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New homeless outreach center doubles capacity of residents served


When Lee Brown was homeless and sleeping in a tent, Community Support Services would often check on him and his neighbors to make sure they were safe.

Working with Community Support Services ultimately helped Brown finding permanent housing.

"They put their heart and soul into what they do, and I'm very blessed," said Brown, who was homeless for about five months.

Community Support Services has now doubled its capacity to serve him and others thanks to the opening of the Alphonso W. Turner Homeless Outreach Center, which will provide even more valuable services to residents facing homelessness. From a day room, showers and laundry facilities to connections with housing, health care and counseling (the agency's wheelhouse), the Day Center was funded in part by a 2015 Akron Community Foundation health and human services grant, along with awards from other area funders, like GAR Foundation, Corbin Foundation and Peg's Foundation.

Its location on East Voris Street, next to a veteran's services organization and Family Promise, a homelessness agency, puts residents within a short distance of a number of vital social services.

According to Tim Edgar, residential manager of the Outreach Center, the previous day center served about 30 clients a day - and was cramped for even that many people.

"Now we can help as many as 60 in a day," he added. "It's set up in a way that benefits our clients more than the former place did. Our services have grown exponentially since then, and the number of clients we serve has grown exponentially since then."

The Outreach Center is part of the Akron/Barberton/Summit County Continuum of Care, a network of agencies that provides a safety net for vulnerable populations, including those facing homelessness, victims of abuse and former offenders.

The Outreach Center is named after Alphonso Turner, a former peer outreach worker who personally walked in the shoes of many of the agency's clients. His challenging but inspiring life served as an example for others and was a lesson in resilience.

Beyond the work of the agency, Greater Akron has a reason to be positive about the steps taken to reduce chronic homelessness, especially among the veteran population. According to Edgar, Akron has achieved "functional zero" for homeless veterans. He explained that while functional zero doesn't necessarily mean that every veteran is off the street, it does mean that the capacity is there to care for them.

"It just means if we have 50 homeless vets in our county, we have 50 beds available that we could put them in if they desire to do so," Edgar said. "And we're trying to do the same with people who are chronically homeless now. Fifteen years ago, I didn't think that would ever be attainable."

For Brown, Community Support Services has given him a new start and the opportunity to focus on getting his GED. He still helps others get off the street and connected to the myriad services provided by the agency. He said he is thankful for the simple things these days.

"I'm not cooking over a fire pit," he said. "I'm not out there, and I'm not cold anymore."

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