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Permit denial perplexing

It’s not entirely clear why Jackson County felt compelled to deny a permit for a new semi-permanent winter homeless shelter on East Main Street, but the county’s action threatens to undo many months of work by community activists to establish one location where homeless people could be accommodated without having to move between temporary locations night by night.

The county is the governing entity in this matter because the shelter, in the former Baptist Church building on East Main Street, is outside Ashland city limits. Options for Helping Residents of Ashland applied to the county for a permit last fall, and began operating the shelter in anticipation of approval. OHRA staff have not been formally notified that the application has been rejected, but the denial was posted on the county’s website.

The justification for denial apparently involves the necessity for county sheriff’s deputies to respond in case of trouble and fears that response times to county residents would suffer as a result, and concerns that homeless people not admitted to the shelter would camp out in the parking lot. Neither of those fears has come to pass, according to shelter consultant Phil Johncock.

Shelter clients are vetted and approved in advance, and no one has camped outside this winter, he said. There have been precisely zero emergency calls this season, and only two non-emergency calls. Ashland police have agreed to respond if needed and sheriff’s deputies are busy.

County officials should reconsider what appears to be an unjustified denial.