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Ashland's homeless might surprise you

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As rents increase and wages remain unchanged, more of Ashland’s residents find themselves unhoused — about 200 a year, according to recent estimates.

“People can’t pay the rent and they’re evicted,” says Vanessa Houk, local volunteer and homeless service coordinator. “I think that’s why there’s been a wave of new people at the peace meals.”

Tragic events also can contribute to homelessness, says HomeAid, a nonprofit dedicated to providing housing for homeless Americans. Loss of loved ones, unemployment, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes can trigger situations that lead to homelessness. Addiction to alcohol or drugs also can take its toll.

Wally Beckwith’s troubles began when his wife of 38 years, Marian, died three years ago from pancreatic cancer.

“After she passed, I got lonely,” says Beckwith, 59. “I was clean for 25 years and then one thing led to another.”

He bought a trailer in Talent, then had to move because of complaints of people constantly visiting, so he stayed in hotel rooms which ate away at his money. Then he lost his job. He traveled to Southern California to visit family, found out both his parents had cancer and buried his brother after he died.

When Beckwith eventually found his way back to Ashland where his two sons live, he’d been homeless for about a year. Then he learned his son has pancreatic cancer also.

“For a while, I didn’t think there was any hope,” Beckwith says.

He said he spent a lot of time in the library to stay warm and picked up some books on origami. He stayed in the winter shelter and began creating colorful origami flowers.

“If I was going to fly a sign like most of them do, then they’re going to get something for their money,” Beckwith said. He began trading the paper flowers for donations.

One November night a volunteer, Stephanie Stewart, saw the man with bunches of origami flower bouquets sticking out of his backpack. She asked if she could buy one and it began his journey from homeless to housed.

Stewart, along with her husband, Ron Mogel, who is a board member for Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, met Beckwith to buy the bouquet. Beckwith said it was the couple who encouraged him to begin selling the flowers.

Another volunteer, Grant Williams (name corrected from previous version), has offered Beckwith a place to stay to make and sell the flowers until April, to give him enough time to save some money. The modest apartment behind Lithia Park is now covered in bits of colorful card stock and finished flowers.

Beckwith said he finds madrone branches in the neighborhood which he uses to display the flowers on.

He’s been commissioned by a handful of organizations to create centerpieces for public events.

To order an origami bouquet from Beckwith, contact him at 541-816-8394 or foreverflowers977@gmail.com.

He said his goal is to find housing after April, continue selling his flowers and potentially get back into the wooden lamp making business, a trade of his from years past.

He said people look negatively at homeless people or they don’t look at all.

“Not everyone homeless is a menace to society,” Beckwith said. “There’s a lot of red tape you have to go through. It’s hard to take care of basic needs, especially in the cold and the elements.”

He said a trip to St. Vincent de Paul for a shower and load of laundry would take at least half a day, never mind finding the money for bus fare and arriving early enough to do a load of laundry amidst others with the same idea before the buses stop running for the day.

This is a problem that is exacerbated by other effects of homelessness, such as legal issues, mental illness, physical and emotional health, according to OHRA.

“Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address to put on a resume, no phone number, no shower and no clean clothes,” the website says.

‘They just get knocked down’

Red Hagerty, 60, has lived in the back of his truck for about eight months, but has lived on the streets for years.

Recently, a social media post went viral asking for help for the man. Hagerty said he’s lived in Ashland since 1989 and he used to build tiny houses. He said Ashland police impounded the trailer on which his most recent tiny home sat Dec. 1.

“By the time I found out on Dec. 5, the ransom was $2,000,” Hagerty said. “It compounds $125 a day which adds up quickly.”

He said his hope is to buy it out at the vehicle auction and finish the tiny house, then sell it and use the money to buy some land which he could build another tiny house on.

He said one of the biggest issues he’s faced being homeless is scammers and people who steal what little possessions he has.

He said camping with other vulnerable people can be dangerous because sometimes they’re like “a pack of wolves.”

“When people steal everything, it’s discouraging,” Hagerty said. “It feels like I take three steps forward and one step back.”

“Sometimes people aren’t lazy, they just get knocked down,” Haggerty said.

Increased rents force some on the street

Jon Friedman lived in a apartment for 12 years but, he sail, CPM Real Estate Services Inc. raised his rent nearly 50 percent in the course of three months. He said he chose to leave and live in his truck rather than continue to pay $875 for a one-bedroom. Matt Stranahan of CPM said the increase was to $875 from $775.

“Their logic for jacking up rents is that vacancy rates are below 2 percent,” Friedman said.

Friedman calls himself a “tropical field guide.” He leads nature and photography tours all over the world, specifically in warm climates with great nature viewing such as South America and Africa.

He said he wanted to live closer to nature, which is why he lives in his truck now, at least until his next adventure tour, anyway.

He said a lot of his neighbors also renting through CPM left the same time he did.

“I’ve never seen such a mass exodus,” Friedman said. “They don’t care about their tenants at all.”

Stranahan, CPM public affairs and resident relations director, said increased rents are the property owner’s decision.

Stranahan said although there is a 2 percent vacancy rate in Ashland, the most common reason rents continue to rise is because property owners are selling, fearful that the state may establish a rent control system. He said the property sellers ultimately determine the market price of the property, and the buyer sometimes has to increase the cost of rent to maintain his investment and update maintenance issues.

Stranahan said CPM has seen a lot of people both moving out and moving into their properties in Ashland and Medford.

“Unfortunately, the demand is so high people just jump on anything that becomes available,” Stranahan said. “We absolutely care about our residents. They’re our customers and if we don’t have people living here, there’s no business for us.”

“I think the city needs to do some legislative work,” Friedman said. “You talk about the housing crisis, they are the housing crisis.”

To get connected with a volunteer opportunity for homeless services in Ashland, contact OHRA at 541-631-2235 or visit its website, helpingashland.org/.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Wally Beckwith holds one of his creations.
A flower created by Beckwith.