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Hope Village back on track

Orval Spence has waited five years to have a roof over his head and a safe place to sleep.

"I'm out on the streets," Spence said.

Gazing at his future 8-by-10-foot tiny house in Hope Village, the 57-year-old, who has lived in Southern Oregon all his life, said he's ready to move in.

"It's plenty big enough for me," he said.

Spence and other homeless people have gone through emotional ups and downs as they watch deadlines come and go, and various roadblocks arise, halting progress on Hope Village, at the corner of Columbus Avenue and McAndrews Road.

Last winter, rain stalled work on the site, and then organizers decided to expand the project, which required more review by the city.

But this week, Rogue Retreat, a homeless organization, got the news from Medford City Hall that all permits have been approved.

Now, the final work can be completed and the 14 tiny houses will likely be occupied sometime next month.

Hope Village is a pilot project approved by Medford City Council to provide a secure place for homeless people to live and hopefully get back on their feet, eventually transitioning to more permanent housing and employment. The project is patterned after homeless villages in Eugene and other cities.

Spence said he was a concrete laborer for 25 years, which took its toll on his back and knees.

"My body's worn out," he said, while still trying to pitch in to work on the completion of the village.

He's also gone through treatment for alcoholism, and he was living at his girlfriend's mother's house until she died five years ago.

Charlie Hale, Spence's case manager at Set Free Fellowship, said, "The homeless don't have time to think about work or plan for the future, because life is so difficult on the streets. There is no future."

He said Hope Village will offer homeless people that future. "All they need is a hand up," he said. "They need a chance."

Besides the tiny house, the village has a welcome center and offices for case workers, a shower and bathroom facility, and a community center.

A garden, dog park and white vinyl fencing also are being built.

"Our goal is to make everybody proud," said Heather Everett, Rogue Retreat. "We need to get this thing open to prove the concept and restore some lives."

With a year lease from the city, the tiny houses will be under a microscope, so supporters want the grounds to look their best for the residents and the public.

She said that over the past year, Hope Village has had homeless tenants lined up for all the tiny houses, which won't have heat, electricity or running water.

As deadlines came and went, some of the homeless gave up waiting, and Rogue Retreat turned to its lengthy list of applicants to find suitable replacements.

Everett said they are now reviewing one applicant for a tiny house; all of the other units are spoken for.

She said the idea behind having a welcome center and offices in the front, along McAndrews, is to have a place for visitors. In Eugene at a similar homeless center, visitors have come from as far away as Japan. The offices will also house case managers, who will help counsel and treat the residents.

The welcome center will act as a buffer between the residents and passersby, Everett said.

"We don't want to place the residents in a fish bowl," she said. "We need to be conscious of their privacy."

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

Orval Spence and Hope Village Case Manager Charlie Hale unload a freezer at Hope Village Friday. Spence, currently homeless, will be a resident of the village. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]
Rich Hansen of Medford volunteers Friday on finishing exterior touches of a tiny house at Hope Village. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]