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One Site winter shelter back on track

Officials are hoping the Ashland One Site winter shelter is back on track after their hopes were seemingly dashed last week.

Organizers were told Feb. 19 that Jackson County had denied their permit to operate at 2082 E. Main St., however, that ruling was never made official, according to Ken Gudger, president of Options for Helping Residents of Ashland.

"We're back on track," he said, but it likely won't be in time for this winter season.

Gudger said he’s confident that everything will be ready by fall.

The winter shelter runs from November to April, and it will continue to work with the four churches involved for the remaining six weeks the season.

“We’re all relieved of the pressure of getting this permit approved before the shelter season is over,” Gudger said. “We just don’t have the time for that, but now we can have more in-depth conversations.”

He said the denial document they referred to was only a draft.

There’s a multiday approval process in which the document must go to various planning officials within the county and neighboring residents, Grudger said, and somewhere in that process the draft wasn’t approved by enough individuals for it to become an official denial.

“We received emails from the county, and it seemed that the permit was going to be denied, but it never cleared all the hurdles of the county, so it was never issued,” he said. “We responded quickly, and we alerted the city and the community, and we got a number of people who responded quickly ... offering help.”

Gudger said a meeting Tuesday with the county clarified everything for OHRA and the city of Ashland.

“It was a very encouraging meeting,” he said. “We departed very hopeful that we can indeed satisfy the county land ordinances.”

The denial draft document mentioned two main concerns and a handful of minor concerns, all of which are being worked out with the county, Gudger said.

A major concern was the potential of people deciding to camp on the lawn if they were turned away from the One Site shelter.

Consultant Phil Johncock said last week that the new shelter method is readily understood, and people don’t show up who aren’t guests.

Each winter shelter guest is required to be screened and approved, and then they’re given a bed for the entire winter season. If they are disorderly, they risk losing their spot.

It also allows case managers to better serve residents by working with them daily to help them find permanent housing and work. Guests are given clean clothes, counseling, showers and receive bus passes and other assistance.

Gudger said every shelter guest has health insurance now and several have been housed.

OHRA recently purchased a mini bus from the Ashland School District with the intention to take guests to educational programs or medical facilities from the shelter, Johncock said. In addition, a fire watch staff member would work every day for security of the guests, volunteers and the property.

The other major concern was that the One Site is located outside Ashland city limits, which could lead to slow response from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in the case of an emergency.

OHRA reached an agreement with the Ashland Police Department to alleviate that, Johncock said, in the event that JCSO is occupied.

He said they have had two calls to law enforcement this season, and neither were emergencies.

Other slight concerns have been addressed, such as that guests who smoke cigarettes may flick them into the grass and increase a chance of wildfire. Johncock said the Ashland Lions Club constructed a “smoke shack” for guests to smoke in so they don’t throw them in the grass. The shack is removable so it can be taken down during the offseason.

Gudger said he is grateful to the Ashland citizens who have stepped up to volunteer and help through the process.

“We’re very encouraged by the Ashland community wanting to get involved,” he said. “We’re thankful of that support, and we continue to be amazed at the way this community continues to volunteer.”

He said they’re fortunate to have city staff working alongside shelter organizers, especially City Administrator Kelly Madding, who used to work for the county and “has a greater understanding of how this process works.”

He said at the meeting Tuesday organizers realized the county doesn’t have much experience with homeless shelters.

“Jackson County has no shelters. All shelters are within the city areas,” Gudger said. “So the city of Ashland and the city of Medford have much more experience working with shelters than the county. We realized we’re asking the county to approve something they don’t have much experience with.”

He asked for anyone who wants to get involved to sign up to volunteer.

“We’ve run a shelter every night and (Wednesday) will be the 11th warming center night, and our volunteers are fatigued,” Gudger said. “We always need people to host, and there’s a training process for that, so we won’t just throw in people who have never done it before.”

The shelter needs at least two overnight hosts to open, in addition to other volunteer roles such as meal prepping, cleaning and listening.

An overnight host training was scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission.

For more information, contact Johncock at OneSiteAshland@gmail.com, see the website www.philjohncocknetwork.com/winter-shelters, or like the Facebook page “Ashland Winter Shelters.”

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

Tidings file photoHomeless people line up to enter the Pioneer Hall homeless shelter.