Local service organizations helping the homeless and at-risk population in Jackson County are working harder than ever, but say they aren't meeting the demand by a long shot.
Funding shortfalls, lack of community commitment and too few housing and shelter options mean many of those who need help are being turned away, organization leaders say.
211info, a health and community service resource information line. Dial 211 or visit www.211info.org.
Correction: The 211info website and the address of Community Works have been corrected in this list.
In December, when temperatures around Jackson County dipped into the single-digits, the coldest in more than 20 years, it became apparent to Medford-based Maslow Project Founder and Executive Director Mary Ferrell that the Rogue Valley needs more resources for its homeless and at-risk population.
Ferrell described watching one of Maslow's 18-year-old clients, too old for the area's only youth shelter and too late to get a bed at any of Medford's adult emergency shelters, "bundle up into his base layer of clothes, a sweatshirt, a coat, a Snuggie, a blanket and then a sleeping bag over that, and mittens and gloves ... and walk out into the cold.
"And when we show up at work at 8:30 and someone has been sitting on our porch since who knows when, and they're just waiting to get in the door and get something warm to eat, that's heartbreaking. It's really hard, and we had that happen every single day when it was cold. There were a number of kids waiting for us, because there is nowhere else to go."
That 18-year-old "is the classic, 'I don't really fit in any of the current options, but I am still really cold and suffering from the environment,'" Ferrell said.
He is one of the 1,500 youth Maslow works with annually in Jackson County, she said.
In December, 322 individuals walked into the Maslow resource center a total of 626 times — that's about 35 percent more foot traffic than the organization sees during a typical month, Ferrell said.
The organization handed out about 280 blankets, sleeping bags, tents or tarps, about 300 scarves and coats, and about 1,650 meals in December alone.
"We spend a lot of our resources during the winter months to provide a lot of essentials for these kids and families just to ensure they don't get frostbite," she said.
Of those 322 people in December, 60 percent were youths and 40 percent were their parents or guardians, she said.
"It still surprises me that in a community as large as ours, we don't actually have a warming station. ... Where I see the big gap in services is in the lack of just warming stations — places where anyone can go to get warm," Ferrell said.
Central Point has a five-night-a-week warming station, and Ashland offers overnight shelter four nights a week at churches and city buildings and a warming shelter on Friday mornings.
"Where we see the greatest need is when a family unit is homeless and they have children and they wish to stay together as a family when the very limited family shelter space is full — where do they go?" Ferrell said.
St. Vincent de Paul's St. Anthony Emergency Family Shelter in Medford gives top priority to children and families for its 40 beds, "but it is always full, year around," Ferrell said.
Medford Gospel Mission Women's Shelter, which accepts only women and children, is typically full as well, she said.
"We do, as Maslow Project, put families up into hotel situations for emergencies, especially when the weather falls really cold and creates a hazard to the children, and then we start really working with housing programs to try and get them housed as a part of a permanent solution," she said.
ACCESS Inc., Community Works, Rogue Retreat and OnTrack addiction recovery programs and services provide transitional housing, but waiting lists for them are daunting.
"It makes us cry. Our waiting list for a one-bedroom apartment is 150 now or more," said Chad McComas, founder and executive director for Rogue Retreat.
Rogue Retreat offers housing for the homeless on the road to recovery. It manages 42 apartments throughout Medford and Central Point. Its newest tenant applied for a one-bedroom apartment back in April 2012, McComas said.
Desiree Schatz, 27, has lived in a Rogue Retreat apartment since she gave birth to her now 4-year-old son, Tavian.
She's worked as many as three jobs at a time in Medford, she said. During the holidays, she had only three days off work. She currently works two part-time jobs, and "I still can't provide what I want to," she said.
She said paying $550 a month for rent at her Rogue Retreat apartment "is a challenge" on top of other living expenses.
Schatz is being encouraged to move out of her Rogue Retreat apartment and live independently, but she is scared to do it, she said — afraid she won't be able to afford it or cope with it, having struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder related to her past.
"Basically they (Rogue Retreat) help you get your life back to where everyone else is at," she said. "I am very fortunate to have not ended up on the streets. ... I am so thankful for this place, so thankful."
Schatz has been on the Jackson County Housing and Urban Development list since January 2010, and she is hopeful her name will be called for an apartment with subsidized rent within the next several months.
"With my son, I would feel comfortable moving on then," she said. "Right now, I am just happy minimum wage is going up."
No time limit is set on how long residents can stay in Rogue Retreat's housing units, McComas said, but they are subject to stringent weekly apartment inspections, random drug testing to ensure a sober lifestyle, weekly life skills classes and weekly case management meetings.
McComas, who is also the pastor at Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford, said all of the services provided to the homeless and at-risk population in Jackson County are "essential."
"It's like a stair step, and we're not the first step ... the last step is something like the housing authority," he said, referring to the Housing Authority of Jackson County, which owns and manages more than 1,300 rental units throughout Southern Oregon and runs subsidized housing programs for those in need.
McComas described organizations such as Maslow and emergency and warming shelters as the first step of the staircase out of homelessness, which can "be a decade-long process," he said.
"We need more apartments, and our board recognizes that, but there is not the money for that," he said. "People say we need to promote more, but why, when our waiting list is so long?"
Other organizations in Jackson County run programs similar to Rogue Retreat.
ACCESS Inc. manages about 200 affordable housing units in Jackson County, according to its website, and also provides rental assistance to those in need.
Through its rental assistance programs, 1,107 individuals were provided service between July 2012 and June 2013, said David Mulig, support services director for ACCESS.
"We really want to do our best to do what we can to have someone be eligible for one of our programs," Mulig said. "One thing that we struggle with is finding rental property owners to work with us and our clients to find housing ... we need more of those citizens who are willing to help."
Community Works has its Transitional Living Program, whose caseworkers assist youth age 16 to 22 obtain independent living opportunities. The organization also operates an Independent Living Program, which is focused on helping youth in foster care become independent adults.
The transitional program can assist 10 people at a time and has a waiting list of about a dozen people. Its Independent Living Program has a waiting list of about 30, said Laura O'Bryon, executive director.
"There is so much room and potential to begin expanding the infrastructure for support services for homeless youth and families," she said.
"I don't go a week when I don't engage with a certain number of people who don't even know about the 211 line," she said. People can call 211 to get comprehensive information on support services in Jackson County. Information can also be found at 211info.org.
OnTrack offers transitional housing support services for pregnant and parenting women who are recovering addicts, many of whom are homeless or at risk of being homeless.
The Salvation Army in Medford operates the HOPE House Transitional Shelter, which provides individuals and families a place to stay and financial assistance and help finding a job.
And for youth between the age of 10 and 17, there is Hearts With a Mission, which provides a 15-bed emergency shelter. Youth can stay up to 72 hours without parental consent, up to 120 days with consent.
"I think there definitely needs to be more, especially in the wintertime. All the shelters are full, and there usually is a very long waiting list," said Matt Brody, runaway and homeless youths program manager at Community Works.
"We do have programs here that are aiming to help, but we still have these long waiting lists. ... It's all money, it's all grants — we need more funding, more money; we're only able to provide the amount of services we have resources for."
Hearts With a Mission provided shelter and supportive services to 126 youth for a total of 4,300 nights in 2013, said founder and Executive Director Kevin Lamson.
Those numbers reflect a 22 percent increase over the previous year and the average length of stay in 2013 was 40 days and nights, he said. And the shelter is typically full.
Also, about 70 percent of the youth who seek shelter at Hearts With a Mission report physical, mental or sexual abuse in their past, he said.
"These kids lack love, they lack support, they lack family," Lamson said. "Those are common denominators in every kid that we see. ... And I don't care if you work for the state, or whoever, who is going to disagree that a kid needs love?"
Hearts With a Mission and the Maslow Project are working toward programs that would connect kids with families who volunteer to shelter and support them for pre-determined lengths of time, said leaders at both organizations.
"We need more families for these kids," Lamson said.
Those are the types of solutions that the Rogue Valley needs, said Heather Hoyle, chairwoman of the Jackson County Homeless Taskforce.
"Status quo isn't good enough. We have to be more creative," said Hoyle, who is also the program director at Rogue Retreat.
"If employers in our valley were more open to expanding their hiring criteria to those who have shady histories, who are trying to clean themselves up, and if (landlords) would be more open to people with a bad history, giving them a second chance, if we were a more forgiving society and looked past people's history and to what they are doing now, there would be a lot more housing opportunities and a lot more employment opportunities," Hoyle said.
"If we can put the right systems into place, we can help prevent homelessness and speed up the time between someone being homeless and getting that person into a home."
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @swhlr.