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Ashland Community Resource Center focuses on its core mission

The Ashland Community Resource Center, once a landing spot for homeless people seeking food, clothing and job connections, has significantly trimmed its mission, cutting out food and clothing and moving to a pocket mall on Ashland Street, where it will focus on old-fashioned social work, mainly trying to find jobs and housing for those in need.

The two-person staff, led by director Leigh Madsen, stopped giving out food and clothing July 1 and has moved into a small office with three intake cubicles where it will pay $500 a month less in rent. They are adjacent to offices for insurance, fitness and tobacco.

The ACRC was in an annex of the Ashland Masonic Lodge, its landlord on Clover Lane for more than two years.

“It was an issue, the people hanging out there,” says Madsen. “It made tourists and some Masonic people uncomfortable. It was a consideration. We told them (homeless and low-income clients) they couldn’t hang out anymore. It can’t happen. Our office now is 20 feet wide and there’s not a lot of space. They understand and are very respectful.”

Frederick Berger, a volunteer clinical social worker with ACRC, said the new office will have confidentiality for interviews, but he is “ambivalent” that there will be no space “to hang out where they feel safe and can get out of the elements."

"It was a valuable service but it distracted from our programs working with housing and finding benefits from the VA and Social Security,” he acknowleged.

Berger said the new offices are “much more calm," noting that, in the former location, “there could be 25 people inside with the TV on and people trying to use the phone, all in one room. It could be very hectic and made some people uncomfortable.”

Madsen says the ACRC will have only three or four parking spots, with no outside space for people. He’s talked to office neighbors and said,  “I see a great relationship.”

The mission of ACRC now, says Tina Stevens, the lead navigator for jobs, is expanding their Jobs Match program, working the internet for employment, looking for full-time jobs (more than 30 days), helping write resumes and cover letters, getting food handling permits and getting specialized boots or clothing for specific jobs. They work with churches, St. Vincent de Paul and agencies for funding.

The tiny lobby has a businesslike reception counter, bank of computers for people seeking jobs, with a trio of compact offices, with doors, to the side. Social workers, mostly volunteers, will help teach the homeless how to work the system and double down on job or housing leads, because, she says, “The more time you invest in it, the more success you have.”

The shower and laundry van will continue to operate in the Ashland Emergency Food Bank lot, 560 Clover Lane, from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursdays and at the United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

There are many outlets in town for clothing, including the free box on Water Street and Goodwill, says Madsen — and there are four food feeds a week, which are well-known to the homeless. The Food Bank also feeds 1,500 people a month.

The ACRC spent $45,500 in the past year supporting 82 families in keeping homes after eviction notices or utility shutoff notices or for those seeking a starter home. It also found homes for 33 homeless people. Ashland Job Match has 54 people enrolled. It found 19 temporary and 14 permanent jobs in the past year.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.