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Group proposes donation boxes for homeless

ASHLAND — A Homelessness Steering Committee recommended the city adopt an Ashland Chamber of Commerce proposal that businesses pay for donation boxes that would be installed and maintained by city staff.

Installing each box would cost about $25 in city staff time, the committee said. A social services group would collect money from the boxes and use it to help people escape from homelessness.

The donation box proposal was among several recommendations from the committee.

'"They represent a great set of ideas about how we can deal with homelessness in Ashland," committee member Rich Rohde told the Ashland City Council last week.

Other cities that have installed donation boxes have seen a drop in panhandling near the boxes. Committee members said they didn't know if donation boxes would reduce panhandling in Ashland, but the boxes would provide a means for people to donate and have some assurances that their money would be used wisely.

"It's an alternative way of giving for residents and people who visit here," said City Councilman Dennis Slattery, a council liaison to the homelessness committee.

Some people who spoke at the Tuesday meeting urged the City Council to be cautious about the donation box idea.

Former City Councilman Eric Navickas, who often speaks in support of homeless people, said the donation boxes would be mean-spirited, would invite vandalism and wouldn't raise a substantial amount of money.

"You're taking money from the most impoverished people," Navickas said.

The homelessness committee also recommended that the city provide $24,000 for the Salvation Army to rent space in Ashland for a year to provide a day center.

The day center would have a small thrift store and would provide basic services such as shower and laundry facilities. Ashland has no day center or overnight shelter for the homeless.

Aaron Fletcher, an advocate for homeless people, said he would like the city government to go even further and provide overnight shelters or housing. He recommended that homeless people who stay there be required to perform work for the community, such as picking up litter, and that they abide by strict alcohol and drug-free policies.

Other recommendations included:

  • Installing portable toilets in central Ashland and on each end of town. Ashland's public bathrooms close in the evening to reduce maintenance costs and vandalism.
  • Supporting a plan by local churches to provide a "listening post." Trained volunteers would simply listen to homeless people, who can become socially isolated, committee member Sara Hopkins-Powell said.
  • Extending the homelessness committee's existence to March 2013.

Established in April, the committee will automatically dissolve after one year of existence without council action.

"They've only begun to scratch the surface," said resident Sandra Coyner, who has attended some of the committee's meetings.