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Advocates seek year-round shelter for homeless

Homeless advocates want to create a larger, year-round shelter that gets people off the streets permanently and back into society.

ACCESS, an organization that helps low-income residents, met with 30 local officials recently to discuss ways to develop a more robust shelter program that would provide case managers to help homeless people get jobs and permanent housing. The shelter could be operated year-round.

“We’re trying to see what it would look like to have a regional shelter,” said Pam Norr, executive director of ACCESS.

Her organization helps funnel financial support to the Kelly Shelter in Medford and another shelter in Ashland, both of which are open a few months of the year. Rogue Retreat opened a cooling shelter last week in Medford at First Presbyterian Church, and another cooling center was opened in Ashland.

Norr said the shelter idea would require a collaboration between nonprofits that are already engaged in homeless programs, along with cities, churches and other groups.

“I think there is community will to make this happen,” Norr said.

At this point, she said, ACCESS doesn’t have the money to finance a large-scale homeless shelter program, and there will be a lot of discussion about where it could be located.

“I don’t know if it’s in the city limits of Medford or the county,” Norr said.

Rogue Retreat, which operates the Kelly Shelter in Medford, has been thinking of a bigger shelter that could handle up to 100 people.

“I’m thinking if you had 100 beds, it would make a big dent in the homeless population,” said Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, an organization that provides services for homeless people.

Over the winter, the 50-bed Kelly Shelter appeared to make a dramatic improvement in behavior issues affecting downtown Medford businesses.

“In three months, 30 of those people went to more permanent housing situations,” McComas said.

McComas said the homeless population continues to grow because of the local economy, particularly among people over age 50 who can’t afford to rent a house.

“Senior citizens just can’t get into a home,” he said.

McComas said he envisions different types of shelters to deal with different populations of homeless people. Some are families, others are teenagers, and still others are “travelers,” people who travel from community to community who usually seek shelters only during freezing weather. Some homeless people have mental issues and some use drugs and alcohol.

“My dream is that there has to be a tent city somewhere to get them off the Greenway,” McComas said.

The Bear Creek Greenway through Medford and other communities attracts homeless people who camp out in tents, but local police conduct sweeps that end up finding lots of trash. The homeless camps eventually return.

Rogue Retreat is on the lookout for a building that might hold a 100-bed shelter, and McComas said he has faith the money will be provided to make it work on a year-round basis.

“I didn’t know how we were going to pay for Hope Village,” he said, referring to the 14 tiny houses in Medford for homeless people that has been open since November 2017.

He said the Kelly Shelter receives money from state grants that are administered by ACCESS. ACCESS also helped open the cooling shelter in Medford last week.

Norr said local organizations need to work together to provide more housing for homeless people. The high cost of housing is often cited as one of the reasons people find themselves living on the streets.

Homeless activities have been a problem in both Medford and Ashland, affecting local residents, tourists and businesses. Medford and Ashland have exclusion ordinances that ban people from their downtowns if they engage in illegal activity such as drunkenness, criminal mischief, public urination and other offenses.

After several fires broke out on the Bear Creek Greenway in the last week, Brandi Barnes, case manager for Rogue Retreat, said ACCESS is providing 60 portable fire extinguishers to homeless people. The extinguishers are a little larger than a can of beer.

“We’re trying to get one to every campsite down the Greenway,” she said.

Fires broke out July 12 and 13 and on Tuesday, when a 97-acre blaze threatened entire neighborhoods and led to large-scale evacuations, but fire officials have been unable to determine causes. Transient activity was cited as a possible reason.

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

File photo / Mail TribuneA homeless man sleeps at Hawthorne Park in Medford.