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Heart full hotel

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After a Medford couple rented an entire hotel for area homeless on Tuesday night, Compassion Highway Project director Melissa Mayne figured the night couldn't get any better. But it did.

Full rental of some 45 hotel rooms was quickly followed by 50-plus donated pizzas, special birthday gifts and cake for a homeless 9-year-old's birthday and a sense of camaraderie as Mayne and local homeless people drove or walked around in freezing rain offering rooms to anyone they found sleeping outside.

Mayne teamed up with Debbie Saxbury, a community volunteer and longtime homeless advocate, on Tuesday to put the word out about discounted rooms available at America's Best Value INN on Riverside.

The hotel provided a reduced rate, said manager Jay Patel, to offer local homeless a reprieve from relentless cold and snow that came down most of Tuesday. Medford couple Amberly and Ryan Batten paid for the first night -- all 45 rooms -- and a steady trickle of donations were made for additional nights.

An emotional Mayne drove around to store parking lots on the north and south end of town, often fighting back tears as she offered warm rooms to homeless she usually can only provide with meals, blankets or hot coffee. Some were staying inside broken down vehicles or old campers but even more were bundled in wet blankets and tarps.

One man, New Orleans resident Tellas Huff, was emotional as he thanked Mayne for providing a room. Huff traveled to the Rogue Valley 10 days ago for a job that fell through, then signed on to work through a temp service, at Amy’s Kitchen, to earn enough money to fly back home.

After spending several nights sitting on a bench downtown, Huff ended up in the emergency room with hypothermia and said he was discouraged by “red tape” that made it difficult to get into area shelters.

“I’m so grateful just for the chance to get warm, get a hot shower and not spend another night freezing,” he said.

Dave Vonn, a homeless Medford man with a soggy bear hat and a wide scruffy smile, excitedly rounded up his belongings when Mayne found him sitting at the north Medford Safeway.

“Are you kiddin me?” Vonn hollered from his resting spot near an ice machine. Before settling in or “drying stuff out,” Vonn, who often advocates for other homeless, insisted on helping Mayne find other homeless sleeping outside.

The pair knocked on about 20 vehicle doors in a nearby Walmart parking lot. Some occupants graciously thanked Mayne for the offer while others were either skeptical or had to refuse due to vehicle problems, fear of leaving their belongings unattended, lack of gas or concerns about missing work or appointments the next morning.

A homeless woman named Julie, living in her vehicle with her husband and pets for the past year, choked back tears when Vonn told her about the rooms.

“Are you serious? A hot shower? Oh my god. It’s been so cold,” said the woman.

“I’m diabetic. It’s so hard at night to not have a way to go to the bathroom. Once 11 o’clock rolls around you’re out of luck. It’s pretty hard to be out here all night, especially when it gets so cold.”

Another woman, who worked at a nearby restaurant, had to decline a room out of fear she would miss her scheduled work shift at 6 a.m.

Headed downtown after leading a small caravan of cars to the hotel, Mayne made her way back out into the cold, sending a homeless man, sitting in an alcove peeling off wet socks, over to sign up for a room.

The duration of her drive, Mayne’s phone lit up with calls and text messages about homeless in need of a place to get dry. One man, in tears about missing the nightly food handouts, cried when Mayne offered him a room and pizza.

Amberly Batten said each story she heard about the homeless reacting to being able to sleep inside for at least a night brought her to tears.

“We aren’t people who have a ton or money or anything like that. We work hard like everyone else but, when I heard what they were doing and that they needed donations for rooms, it just touched my heart,” she said.

“I just couldn’t imagine letting anybody sleep outside in this cold. It’s so heartbreaking. ... I’ve cried a few times today, and I’ll probably cry again. I just felt like, thank God for the chance to do something that would help people out in a real way. My heart, when I got home last night, just felt settled, knowing that for at least one night these people weren’t going to freeze to death.”

To sponsor additional nights for area homeless, email America’s Best Value INN at abvimedford@gmail.com (attn: Jay). Payments can also be made directly at the hotel at 518 N. Riverside. Local businesses interested in sponsoring a bulk number of rooms can pay $1,012 for two dozen rooms or $2,025 for all 45.

Hotel management requested that room sponsors not call as the hotel office has experienced a deluge of phone calls.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune{ } Jesse Lewis and his son Osiris in the doorway of their hotel room Wednesday in downtown Medford.
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