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Flushed needles cause closure, plumbing issue

A downtown shelter that provides 55 beds for homeless people was closed Monday, reportedly because syringes flushed down the toilet caused a severe plumbing issue at the church building where the shelter operates.

"One or more individuals ruined it for everyone by intentionally flushing hypodermic needles down the toilet," according to a post on the website for Rogue Retreat, which operates the Kelly Warming Shelter by leasing space from First United Methodist Church on West Main Street.

"It appears that this may have built up over time."

In a Facebook post at 4:23 p.m. Tuesday, Rogue Retreat announced that the shelter would reopen that evening. The post requested volunteers to help with a "serious deep clean."

People at "various stages of their sobriety" were allowed at the shelter, but shelter guests are forbidden to bring alcohol or drugs onto the property, according to the Rogue Retreat website.

Though the needles could have been drug paraphernalia, Rogue Retreat Executive Director Chad McComas said it's possible that some or all of the needles were used by diabetics.

"We had a sharps container, but it wasn't in the bathroom," McComas said. "We're going to assume the best, and hopefully it wasn't the worst."

The repair amount wasn't immediately available Tuesday. Earlier in the day, McComas had said he'd heard some "extraordinary numbers" while gathering estimates, and that a pump may need to be replaced. 

The plumbing issue happened less than two weeks before the emergency shelter closes for the season March 31. Emergency shelters are allowed to operate for only 90 days, McComas said.

Melissa Mayne, with the homeless outreach group Compassion Highway Project, said she and others within her organization took some shelter guests into their homes Monday.

"Most of them stayed at my house last night," Mayne said Tuesday.

Mayne said her priority was homeless people who were "at-risk," either because they are elderly or have health problems.

"It's just not OK for them to be out," Mayne said. "It's dangerous."

Mayne said she is trying "desperately" to collect 55 sleeping bags for people staying in the shelter. Mayne encourages anyone interested in donating a sleeping bag to find Compassion Highway Project on Facebook.

In February, the city of Medford temporarily closed the shelter because of concerns about overcrowding, manpower and lack of a fire plan. To comply, the shelter reduced capacity from 75 to 55 and hired a night fire watch.

McComas said Rogue Retreat is still working toward the goal of having its own full-time shelter.

"Even though it's warming up out there, there's still a need for these people to have a place to go," McComas said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Heather Everett, administrative director with Rogue Retreat, works at the Kelly Warming Shelter at First United Methodist Church in Medford. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]