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Ashland Community Resource Center will open in February

A long-awaited center to help homeless people and others in need will open in early February after organizers found a building and signed a lease agreement.

The Ashland Community Resource Center will be housed in one-third of the Ashland Masonic Center, at 570 Clover Lane near Exit 14 and the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

"We're hoping people will find their way to us," said Jackie Schad, executive director of the Medford-based social services organization ACCESS Inc.

In October, the Ashland City Council awarded $100,000 to be spread out over two years for ACCESS and the grassroots group Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland to operate a help center.

Since then, the groups had been hunting for a space to lease.

Schad said the Ashland Masonic Center is a good fit.

The building is in a commercial zone, the Masons are a service organization and the food bank is nearby, she said.

Using the grant funding, ACCESS and OHRA are leasing part of the building for $1,500 per month for 18 months, with an option to renew the lease, Schad said.

"We're budgeting carefully to make it last," Schad said of the city's $100,000 grant to the groups.

ACCESS and OHRA will conduct fundraising to bring in additional money, she said.

"We're also hoping to get donations of supplies," Schad said.

The groups are assembling a list of needed supplies, such as toiletries, she said.

Leigh Madsen, president of OHRA's board, has been hired to serve as the part-time manager of the help center.

The city of Ashland has put out a call for volunteers to help at the center, which likely will operate for four hours per day, five days per week.

Volunteers also are needed to help with a mobile showering and laundry unit that will operate at different locations in town, possibly beginning in late February.

The locations could be at a local church, the food bank and the Recology Ashland Sanitary Service Recycling Center on Water Street, Schad said.

The help center itself will offer a variety of resources to families and individuals, city officials said.

Those include case management, resource referrals, use of a mailing address, bus tokens, cellphone charging and Internet access.

A major aim of the help center is to connect those in need with organizations and agencies that offer services, rather than duplicating services.

The City Council has long wanted to have a help center in Ashland.

In late 2012, Ashland offered $100,000 spread over two years to cover facility costs for a help center, but no groups stepped forward to apply.

The council later loosened restrictions on how the money could be spent and received proposals from ACCESS and OHRA.

The groups agreed to team up at the council's request on a help center proposal.

Councilors lauded the experience and long history of ACCESS, while praising the more recently formed OHRA's volunteer work and on-the-ground connections with homeless people.

Homeless help centers that have operated in years past in Ashland have run into various problems and closed.

A help center that operated in a residential zone experienced complaints by neighbors and loitering by homeless people after hours.

A later help center in a business zone suffered from residents dumping garbage on the property and a shift in organization funding away from Ashland to help homeless Medford families.

People who would like to volunteer at the new Ashland Community Resource Center, or who would like more information about volunteering, can contact Regina Ayars at 541-482-5019 or reginariley@jeffnet.org.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Leigh Madsen will be the part-time manager of the Ashland Community Resource Center on Clover Lane. - Julia Moore