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Shelter may lessen downtown homeless issues

A winter shelter for homeless people will open New Year's Day, and for the next three months organizers hope vagrancy problems that have plagued downtown Medford will lessen dramatically.

"I don't want them back in Alba Park," said Chad McComas of Rogue Retreat. "If everything goes well, the community won't know they're here."

Rogue Retreat is working with local churches to provide places for homeless people that will keep many of them off the street during the day, helping to avoid many of the problems plaguing downtown, including public urination and defecation.

The Kelly Shelter, which opened for the first time last winter, is in the basement of First United Methodist Church at 607 W. Main St.

After various problems last year, the shelter will open with a full-time manager, Marla Warren, and a team of paid staff that will provide better supervision.

"If someone creates an issue, they will be asked to leave," Warren said.

If the homeless person continues to cause a disturbance, the police will be called, she said.

To avoid issues with people jockeying for position to get into the shelter, Rogue Retreat has decided to have the same group of homeless people each night after it's opened.

So far, the people signed up include two families with small children and another family that has left their children at grandma's.

Altogether, seven couples have been approved, as well as a number of veterans.

Dinner and breakfast will be provided for guests, who can shower at nearby Set Free Christian Fellowship on West Main Street.

Warren, who has worked as a drug counselor, said the staff have been trained in de-escalation of aggressive behavior.

A case manager will be on site to help people at the shelter work through drug and alcohol issues, as well as to potentially line up jobs and permanent housing.

After 10 a.m., overnight guests have to leave the shelter, but local churches have stepped in and offered day centers for people, which will include lunch.

"They don't have to worry about what they're going to do the next day," Warren said.

The hope is that, with some place for people to go at all times, homelessness will be less of an issue downtown.

Rogue Retreat has also hired someone from Compass House, which helps those who have been diagnosed with mental health issues.

The representative from Compass House will clean the shelter every day after people leave and also clean the grounds around the church, as well as coordinate showers and other activities at Set Free Christian Fellowship.

Last year, the shelter faced other challenges, including some guests who didn’t abide by the rules.

It also faced a number of code problems, including the requirement to install a fire sprinkler system in the basement.

After the sprinkler system was installed last year at a cost of about $15,000, it was discovered that the water main from the street needed to be upgraded, as well.

The church agreed to spend up to $50,000 to install the larger water line, which will allow it to install fire sprinklers in the rest of the building at a future date.

The shelter will be open from 6 p.m. to noon, Jan. 1 to March 31. Based on city rules, the shelter can be open only three months in a given year.

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

Justin Stein, maintenance director of Rogue Retreat, prepares beds at the Kelly Shelter in First United Methodist Church on West Main Street in Medford. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]