Kent looks for creative ways to house the homeless


Saraj Sutaria, a retired special education professor at Kent State, prepares food at Kent Social Services on Jan. 28. Sutaria is one of many volunteers who cook warm meals five days a week for the 50 to 60 individuals who come in looking for nourishment. Photo by Jacob Byk.

Ashley Wallace, Grant Engle


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A local woman shares her emotional story about the determination to never give up and overcome her struggles. TV2’s Ashley Wallace has the story.

Frigid temperatures and inches of snowfall can cancel classes, delay food service deliveries and force people to stay in their homes. But for a group of people in Portage County, these conditions are not just an inconvenience – they can be deadly.

Cathey DeBord, the director of housing at Family and Community Services in Ravenna, estimated that there are between 30 and 40 “street homeless” people in Portage County. That means they live primarily on the street, usually without the benefit of having friends or relatives with housing to accommodate them.

While some street homeless people are recently evicted or down on their luck, DeBord said many of them have chosen their lifestyle.

“Not all of them want housing,” DeBord said. “They don’t live by conventional rules, and they are very resourceful.”

DeBord said Family and Community Services has tried to arrange housing for people in the past, but many of the street homeless tell her they don’t want the responsibility of dealing with a landlord, paying rent or holding a job.

However, many of the street homeless seek some kind of shelter when the temperature drops below freezing. DeBord said the difficulty lies in them finding a business that’s open 24-hours to get them through the night.

Some of the street homeless can seek temporary shelter at the Miller Community House in Kent, but the facility has strict rules that disqualify some people from staying.

Sara Harrell-Jurovcik is a spokeswoman for the Miller Community House, which operates under Family and Community Services. She said the house accommodates families, and cannot allow anyone who has been convicted of violent crimes, sexual crimes or many drug-related offenses.

While not all of the street homeless have these types of offenses on their record, Jurovcik said Family and Community Services is desperately trying to find ways to help those who can’t legally stay in a shelter.

“We just bang our heads against a wall because these folks are hard to serve,” Jurovcik said. “We’ve even discussed using the backs of trucks for people who can’t come in the shelter, but who want to come out of the cold.”

DeBord said the responsibility to provide some kind of temporary shelter for the street homeless could easily be shouldered by the community. She recommended locked lobbies of businesses that don’t give people an opportunity to steal or vandalize. DeBord also said some of Kent State’s facilities, such as the library, should be considered.

“They don’t need [the facilities] all the time,” DeBord said. “It’s only the really frigid nights.”

Jurovcik agreed with DeBord that some uncommon solutions will have to be reached, but Jurovcik said they must always consider the safety of families in shelters and other people around Kent.

“It’s difficult because the Kent library could be used,” Jurovcik said. “But what are the risks when you have 18-year-old girls studying in there? There are good arguments on both sides.”

Jurovcik said Family and Community Services is expecting cuts to its budget because of the faltering economy. She said the program will continue to discuss new, “outside-of-the-box” ways to house the street homeless in Kent and Portage County.

Contact Grant Engle at [email protected] and Ashley Wallace at [email protected].

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