point. I'm trying to get one man to stop throwing his wrappers on the ground when there is a trash can sitting right next to him. And for another, I am trying to get him to empty his pee bottles regularly instead of letting them collect.
If I can change those habits then what can I change next?
I wanted a way to share with you what is going on with the Houseless Movement. So I decided to start doing some posts on this blog.
Let me get you caught up.
1/25/2020 - I registered the Houseless Movement as a Domestic Nonprofit Corporation with the State of Ohio.
2/3/2020 - I paid the IRS $50 to let them know that we intend to operate as a 501c4 Social Welfare Organization.
4/19/2021 we acquired the house at 85 Kent Place, Akron Ohio from The Homeless Charity.
In the Spring of 2021 we set up two $200 tents and bought an $800 vinyl shed from Sam's Club.
That looks like this:
We had a supporter run electricity to the tiny house (I'm calling it "The Hut") and to the garage. He only charged us the material, $700. I dug the trench.
I have a lot to say about my philosophies on what I want to accomplish and how I intend to accomplish it. But I'll save that for another time.
You should know that I have committed to a maximum of 2 tents, a tiny house and one safe parking space.
Andrew lives in one tent.
Rob lives in the other tent.
CJ just moved into the tiny house.
And Anastasia and her friend are parking on the property.
I am calling the entire space "The Garden".
We just planted some raised be gardens.
That's Andrew helping fill the raised bed gardens with top soil.
I have also just personally transferred another piece of land next to the house to the Houseless Movement. I am doing all of this work on Houseless Movement land. That transfer should happen this week.
I let the city shut down our 50 person tent village last time. But I am not backing down this time. Every single American requires a safe place to have shelter.
If you aren't familiar with a 501c4, let me explain it.
A 501(c)(4) is a “social welfare group” that can advocate for causes and propositions, like 501(c)(3)s. However, 501(c)(4)s can also endorse specific candidates – one of the most substantial differences between the two. Examples of this status include political action groups to advance reproductive or civil rights. While nonprofit organizations with this status are also tax-exempt, donations to 501(c)(4) groups are not tax-deductible.
The primary purpose of the Houseless Movement is to stand up for the right of all Americans to have some place to safely and legally shelter. If a person needs or wants to live in a tent they must have the right to do so. Otherwise, the system is taking away their fundamental human rights.
If you don't know, you soon will: I am angry. I am angry at politicians. I am angry at homeless service providers. And I'm angry at churches. How can any of these people live with themselves when Americans are freezing to death on the streets of the richest, most Christian country in the world?
While we certainly provide services for our homeless friends, more importantly for the Houseless Movement is to change the system.
We are not physically violent towards other human beings. But we also aren't timid or shy. Think PETA except for human beings.
We also believe that all drug use and sex work should at least be decriminalized, if it can't be legalized.
We will protect and stand up for drug users and sex workers. We don't care if people are using drugs in any way. If a person chooses to inject their medicine that is their choice.
I just want to be as clear as possible, if you decide you want to stand with the Houseless Movement. People will attack us for any variety of reasons. They will say we are enabling homeless people, that we are enabling drug users. They will try to scare you into stepping away from us. So, if you think you can't stand that heat please don't stand with us.
The truth is, we stand with the American citizens who have been abandoned and shunned by their own country. And then they are blamed for the position they have found themselves in.
Addiction is a brain disease. It is not a crime.
Homelessness is a complicated condition that requires MUCH more than 4 walls and a roof to solve... and sometimes 4 walls and a roof is not what a person needs right now.
The only people who "choose" homelessness is the entire American system. Poor people never choose to be poor, despite what the government likes to tell you.
Living in unsanctioned camps is hell on earth. No one would choose to live in an unsanctioned camp if they were given the chance to put a tent some place more safe and secure.
It's not that homeless people don't want rules. It's that they don't want to be forced to live in a concentration camp that we call "homeless shelters." When there is only one place for a person to go, that is a concentration camp.
If you believe the way homeless people are treated in America is fundamentally wrong, then you belong with us at the Houseless Movement.
Thank you for all of your support. You are such an inspiration to me.
Stay tuned for more updates.
15 Broad St.Akron, Oh 44305