Akron Overnight Emergency Shelter prepares to open

AKRON, Ohio — With temperatures expected to drop into the teens over the next few nights, Akron’s Overnight Emergency Shelter plans to open this Wednesday through Friday.

The overnight shelter at 111 E. Voris St. provides vulnerable residents of the area with a safe place to sleep when winter temperatures drop dangerously cold. It operates from approximately 6:30pm to 8:30am on the evenings it is open.

what you need to know

  • The Akron Emergency Shelter is open Wednesday through Friday
  • The lodging at 111 E. Voris St. provides a safe place to sleep when temperatures are dangerously cold
  • The facility is run by volunteers, most of them from the Peter Maurin Center
  • Accommodation offers separate sleeping areas with thick mattresses and duvets, cooked dinner and breakfast, and bus tickets

The overnight shelter is funded by the City of Akron with support from Community Support Services and is run by volunteers, most of whom are from the Peter Maurin Center, volunteer organizer Michelle Hopp said.

The Peter Maurin Center is an all-volunteer service in South Akron that began as a shelter and now offers a range of services for the homeless.

The shelter needs volunteers who can sign up online to fill multiple positions for this week’s operating hours, she said.

Roles range from chefs and waiters responsible for preparing and serving the provided hot meals, to helpers waking guests up in the morning and helping them pack their belongings.

“I think to keep peacekeeping on top of things and make sure everything is running smoothly, we set it up in a highly organized way,” she said.

The overnight accommodation shields guests as they enter, relieving them of any weapons they might be carrying, Hopp said, and security is on call throughout the night.

Having this structure helps reduce any hesitation potential volunteers might have when helping out with a night surgery, she said.

“I think it helps to be really clear about what the expectations are,” she said. “And maybe it takes away some of the unknown of how it could be, and I think that helps us find more volunteers.”

Although the roles are fixed, once the volunteers are gathered, everyone works together as a team, she said.

That includes CSS clerks who step in when someone staying at the shelter wants to find permanent housing, CSS said.

In 2021, more than 4,000 Summit County residents, including 774 children, received services through the Continuum of Care, according to the most recent annual report. The Continuum of Care includes approximately 50 agencies that provide services to address homelessness.

Volunteering is fulfilling, and guests sometimes tell volunteers they are grateful, Hopp said.

“We just heard really cute little unexpected comments like, ‘Oh you have the best coffee in town,’ or ‘You guys are the nicest people around,'” she said. “In my experience, people were very appreciative and in some ways touched by volunteers and their kindness.”

In 2021, more than 4,000 Summit County residents, including 774 children, received services through the Continuum of Care, which includes about 50 agencies that provide services to address homelessness. (Spectrum News/Jennifer Conn)

This is her first full year as a volunteer shelter organizer, said Hopp, who offers her time while keeping up with her six children.

She was a volunteer last year when persistent, brutally low temperatures meant the overnight shelter was open for about 45 nights, she said.

By the end of the season, she was the volunteer organizer and the volunteers were starting to feel the burnout.

“But I feel like there were very, very few times that we didn’t have everyone and everything we needed,” she said.

Most emergency shelter volunteers also volunteer at the Peter Maurin Center, Hopp said, and are committed to working with this vulnerable population.

The Maurin Center’s executive director, Jim Orenga, said the shelter was formerly located at the center, which is located at 1096 South Main St.

But with sometimes as many as 50 people needing to be accommodated overnight, the center didn’t have enough space for anyone looking to recover from the cold weather, he said.

The city is opening heat centers in several community centers when temperatures only drop during the day, he said, while most other shelters in the area are usually full, particularly for women.

“The only game in town when the weather is bad, we’re at 111 East Voris St,” Orenga said.

The overnight hut offers separate sleeping areas with thick mattresses and blankets, cooked dinners and breakfasts, and bus passes given to guests before they leave so they can stay warm a little longer, he said.

The services offered at the Maurin center include lunches, which are served every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from 11am to 2pm.

A pantry, offered in partnership with the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, is open every second and fourth Saturday of the month from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

A new service was recently added, Orenga said, where DoorDash picks up the groceries and delivers them to about 40 families who can’t get out to pick them up.

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