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Groups target those in actual distress

Stories by Vickie Aldous

A segment of Ashland's homeless population is taking advantage — of people's generosity, stretching already scarce resources and hardening — public attitudes against those in truly desperate situations.

Many, especially teens and young adults, do have homes — to which they could return. Some homeless earn money panhandling and then — spend nights in hotels or make-shift camps rather than seeking help to — find jobs and housing, according to several homeless people, nonprofit — workers and residents who have offered aid.

No one interviewed by the Tidings would admit that they — panhandle and are not in need. But several homeless and people who work — on homeless issues said they have seen the practice first hand.

"They're hurting the truly homeless who need help," said — Jean Hallinan, house manager for Interfaith Care Community of Ashland, — which provides services to help people get back on their feet. "Because — we can't discriminate, we're using resources on them. We're using resources — on kids who have a choice."

Roxanne Taylor, a pregnant 18-year-old who lives in a — van with her boyfriend, is struggling to find a home as she endures the — last few days of her pregnancy.

"I can't handle the idea of all the homeless sitting on — the freeway making money for beer and drugs. It ruins it completely for — people in need like me and my significant other. People get so used to — seeing people accept money for drugs and alcohol," Taylor said.

"We're in a really tough situation. We don't want to be — homeless. We want to have a home. It's real tough. I don't know why people — do that."

Resources stretched thin

The ICCA has operated from a small cottage just a few — blocks from downtown Ashland since 1996. Founded in 1989, the nonprofit — organization provides a place for nearly 20 local congregations to direct — their efforts in support of the homeless.

"We are a refuge in the storm," Hallinan said. "It's a — place where people can get a cup of coffee, get warm for a minute, take — a shower and do laundry."

The ICCA provides a telephone and answering service, help — with resumes and job-hunting, and an address for mail. A steady stream — of homeless come and go during the day, but they are not allowed to spend — the night.

Securing enough resources is always a struggle. In the — past, the ICCA has shortened its hours and staff members have gone without — pay, according to Hallinan.

Right now, the ICCA offers gas vouchers, but its bus tokens — are limited and the Goodwill and prescription vouchers are gone, she said.

"As the number of homeless goes up, our funding goes down. — People don't want it," Hallinan.

Ashlanders perceived an increase in the number of homeless — after the Rainbow Gathering - a countercultural gathering known for its — celebration of marijuana use - was staged in Northern California in 2004.

People who are homeless to experience an alternative lifestyle, — be close to nature or to travel are mixed in with people who lost their — homes after a fire or major medical problem, single mothers and those — who are battling mental illness or addiction or who are escaping abuse, — according to Hallinan.

Gary Beamer has joined the ICCA staff as a client advocate. — Part of his duties will be to find a way to distinguish the truly needy — homeless from those with more means.

"We'd like to reserve our supplies for people in need," — he said.

That is a difficult balancing act given ICCA's mission — to offer assistance with compassion and in a non-judgmental manner. But — the ICCA also has a goal to promote self-sufficiency.

Excessive questioning of clients could drive away the — truly needy who are embarrassed by their condition, according to Beamer. —

"You don't want to be a gatekeeper. You want to help people," — he said.

Bennett Tanner, 52, has been homeless in Ashland by choice — for the past six years, enjoying what he calls "a mid-life adventure."

He said he survives on food stamps, free meals and odd — jobs, but will occasionally put up a sign and ask for help. But he said — he doesn't make much money panhandling because he doesn't put up a "sympathy — message" and smiles too much.

The majority of people who put up such signs are youths, — with a sizable minority of middle-aged people, according to Bennett.

"The younger kids are still finding themselves. It's their — time in life to party," he said.

Bennett said it is difficult to tell who really needs — help.

"Some people put up a sympathy card and they're not even — homeless. Other people don't put up a plight sign at all," he said.

Trying to help

Reaching out to try and help the homeless can be either — a gratifying or frustrating experience, as some residents have found.

"We've gone by and offered them jobs and they'll flip — you the finger," said former Mayor Alan DeBoer, owner of Town & Country — Chevrolet Oldsmobile. "All they want is the cash."

Beamer said while some homeless are fully capable of working, — others are mentally ill and unable to hold steady jobs. People suffering — from schizophrenia have particular difficulties.

"One day they could be a very alert ditch digger and the — next day say, 'I don't dig ditches!' A lot of people are not capable of — continuous work," he said. "They go through their highs and lows."

Being on the streets frequently causes people with marginal — mental illness to go into steep declines as they battle the elements, — Hallinan said.

Others have different reasons for not wanting a job.

"A job has boundaries they don't want," Hallinan said. — "A lot are from abusive backgrounds or foster care. Now they are in control. — One thing they don't want to give up is that freedom. I asked one man, — 'Is this freedom really freedom at all?' He looked me straight in the — face and said, 'No. It's bondage.'"

Rather than giving cash, Hallinan said people who want — to help the homeless should give food or donate to nonprofits. She said — she is not opposed to passing a city law to discourage aggressive panhandlers — who will not take steps to get off the streets.

"They harden hearts to the truly homeless. Twice, a person — who comes in here has shoved a dirty coffee cup in my face when I was — out in town. It was aggressive. It was almost scary," Hallinan said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 482-3456 — x 3018 or valdous@dailytidings.com

Fire creates ordeal for young family

Roxanne Taylor's baby is due on Monday.

But instead of decorating a nursery, the 18-year-old who — lives in a van with her boyfriend is asking various friends if she can — stay with them.

Taylor may try to go back to her family in Utah, or, as — a last resort, enter a homeless shelter.

"I've been living on and off the streets for a long time. — My family decided they didn't want much to do with me," she said.

Her situation had been improving until she and her boyfriend — lost the lease to their home after a fire broke out around Christmas. — They were able to save most of the baby's things.

As a middle-schooler, Taylor was placed in foster care — and eventually took to the streets. The braces she got in the seventh — grade are still on her teeth.

"They're destroying my mouth right now. There's a few — broken brackets. One's missing. The wire on the bottom row is shifting — to the side. It's cutting my mouth and cheek up real bad and stabbing — into my mouth on the left side," she said. "A lot of times my mouth will — pour blood from brushing real lightly."

The ICCA is trying to raise money to have the braces removed. — Donations can be sent to ICCA, 144 N. 2nd St., Ashland, OR 97520.