Editor’s note: This is the final segment of a mini-series profiling one of Akron’s homeless citizens. This series will follow one man’s day, from sun-up to sun-down, and will chronicle his journey around downtown Akron on a brisk November day, where his main goal was to find a warm place to stay. Read Part I of this series here and Part II here.
Matthew Garner returns from the woods — a common place where Akron’s homeless pitch tents to return to night after night. He walks to Haven of Rest Ministries on Market Street, where he and his friends loiter, killing time before going their separate ways for the night. They toss small bits of food to pigeons, laughing as the birds converge in a circle, bolting wildly for each scrap.
Haven of Rest is popular among Akron’s homeless population. The shelter provides warm meals, clean clothing, showers and a 100-bed dormitory for overnight stays. It also provides case workers who work with individual homeless, helping them to find jobs and create savings plans to help them move off the streets.
“A lot of people who come to us, roughly two-thirds, are back out on their own pretty quickly,” says Jim Cole, the director of the center’s Men’s Division.
If a homeless individual works with a case manager and creates a plan, they are able to extend their stay past the five-night limit. (These monthly limits change according to time of year.)
“If a man says, ‘I don’t want anything to do with what you’re offering,’ then he’s choosing to take those five nights,” explains Cole.
Garner only uses some of the center’s basic services and takes his five nights per month.
“I don’t eat here at dinner time,” he says. “I’ll go over to the church service, and then I’ll come over here and take a shower and go to bed.”
A tight-knit community
He leans against the brick wall while his friends banter amongst themselves. They shout in friendly tones at men walking in and out of the shelter, cracking jokes. Garner knows some of these men by name, but recognizes most of them, having shared many of the same struggles.
Although many of Akron’s homeless tend to keep to themselves, the community remains tight-knit and, to a certain extent, looks out for one another.
“We’re closer to a few of the people that we met [from] being in the street and being in the Haven than we are to our family,” says Jessica, a woman who spent the previous winter with her husband living in a tent in the woods. “There’s a lot of really decent people. But then, in every group, you have ones that want to take advantage of things.”
Chad is another homeless man living with his friend Tony under a bridge on Market Street. The two of them cram beside a small fire no more than 10 feet away from active railroad tracks.
“We help out our brothers,” he says.
Finding a way home
Garner currently is on parole and probation. He claims he must wait another month to be let off parole, and another year to be released from probation. He is hopeful, however, that this will come sooner.
“If my parole officer kicks me off parole,” he says, “My probation officer’s gonna kick me off probation.”
After his release, Garner plans to leave Akron and return home to Arkansas. Although both his parents are dead, he can live with his two younger sisters, both in their early 20s, and return to a more stable life.
“I wanna go back home,” he says. “I wanna be done with Akron, go back where my family is, where I know that I’ll have support.”
Garner receives Social Security disability benefits due to his mental illness and an old injury. His arm was shattered years ago after falling off a trailer while re-tarring its roof. He was drunk at the time.
He plans to save money from these benefits in order to take a bus back home.
“If everything seems to work out right,” he says, “I’ll stay here for a few more months to get everything adjusted, make sure my money’s right, and then go home.”
In Arkansas, he also will be closer to his children, who are living in Texas. He hopes to visit them by bus.
“I miss them bad,” he says, his voice taking a melancholy tone. “If I go back home, I’ll be close enough to where it’s only a six- or seven-hour drive, depending on where they live in Texas. So it won’t be too bad. I’ll be able to pick them up during the summer.”
For now, Garner will continue to wander under the murky skies of downtown Akron.
“I’m probably gonna walk around, maybe to to the library and charge my phone,” he says, still standing outside Haven of Rest with hours left before nightfall. “I don’t know – I’ll end up somewhere.”
Before walking off, he makes up his mind.
“I think I’m gonna try and head off and get me a beer.”
Editor’s note: Due to the sensitive nature of this article, no photos were taken. The cover image for this story is not Matthew Garner.