For Joe May, sharing his talents comes naturally.
When May retired in 1998 after nearly 40 years with Roadway Express, he took his executive leadership skills to one of our city’s poorest residential areas.
Born in Akron, May had graduated from St. Vincent High School and Kent State, and served two years active duty and four years in the U.S. Navy Reserves. He met his wife, Helen, on a blind date, and they were married in 1960 and raised three children.
Not long after his retirement, May served on the board of The Catholic Worker of Akron, restoring three homes to become houses of hospitality for the homeless. During that time, the board imagined opening a “soup kitchen,” similar to the one that writer Peter Maurin had inspired activist Dorothy Day to create during the Great Depression in New York City.
To meet the needs of the growing number of homeless and marginalized citizens in the Greater Akron area, May suggested the board open a “day drop-in center.” The organization bought and restored a long-vacant bar and grill, and opened The Peter Maurin Center at 1096 S. Main St. in 2006.
Two months ago, The Peter Maurin Center expanded next door. The original facility continues to provide the homeless with three hot meals a week, and the new community center offers haircuts, showers, medical and dental services, and a spot where marginalized adults can obtain a bicycle or have their current one repaired.
What is the true state of homelessness in Summit County?
JM: The state of homelessness in Summit County is complex. Perhaps it can best be described in segments, which is consistent with most cities across the country.
Most noticeable are the homeless the public sees on the city streets: some with signage seeking assistance; some staying warm during the day in libraries and bus stations; some riding bikes or walking to and from food sources; and some standing outside a temporary-employment office.
Much less noticeable are the tented homeless who take up residence in vacant wooded areas. For the most part, they are marginal survivalist. Some become adept at caring for themselves; others are in desperate need of help to survive — particularly in the dead of winter.
Others among the less noticeable are the squatters. These homeless move about finding shelter in vacant houses or commercial buildings.
Transient homeless (versus long-term, or chronic) rent day-to-day or week-to-week. On any given day, they face eviction. Some are found sleeping in their car while seeking their next shelter.
If you want numbers, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development required a biannual point-in-time homeless count in order for Continuums of Care, located by county, to be eligible for Federal funding.
The “Point-in-Time” survey conducted in 2010 indicated there were approximately 875 homeless. From the experience of those working directly with homeless, the number in the Greater Akron area is estimated at more than 1,100 people and more than 100 tented citizens. To our knowledge, this has not been conducted in the last two or three years in Summit County.
When it comes to our community’s homeless, what can we as Akronites do to help?
JM: The public in general see the homeless on the city streets but lack understanding of the stories behind what they see. As a result, they are referred to as beggar, bum, panhandler and “Why don’t they get a job!”
Those who share their God-given talents and their time to provide assistance see the face of Christ in all who are in need. We live by the (paraphrased) Matthew 25 scripture in which Jesus instructs us: “What so ever you do unto the least ... you do unto me.” The Greeks of old put it well, “People in need are the ambassadors of the gods.”
What the Akron public can do to help is to become involved, beginning with an understanding of who the homeless are. What has caused them to become unsheltered, and what are their needs?
There are many ways to begin: Get active in your church social concerns group; research online the plight of the homeless and discover the inhumane, as well as the compassionate, treatment by cities across the country.
The next step is to reach out to any number of well-established organizations that minister to the immediate needs of the homeless, and those organizations that seek long-term solutions. Volunteer with organizations, such as The Peter Maurin Center, and go prepared to share your God-given talents rather than going to “serve”; the distinction between the two terms is that of dignity. Go prepared to share the most effective talent: listening. I remember the saying: “I never learn anything when I’m talking.”
Who is welcome at the center?
JM: Anyone who walks through our doors is welcomed. If they don’t stay long, they most likely are not in need. Our mission is to nurture the body, mind and soul. On rare occasions, we must ask a guest to leave if he or she is causing a disturbance. However, each is invited back to the entrance at any time for a meal.
How can people volunteer their time?
JM: Volunteers are welcome to drop in anytime we’re open: Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Fridays and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. Simply introduce yourself and state your interest in volunteering. … Our many volunteers, each in his or her own right, will attest to the joy in each of their lives having been given the opportunity to share with others in need at PMC.