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Ashland donation boxes will miss Memorial Day weekend

ASHLAND — Donation boxes to help the homeless will not be installed before Memorial Day as Ashland Chamber of Commerce representatives had hoped.

The installation has been delayed because of late changes to the wording on signs that will accompany the three donation boxes, said city of Ashland and Chamber of Commerce representatives involved with the project.

A reference to panhandling was removed from the wording, they said.

Originally, the draft wording for signs read, "Small change can make a significant difference. Give a hand up, not a hand out to those in need. Support Ashland in offering real alternatives to panhandling. Donations benefit St. Vincent de Paul."

Graham Lewis, a member of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the city's Homelessness Steering Committee, said the new wording will say, "Donate here. Small change can make a significant difference. Give a hand up, not a hand out. Support Ashland in offering real alternatives for those in need. Donations benefit St. Vincent de Paul."

St. Vincent de Paul provides outreach to connect homeless people with benefits and services that could help them escape homelessness.

Graham said people had various reasons for wanting the reference to panhandling removed from the signs and the Chamber of Commerce wanted to be sensitive to their concerns.

"The donation boxes are not just to discourage panhandling," he said. "It's a program to help those in need who want help."

Other cities that have installed homelessness donation boxes in panhandling hotspots have seen a decline in panhandling.

Graham said two boxes will be installed on the downtown Plaza, one by Ashland City Hall and the other by Mix Sweet Shop. The third will be installed on the corner of Main and Pioneer streets, near the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Black Swan Theatre and its adjacent mini-plaza.

Graham said the boxes are designed so they can be moved around to different locations if they fail to attract donors.

With their bench seating, public spaces and proximity to tourist-oriented businesses, the Plaza and Black Swan sites have become key locations for panhandlers.

In April, OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson sent a letter to the City Council saying that for years, some homeless people have been intimidating and harassing OSF patrons and employees who pass by the Black Swan site.

The Public Works Department will install the donation boxes soon, Graham said, but not before Memorial Day, the start of Ashland's busy summer tourism season.

Graham said the new signs for the donation boxes also will include a quick response code. People with smartphones can photograph the code and be instantly directed to a website that will provide information on the program.

Local businesses also have agreed to host donation containers inside their buildings and give out material on the program, Graham said.

The city will receive quarterly reports about how much money the donation boxes are generating, he said.

Meanwhile, Ashland homeless man Aaron Fletcher is accepting money into a clear container he carries in a small wagon around town. He also is taking donations of toiletries, medicine and other items to help homeless people.

Fletcher hopes to raise enough money to rent homes for small groups of homeless people, who would perform chores for their neighbors such as planting gardens, installing rain barrels and fixing cars.

He often can be seen downtown with his wagon and a light yellow Labrador retriever.

For more information on the Chamber of Commerce's donation box program, visit www.ashlandchamber.com/Page.asp?NavID=1103.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.