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Police say it's likely that homeless man died from exposure

As a local group works to find long-term shelter options for Medford's homeless, police say a 58-year-old man found dead in Hawthorne Park Saturday probably died of exposure in sub-20-degree weather.

"That's just kind of the working theory," said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau. Autopsy results are still pending.

Police said the man, identified as Kelly Ray Eisenberg, was found at 11:32 a.m. Saturday. A passerby spotted him lying in a horseshoe pit and called 911 for a welfare check. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

In a press release, Medford police said there was no evidence of foul play. The release also said police had had multiple contacts with Eisenberg in recent years, many of those involving "detox holds due to his intoxication level."

The National Weather Service reported the nighttime low temperature was 19 degrees in Medford Saturday. Police said they believed Eisenberg, whom they knew to be homeless, was outside "for quite some time, perhaps overnight."

"It's not that uncommon unfortunately," Budreau said of the circumstances of the death. "It happens once or twice a year, I would say."

Two years ago, hypothermia claimed the life of a 29-year-old homeless man found dead on the railroad tracks behind a strip mall in the 800 block of South Central Avenue in Medford.

Mickey Wilson, an Oklahoma native who has been been living homeless in the area for the past several months, said he doesn't think there are enough places for homeless people to stay during freezing weather. He recommended using vacant buildings in the city.

"If they could open up some of those old buildings, it'd be nice," Wilson said. A tent city could also help, he added.

In a lifestyle that comes with its share of danger — Wilson said he's been mugged four times since arriving here in August — the winter cold adds another layer. 

"This is a tough little town," Wilson said. 

Budreau said police typically refer anyone they find camping illegally to area organizations that shelter the homeless, including the Medford Gospel Mission, St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army Hope House and the Rogue Retreat. The urgency ticks up during the winter.

"If we come across someone who is going to be in this type of situation where it's going to be freezing, we try and get them into some type of shelter," Budreau said, adding that people who are intoxicated are taken to a sobering center. "If they're a risk to themselves or others, then we need to do something about it."

The latest death comes as a group called the Jackson County Homeless Task Force is working with local officials to develop more secure shelter options for the homeless in the Medford area. Options being considered include a tent city and a community of "tiny houses," structures typically ranging in size from 100 to 400 square feet. Zoning and potential conflicts with neighbors are among the issues being discussed.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Mickey Wilson, who has been living homeless in the Medford area for several months, says there are few options for the homeless when temperatures fall below freezing. Mail Tribune/ Denise Baratta