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Lessons learned

A relatively trouble-free three months have passed for a homeless shelter in Medford, a far cry from complaints of disorderly conduct and other problems last year that raised alarms with both the City Council and Medford police.

“They really fixed things,” said Medford police Deputy Chief Scott Clauson.

In 2017, 119 calls were logged for emergency service at the Kelly Shelter compared with 23 this year. The shelter, located in the basement of First United Methodist Church, 607 W. Main St., is open from Jan. 1 through March 31. The shelter will close for the year Saturday. Last year was the first year of its operation.

Clauson said when medical calls are factored out, there were even fewer incidents that required police intervention this year: 14 in 2018 compared with 81 the year before.

“That’s a big difference,” Clauson said. “When you take out some of those calls, there seem to be minimal issues.”

Police responded to 10 calls for disorderly conduct and one for menacing in 2017, but only three for disorderly conduct this year and no menacing calls.

In addition, 29 homeless people have found more permanent housing because of improved one-on-one time with each of the 50 people who can sleep in the shelter at night.

Clauson said he applauds Rogue Retreat, which runs the shelter, for their efforts and for listening to city officials about ways to improve the running of the shelter and minimize impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.

Taking steps

“The key to their success is also busing folks out of the downtown area,” Clauson said.

Every morning, after the 7 to 8 a.m. breakfast, most are bused to another location for the day, which keeps them from wandering around downtown.

Because they are bused to another area, Clauson said, he’s heard fewer daytime complaints during the three months.

Shelter officials took another important step by rejecting people who have a history of violent behavior and cause problems with others.

“They can be threatening,” Clauson said. “The number one recommendation we made is to screen these people better, and that’s what they did.”

Rogue Retreat hired case manager Brandie Barnes to work with homeless people to help run a strict program in which those who break the rules lose the ability to sleep in the shelter.

“I had really tough conversations with the guests, letting them know what the rules are,” Barnes said. The rules are posted in visible locations throughout the basement, even on the double doors leading downstairs where it warns, “No spitting.”

When the shelter opened its doors, she said, many of the people who stayed there were not taking mental-health medications or weren’t signed up for the Oregon Health Plan.

“At the very beginning they were very grouchy,” she remembered.

After getting the clients’ health issues straightened out, she worked with them to get birth certificates, driver’s licenses, identification cards and other documentation necessary for a job or housing.

Surprisingly, 70 percent of the people in the shelter had some form of income. “That’s so distressing, because they couldn’t afford a place to live,” she said.

Two of the shelter users have now registered for college.

A veteran herself, Barnes works closely with vets as well. She also coordinates services with other community partners such as ACCESS.

Eventually Rogue Retreat hopes to keep the facility open longer if the city agrees to the idea, something Clauson indicated might receive the support of police.

The shelter’s strict rules were in evidence Tuesday morning when Tam Russell and her dog, Dexter, found themselves on the street.

Russell, sitting against a fence with her belongings all around her, said Dexter was annoying other dogs in the shelter.

“Somebody told them Dexter was out of control,” said the 46-year-old whose Chihuahua barked next to her while she was talking.

Russell, who said her mother dropped her off at the shelter, said she’s been in abusive relationships, though she once owned a tattoo parlor. “I’ve got issues,” she said.

As a homeless person, Russell said it’s relatively easy to round up a meal at local charities, but she said bathrooms, water and a shelter are more difficult.

While she seemed resigned to finding another place to sleep, Russell said the basement does provide a good place for the night.

“It’s amazing that you can fit 50 people in that space,” she said. “But it’s best to try and find a different situation, something that’s more permanent.”

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

Tam Russell sits with her dog, Dexter, and her belongings outside the Kelly Shelter in Medford Tuesday. She says she was kicked out after her dog started annoying other dogs. Complaints about the shelter have dropped dramatically after Rogue Retreat instituted strict rules. - Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune