A vacant lot near Central Avenue and Jackson Street could become a new area for Medford's homeless to eat once Hawthorne Park is closed.

A vacant lot near Central Avenue and Jackson Street could become a new area for Medford's homeless to eat once Hawthorne Park is closed.

"Since we're intentionally closing it, we felt responsible," said Rich Hansen, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission. "If we can't feed them there, then where?"

The Parks and Recreation Commission recently approved a location at the northeast corner of Front and Third streets that is a short distance from Hawthorne Park, where several Good Samaritans hand out food to the homeless.

Medford City Council still needs to approve the idea, which will require some upgrades to the vacant lot, including bringing in water and installing drinking fountains.

The one-third-acre lot is fenced and will be open only during food handouts.

"It's a food-distribution park," Hansen said. "It's not a homeless camp."

Hawthorne Park, a popular hangout for the homeless, will be closed later this summer for a $1.65 million remodel over the next year.

Food providers previously weren't required to have a permit from the city and routinely handed out meals in Hawthorne, Railroad and Lewis parks.

Hansen said a permit would now be required to avoid conflicts with more than one food provider using the vacant lot at the same time. The permits, which would be free, would also be required for those passing out food at other local parks, he said.

Some food providers said they got the impression the city was contemplating a law forbidding feeding the homeless under any circumstances.

"Our concern is they were going to make it illegal to pass out food at the park," said Bobbie Holden, who has been feeding the homeless for seven years.

Hansen said it was never the city's intention to ban food distribution.

"That's the last thing we wanted to do," he said.

He said the city will attempt to make the lot on Front Street somewhat more welcoming. It has a row of trees on the west side, but is otherwise mostly gravel and weeds.

The city is hoping that the remodel of Hawthorne Park will create a more family-friendly environment and end its stigma as an area that attracts crime.

"There has been controversy about the feeding and attracting certain people to Hawthorne Park," Hansen said.

He said he's not sure whether the city lot could become a permanent location for the food programs.

"Right now it's a temporary option," he said. "Whether it becomes permanent, call me in 9 months."

Holden said she took a couple of homeless people over to the proposed lot on Front Street on different occasions.

"We weren't impressed," she said. "It doesn't have any grass."

She said it's close enough to Hawthorne, but it wouldn't be suitable to serve the up to 150 people she feeds on a Sunday.

A better alternative would be Alba Park near City Hall, she said. Another option would be Pear Blossom Park at The Commons, Holden said.

She said the people who need the food can't survive in a shelter because they sometimes have behavioral issues.

Colleen Moore, a 55-year-old woman who lives under a bridge with her husband, said she depends on Holden.

"They do this out of the kindness of their hearts," she said. "I haven't eaten anything all day."

Moore, who filled up her plate with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips and drinks, said it's a "scary" life living under a bridge, particularly when her husband isn't around.

She said she welcomed the idea of going to the city lot on Front Street as a temporary measure while Hawthorne is shut down.

"That would be good," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.