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Neighbors welcome homeless feeding program

Medford officials finally have found local residents who welcome a homeless feeding area in their west Medford neighborhood, but the residents have urged that permanent bathrooms be installed rather than portable toilets.

“These are human beings, and they need their basic rights retained,” said Kristen Brooks, who lives across the street from the feeding station behind the Salvation Army store on Central Avenue.

Medford City Council agreed in February to support a proposal that would provide up to $25,000 to the Salvation Army to improve a vacant lot behind the organization’s store on Central Avenue that is currently a food distribution area for homeless people. The money was going to be used to build a concrete pad, fencing and portable toilets.

Jackie Agee, development director for the Salvation Army, said, “We’ve listened to the neighbors, and we’re going back to the drawing board.”

For a variety of reasons, including needing approval from superiors in its organization, the Salvation Army won’t seek the $25,000 grant until 2016. “We really need some time,” Agee said.

Brooks, who has a preschool-aged daughter, urged councilors Thursday to install permanent bathroom facilities on the property.

“Why must we literally have vats of feces and urine cooking in the sun right next to our residences?” said Brooks, who was once homeless herself.

Agee said the Salvation Army also doesn’t believe the portable bathrooms are a good idea. 

Brooks also opposed a proposal for a concrete pad where the food would be handed out.

She said she would prefer a grassy area that would be cooler in the summer rather than a concrete slab, which would radiate heat.

“We want a green space with this,” she said.

Brooks said she routinely cleans up garbage left behind on the streets after the homeless finish eating at the Salvation Army lot.

Another neighbor, Elizabeth Hamilton, said she supports the feeding program and wants to find solutions with the Salvation Army over the portable toilet and concrete slab issues.

“I want to work with them,” Hamilton said.

City councilors expressed relief that residents spoke in favor of a homeless feeding area.

“We’ll take any help we can get and any advice we can get,” Mayor Gary Wheeler said.

Wheeler pointed out that the city has had issues with vandalism in bathrooms at city-owned parks.

Councilor Daniel Bunn said the city could look at finding additional grants to contribute to the project.

“We’d certainly be interested in ponying up more for bathrooms,” he said.

Over the next year, the Salvation Army will talk to neighbors and city officials before coming up with a plan for the vacant lot. Agee said her organization might request a larger grant through the city or pursue some other option to continue to feed the homeless. If a concrete pad is installed, the Salvation Army also would like to cover it, she said.

The Salvation Army is looking at other ideas to feed the homeless, but Agee said she’s not prepared to discuss those options.

For the time being, the Salvation Army will continue to provide food for the homeless at the vacant lot, which currently has only picnic benches.

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