Numerous displaced members of the community call the Second Chance Store and Village home. Being both a retail store and a shelter for people facing homelessness, the property is run like a business and a small community, as members live in tents and must follow property rules along with a code of respect and hard work.
Most importantly, this operation offers people the chance to look above survival mode and into ways to improve their lot in life.
The owner of the venue, Sage Lewis, devotes much of his time to the homeless community. “What inspired me to do this, was my initial interactions with the homeless,” he says. “I really got into their stories and was really taken by the homeless as humans. At first, I had very stereotypical ideas of who they were. But, I quickly learned that it couldn’t be further from the truth. These individuals were college students, laborers, plumbers, electricians and even executives before becoming homeless. No one is immune from homelessness.”
Along with a focus on charity, Lewis, who ran for Akron mayor in 2015, is a marketer and auctioneer. He spends his time gathering items from various donors, even local nonprofits like Goodwill. These second-hand items are then a way for some of the people he helps to work and earn an income.
Lewis says a major catalyst for this Second Chance community was the eviction of the homeless who were living in local parks. Due to the construction of the Freedom Trail in January of 2017, they were forced to relocate their tents and belongings. “In the middle of the winter, people didn’t have anywhere to go, so they came here. There was no grandiose vision, it all came together very organically.” says Lewis.
At first, the Second Chance village was disrupted by theft, alcohol, drugs and even prostitution. It wasn’t until Lewis and his honorary council devised a three strike policy and treatment regulation that ultimately would abolish the illegal activity at the residence.
“We have a bit of a meritocracy here,” he says. “Every resident is required to volunteer seven hours a week. Then, we watch for people who go above and beyond their duties and ultimately they get elected to be part of the staff here.” Lewis gave the example of one of his staff members named Tony: “Tony works the kitchen, he cooks and cleans and organizes all the food in the pantry. He spends all of his volunteer time there and he has really dug into that position.”
While touring the premises of the Second Chance Store, I personally witnessed a whole host of activities. Outside, I saw individuals building fences for their tent yard behind the building. Indoors, a woman was tending to her child while working and serving as a laundry room attendant. In an adjacent room, two men were working on the lighting. At first when I was greeted by them they were working in the dark, but by the time of my departure, the room was completely illuminated.
Liberated from having to find a safe place to sleep every night, these individuals were all able to focus on how to make life better for both them and the other occupants.
Above all, the Second Chance Store and Village is a model community where those who are struggling with housing can gain stability and work their way back to sufficient living conditions. When asked if individuals ever become settled and self-supporting, Lewis responds, “Every day we regularly see people get into housing. The problem is, is when you’re constantly wandering, it’s hard to take a moment to think about yourself. Especially when you’re in that mode of survival. So we give them that stability to work on themselves.”
Although the city of Akron hasn’t necessarily approved or disapproved of this program, Lewis hopes that there will eventually be public appreciation for this type of civil-minded project in order to aid people who are homeless within the Akron community. The more this type of “next-step” housing is recognized by the city of Akron, the more likely they will garner the attention and possible support of other relief organizations.
The Second Chance Store and Village is located at 15 Broad St. in the Middlebury neighborhood.
For info on how to support the Second Chance Store and Village, follow the organization’s Facebook page. Those who are interested in behind the scenes footage of what is going on at the store may can sign up for the member portal for just a dollar a month.
For more about Lewis’ homelessness efforts, visit thehomelesscharity.org.