Dan King
Dan King · September 13, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Today, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by an Akron homeless charity against the city for rejecting its plan to allow the homeless to set up a handful of tents behind private commercial property during a life-threatening emergency. The nonprofit Homeless Charity and its founder Sage Lewis, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), will now consider appealing the case to the United States Supreme Court. 

“The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision not to take this case leaves Akron’s homeless without needed protection and leaves important legal questions unanswered.” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “No matter what happens, we’ll continue to defend the rights of those who want to help the homeless in Akron and across the country.” 

The Ohio Supreme Court petition asked the court to hear a challenge of Akron’s zoning authority under the Ohio Constitution. Now that the Ohio constitutional claims will not be heard, IJ plans to argue that Akron’s use of zoning laws to shut down a homeless shelter violates the United States Constitution. 

In 2018, Akron activist Sage Lewis asked the Akron zoning board to allow him to use his property for temporary tent shelter for a handful of tents in an acute emergency. Akron denied that request, leading to a constitutional lawsuit asking fundamental questions about whether modern zoning laws trump the ancient practice of using private property to shelter the needy. The Underground Railroad, which shuttled escaped slaves north by providing safe places to sleep on private property, is a uniquely American example of the longstanding right to use property to rescue those in desperate need.