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Dad, daughter among those helped by program

Inside a bright, clean townhouse at Grape and 11th streets in Medford, 4-year-old Damita Walls dances almost nonstop in her nice new living room.

"We were one of the lucky people, one of the blessed ones to get this place," said her father, Louis Walls, who is more than two years sober from alcohol and is receiving counseling for a domestic dispute with his former wife.

From the street, the eight new townhouses don't give any indication of the help their residents receive as they struggle to pull themselves out of homelessness or recover from drug and alcohol problems.

The units opened Aug. 1 and are owned by Rogue Retreat, a Medford-based nonprofit that provides transitional housing to help the homeless get back on their feet. Rogue Retreat bought the property for almost $1 million on July 10.

Walls said he spent time at Hope House and the Rescue Mission, and is receiving support from local organizations such as OnTrack Inc.

Walls said he wants to volunteer locally and has other plans to better himself, but his main goal is raising Damita.

"I plan on being a single dad to be the best parent I can," said Walls.

Chad McComas, board chairman for Rogue Retreat, said the townhouses are carefully monitored with weekly inspections to make sure they are clean and drug-free.

"They can stay as long as they want as long as they follow the rules," he said.

But most residents eventually want to leave after they've put their lives back together, said McComas. "They will tell you that this is just another step on the road to recovery in their life," he said.

McComas said he didn't want people to get the wrong idea about the kind of homeless people staying in the townhouses.

"We want to dispel the rumor that we grab people from under a bridge and just put them there," he said.

Some Rogue Retreat clients have lost their jobs or were ill for an extended time. Others have been living in a motel or couch-surfing. Still others are recovering from domestic violence.

The program doesn't tolerate drugs or alcohol on the premises, and McComas said the inside of the townhouses must be properly maintained.

The houses at the intersection of 11th and Grape streets had been vacant for more than a year after Rogue Valley Community Development Corp. failed to find qualified low-income buyers.

A $45,000 city grant meant to provide affordable housing helped pay for the construction of the houses.

In November, the Medford City Council changed the terms of the grant to allow the houses to be rented instead of sold.

At the time, Medford nonprofit Interfaith Care Community had intended to buy the houses using a state grant and turn them into subsidized rentals for veterans and their families.

Interfaith had been awarded an $870,000 grant from Oregon Housing and Community Services to help buy the townhouses and provide support services, but the sale fell through.

Rogue Retreat already operates long-term housing for the homeless at 525 N. Riverside Ave. The 11 units are undergoing remodeling.

Walls said he hopes eventually to move out of the house so that others who have struggled like he has can get the same kind of opportunity.

"You don't want to be here for the rest of your life," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Louis Walls, 43, and his daughter Damita, 4, have found a home in one of eight townhouses on Grape Street in Medford owned by Rogue Retreat, a nonprofit that provides transitional housing for the homeless. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell