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Cooling shelter opens for homeless people in Medford

With extreme heat forecast for the next week, Rogue Retreat rushed Thursday to open a cooling shelter for homeless people in Medford.

“We don’t want people dehydrating and needing water,” said Brandi Barnes, case manager for Rogue Retreat. “It’s open to everyone as long as they aren’t belligerent.”

Shortly after the opening at First Presbyterian Church, 85 S. Holly St., only a few people came in as temperatures hit the low 90s, but more were expected as the heat wave worsened.

Barnes said the idea of a cooling shelter came together Wednesday, so she thought many of the city’s homeless people probably aren’t aware of it yet. She occasionally called out to people near Alba Park to let them know about the shelter.

Temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees for the next week or more, so the cooling shelter will be open at various locations from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Because triple-digit temperatures are expected to last beyond next week, Barnes said it’s likely the cooling shelter will remain open beyond a week.

On Fridays and Thursdays, it should be open at First Presbyterian Church, on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the First United Methodist Church, 607 W. Main St., on Mondays and Tuesdays at Set Free Christian Fellowship, 1032 W. Main St. On Sundays, the Compassion Highway Project will offer refreshments and food at Hawthorne Park.

Barnes said there are ongoing discussions with local nonprofits to expand the outreach for homeless people with the idea of continuing to provide services until they are able to live on their own.

As a case manager and a former homeless person, Barnes has worked one-on-one with many homeless people over the years.

Disabled veteran Robert Fenwick said Barnes helped him deal with his own problems, including extensive back surgery.

“I’ve lived under my own roof for three years,” the 56-year-old said. “I kind of feel like an adult now. I don’t feel useless anymore.”

Fenwick, who volunteered to be the gatekeeper for the cooling shelter, said he’s happy to help people who are in the same situation he was three years ago.

“For all those out there who are homeless, we have a cooling shelter,” Fenwick said.

Other Rogue Retreat volunteers helped run the operation at First Presbyterian, including Chris Hardy, who was homeless last year.

“In six months, I went from the Kelly Shelter to my own apartment,” the 67-year-old said.

She and her husband, Michael, were living in a tent out in the Applegate last year. “It was hard to find a place to camp, and it was expensive,” she said. “We came up here in 1989 and we didn’t have to pay a fee to camp.”

She and her husband, who got married 28 years ago at Natural Bridge on the Upper Rogue, fell on hard times after he survived a liver transplant five years ago.

Getting back on their feet has been difficult.

“It’s expensive to live anymore,” she said. “And there’s those who prefer drugs and alcohol.”

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

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A cooling shelter operated by Rogue Retreat opened Thursday at First Presbyterian Church, 85 S. Holly St., in Medford. The cooling shelter will alternate days at various sites while triple-digit temperatures last.