‘Being homeless again, it’s just crazy:’ Displaced Canton residents wait

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‘Being homeless again, it’s just crazy:’ Displaced Canton residents wait

Categories: News

CANTON, November 17, 2021

Formerly homeless, they were escorted from their apartments in the middle of the night, without their belongings and without realizing that they, once again, were on the street.

The 52 residents of Gateway House II — a YWCA-operated, four-story building in downtown Canton transitioning “hard-to-house homeless people with disabilities” — were roused from their sleep about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday by police and firefighters and then taken across the street to the YWCA.

Just minutes earlier, a 32-year-old Canton man had smashed out the front glass doors to their 40-unit brick building at 626 Walnut Ave. NE, making his way to the second floor where he began banging on doors.

He didn’t live there. Residents don’t believe he even knew any of them. But a short time later, he was under arrest, charged with felony vandalism and burglary after he was accused of damaging a sprinkler and flooding the building so severely that it had to be evacuated.

Serenity Carnahan, who said she has been homeless for half of her life, has been a second-floor resident for three months, coming to Gateway House II from a woman's shelter. She and her pet parakeet Louie joined their neighbors on cots inside the YWCA Tuesday and Wednesday while they wait to find out when they can return to their apartment.

Residents witness the damage

Serenity Carnahan, a 22-year-old resident since July, said she saw the man through her apartment door peephole as he darted into the nearby laundry room where she had just put her clothes into a washer.

Inside, the man pulled a dryer in front of the door, barricading himself before busting a laundry-room sprinkler head and setting off the building’s sprinkler system, flooding the first and second floors.

Once police got to him, “He said, ‘I did this. I need help,’ which wasn’t a really good excuse to me,” Carnahan said, adding that she was able to re-enter the laundry room and retrieve her wet clothes before she and her neighbors had to leave the building.

Leonard Barger, 62, whose apartment of seven years is next to the laundry room, watched as police arrested and escorted the man from the building.

“He had water just running all over the place,” Barger said, noticed about 2 inches of water as he walked out of his apartment. “He was bragging as he walked out the door about what he did.”

Leonard Barger, a second-floor resident at Gateway House II in downtown Canton, was watching late-night TV when the man flooded the building. He didn't hear the commotion until he entered his kitchen. Then, he looked out of his apartment door and saw police force open the laundry room door and arrest the barricaded suspect.

‘Being homeless again, it’s just crazy.’

Carnahan, Barger and about two dozen of their neighbors spent the night on cots inside the YWCA.

While Barger said he slept well on his cot because of having been up all night, most of his displaced neighbors didn’t.

“It was a little rough here and there. I don’t think any of us were ready for it,” said David O’Malley, 52, who has lived on the second floor for seven years. O’Malley suffers from “lymphedema in my legs. I’ve been through brain surgery. I have a crushed lumbar and I’ve got a bone spur in my spine.”

David O'Malley moved into his second-floor apartment at Gateway House II after coming from the Refuge of Hope shelter seven years ago. He had been living in Florida until one of his brothers there died of cancer. He returned to Canton after another brother had committed suicide. Waiting on a Social Security claim with no money and nowhere to go, he put in 80 job applications. He found one job, but it didn't last, and he was rendered homeless. O'Malley spent the night at the YWCA Tuesday and Wednesday, wondering where he will go next.

Connie Samples, 52, is on oxygen to help with her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She had suffered a chemical burn in a lung a decade ago and needs to be on oxygen around the clock.

She and her nephew Bradley McKinney, 38, had just moved into their third-floor apartment a couple months ago.

While grateful for the YWCA’s help, Samples said, “Being homeless again, it’s just crazy.”

YWCA, Red Cross helping residents

YWCA CEO Shana Smith said another two dozen neighbors found other places to spend the night.

“I saw one young lady left around 7 or 7:30 and she was heading out with all of her belongings. I said, ‘Did you find somewhere else to stay,’ and she said she had a friend who said she could stay on her couch for the night,” Smith said. “I don’t believe anyone was on the street. At least they didn’t have to be. Those I spoke to, they found a friend. But obviously I can’t speak to every situation.”

The American Red Cross provided food and volunteers “stayed with the tenants overnight and continued to monitor the situation and make sure all of their needs were met and they felt safe and supported,” Smith said.

A television was moved to the gym and volunteers brought out board games.

“We tried our best to make it as comfortable as possible,” Smith said

She said the volunteers reported a “pleasant evening,” although many residents were obviously uneasy.

She said Canton Police Lt. Dennis Garren arranged for officers to stop in throughout the night to “see that everyone was safe, because (the residents) were starting to get a little antsy and agitated. The anxiety was up, and rightfully so. They don’t know what to expect. They’re like, ‘Where am I going to live?’ “

Two women remarked that the incident occurred “right at Thanksgiving,” she said. “They wanted to be back in their homes right now.”

Smith said residents were taken in pairs to retrieve necessary belongings from their apartments and to care for their emotional support pets, which included a couple cats, a bird and hamsters.

“Some of them were able to get friends to keep their pets for them,” she said.

Carnahan’s parakeet, Louie, was the only pet to ride out the night at the YWCA.

O’Malley’s cats — a calico named Molly and an Egyptian Mau he calls Kesha — were too frightened to come out of hiding, although he did see them.

“They’re in hiding because they’re probably scared and they don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

Massive restoration underway

Smith said that most residents seemed “a lot more calm” once they saw their apartments and the damage, and could see that the massive restoration is underway.

“When they were (evacuated), they only saw there was water on the floor. They didn’t process the impact of what had happened,” Smith said. “When we returned and they saw the condition of the building, even after the construction crews had gone through, they were a lot more calm. They knew it’s not, ‘OK, let’s just mop the floor.’ They could see that real damage was caused.”

A damage estimate is not yet known. Smith said the insurance representative is expected to arrive on Friday.

Smith said the Sisters of Charity Foundation, United Way of Stark County, the Hoover Foundation and other organizations pooled resources to get the displaced residents into a local hotel. On Tuesday morning, she was working with Stark Area Regional Transit Authority to arrange transporting them.

“My only hiccup is trying to figure out how to feed them once they’re at the hotel, but that is the plan — to try to get them out of that situation and then to address some of their other basic needs, such as food and transportation for those who have to work,” she said.

A return to normal remained a question still awaiting an answer on Wednesday.

Despite the extra construction teams brought in to address the cleanup and restoration, the city will still need to grant an occupancy permit before the residents can move back into their homes.

At some point, only some residents may be able to return as “there may be restricted areas” as the process moves forward, Smith said.

She said Hilscher-Clarke was assessing the electrical system and that the elevators were not working properly as of Wednesday morning, “given the water damage.”

“Once we get a green light on all of those indicators, a permit will be granted and they can move back in,” she said.

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