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'No good place' to feed Medford homeless

Finding a temporary place to provide food for the homeless during Hawthorne Park's yearlong closure for restoration has been a challenge for Medford officials, who've been confronted with concerns from property owners and organizations that help the poor.

“First of all, everybody agrees there’s no good place to put it,” Councilor Daniel Bunn said. “This is something we do not want to push off on private property owners.”

The City Council this week heard from the owner of Heritage Motors, who expressed concerns with a proposed homeless food area in an adjacent city lot on Front Street. Heritage Motors owner Steve Curry declined to comment for this story when reached by phone.

The Medford Parks and Recreation Commission recently recommended the Front Street lot, but some organizations and the homeless objected to the property because it is covered in gravel with little shade. Mayor Gary Wheeler proposed a parking lot just south of the Medford Senior Center near 10th Street as an alternative. The city will be analyzing a number of locations for the temporary food distribution site over the next month before making a decision.

Other sites the city has looked at include a portion of the former Red Lion Hotel and the former Dollar GMC lot on Riverside Avenue across from the Medford library.

Bunn said there’s probably no perfect location, but he said he believes city officials can take steps to mitigate any potential problems through better lighting, increased enforcement or even security cameras.

“Maybe we need to attack the problem instead of moving it around.” he said.

He said the city likely will have to make some kind of investment in ensuring the food area is as safe as possible.

Bunn said he supports the parks commission's recommendation to require permits from organizations that distribute food,

Aimee Stafford jogs along the Bear Creek Greenway, which wends through the western edge of Hawthorne Park, so she gets a firsthand look at some of the problems.

“This park — they really need to do something,” said the 36-year-old Medford woman. “To me, as a runner, you get a lot of weirdos and other creepy stuff.”

Stafford said she’s gone by areas where people are smoking pot or doing heroin, and she said she has had some inappropriate comments directed her way.

“It makes you friggin’ nervous,” she said.

Stafford said she agrees that organizations should have a place to pass out food within the city, but she said she wants the city to step up enforcement in the parks.

“You should be able to go running and feel safe,” she said.

Wheeler, whose business and home are close to Hawthorne Park, said he personally likes the idea of using the parking lot on the east side of Bear Creek near 10th Street.

“With the renovation of Hawthorne Park, it’s going to be a year for it to be completed,” he said. “It has to be a location that is nearby.”

The parking lot area is used by Rogue Community College students who cross the pedestrian bridge. It’s also near the Senior Center and a residential area.

“No matter where they go, this is a tough issue,” he said.

Wheeler said the city will be creating a new parking lot at the old Dollar GMC lot on the corner of 10th Street and Riverside Avenue, which will provide additional parking in the area that can be used by students.

He said the parking lot off 10th Street has shade, though it is paved. A suggestion that the food distribution be located under the Interstate 5 viaduct wasn’t well received because of the number of pigeons flying around, Wheeler said.

He said other locations such as Pear Blossom Park or Alba Park wouldn’t be appropriate and are also located some distance from Hawthorne. The city has had vandalism problems at the bathrooms in the Middleford parking garage next to Pear Blossom Park, Wheeler said.

“It’s not an easy issue to deal with by any stretch,” Wheeler said. “That’s what we’re going to have to grapple with as a society.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Medford's Hawthorne Park, where the homeless often hang out, will be closed for a year -- meaning organizations that feed the homeless there will need to find a new place. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell