CANTON, November 16, 2021
CANTON – About 50 residents in a building designed for people transitioning from being homeless were evacuated early Tuesday after a man broke in and flooded the property.
David O’Malley, a second-floor resident, was asleep when the damage was done.
“I woke up when water was coming in from the ceiling,” he said, recalling the flooding.
Fifty-two people were displaced from the four-story, 40-unit Gateway House II on Walnut Avenue NE and taken to the YWCA, which operates the transitional housing program, across the street. The residents were given cots in the gymnasium.
Gateway House II provides housing for “hard-to-house homeless people with disabilities,” according to the YWCA. Part of it also shelters homeless families.
“Every unit was full,” YWCA CEO Shana Smith said, adding, “There is extreme water damage on the first and second floors.”
Most of the residents were asleep at 1 a.m. when, Smith and police say, a 32-year-old Canton man smashed out the glass front doors. He forced his way into the building and went to the second floor laundry room, barricading himself inside.
Then, he smashed the sprinkler head and set off the building’s sprinkler systems, flooding the first and second floors.
Police and firefighters evacuated the building as water quickly accumulated. Water began dripping from ceilings and light fixtures.
Police breached the laundry room door and arrested the man as other officers and firefighters banged on doors and helped people leave the building.
Eva Roberson, who lives on the fourth floor, said firefighters woke her, adding: “Not how you want to be woken up at 3:30 in the morning.”
Curtis Williams, who lives on the first floor, said he wasn’t home at the time. But, he said, he went back to the building to pick up his hat, which was “dripping wet.”
Smith said when she arrived about 4:30 a.m., “As soon as you walked in, it was raining on the inside.”
Bob Sippos, manager for RestorX, said water was pouring from the light fixtures and running through all of the walls when he arrived after 3 a.m.
Shortly after noon, nearly three dozen construction crew members from RestorX and J. Bowers Construction continued to tear out damaged drywall and electrical fixtures as they worked to render the building safe again.
Water was still dripping from ceiling lights on the outside overhang at the front doors.
Now, Smith is trying to find temporary housing for the residents to keep them from having to sleep on cots in the YWCA gym. She was working with the American Red Cross to find shelter until the repairs can be made and is hoping that the community will help.
One resident, who watched from across the street as workers hauled rubber trash cans full of drywall to large dumpsters, was concerned about his two cats, still inside his third-floor apartment.
“They have pets they’re worried about,” Smith said. “And we’re doing the best we can to keep them safe.”
As for the man accused of doing the damage, he remained behind bars Tuesday afternoon. He had just been released from jail on Monday.
According to Stark County court and jail records, he was arrested Saturday after he was accused of forcing his way into a man’s home in the 800 block of Lawrence Road NE.
He was charged with burglary. Jail records show he posted bond at the courthouse on Monday and was released to await a hearing.
He is now charged with burglary and felony vandalism in connection with Tuesday’s break-in at Gateway House II and being held without bond.
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