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Beds change lives

Giving homeless people a guaranteed place to spend winter nights helped change the lives of nearly 20 people, advocates say.

Nineteen people have gotten off the streets since the Ashland Winter Shelter opened for the season under the new policy in November, and seven of those have found HUD-approved housing, say shelter consultant Phil Johncock and Options for Helping Residents of Ashland President Ken Gudger.

Both Johncock and Gudger said the new model was the catalyst in changing so many lives.

Previously, the shelter worked as a first-come, first-served basis, but now it offers reserved beds for the whole season or until guests find housing.

Guests were screened and given a slot based on their vulnerability. They also received case management to create individualized plans.

The goal was to provide a continuum of care and was made possible by two grants received by ACCESS that allowed OHRA to have a more predominant presence in the shelter.

Gudger said the grants allow the guests to continue with their case management with the Ashland Community Resource Center through June 30 and he’s hoping to receive another grant approval by July 31 to do the same thing for the next season.

Johncock said everyone in the shelter now has health coverage.

He said many guests have gotten identification, food stamps, cellphones and P.O. boxes since staying in the shelter.

He’s given out 632 bus passes, which equates to 3,792 rides, that have allowed guests to get to job interviews and doctor appointments.

“It’s hard to get around when you don’t have transportation,” Johncock said. “That’s made a big difference in people’s lives.”

He said nine of the guests now have jobs as well.

“We start all of that (finding out their needs) on day one and I think that makes a difference by giving them an opportunity to become self-sufficient and helping them move out of crisis,” Johncock said. “We want them to be thriving.”

Johncock said more than 127 people were screened, and out of that number, only 29 are left on a waiting list. He said the shelter has served almost 100 people this season.

With two weeks left, he’s calculated the equivalent of $130,000 worth of volunteer time.

“The numbers are quite significant,” Johncock said.

The season ends April 13, but there’s still time to get in on the volunteer action. Volunteers for various positions including overnight hosts are always needed.

From 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, Jive Mountain will perform for a winter shelter fundraiser at The Red Schoolhouse, 1219 N. Valley View Road.

Tickets are $20 at the door and include an evening of assorted American roots music, improv theater, snacks, desserts and beverages.

Money from this event will go toward the volunteer stipend for the Friday night shelter location, Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ. The funds allow volunteers who facilitate the shelter on those nights to buy food for the guests and other essentials.

Volunteer Laurie True said parking is limited at the event. She recommends carpooling and bringing a flashlight to get from the car to the Schoolhouse.

She’s looking for six to eight volunteers to help cook, set up and take down and assist with parking. Contact True to volunteer at the event: ltrue@calwic.org or 916-607-4822.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 30, the shelter is offering de-escalation training at the proposed OneSite location, 2082 E. Main St.

Anna D’Amato, executive director of the Southern Oregon University Student Health and Wellness Center, will provide a hands-on “Disruptive Behavior Management Intervention Training” for shelter volunteers and interested community members. The training is designed specifically to meet the winter shelter volunteer needs.

Johncock said people who live on the streets sometimes suffer from emotional complications that get in the way of keeping a job and maintaining healthy relationships, but the fear, uncertainty and stigma of being unhoused affects all shelter guests.

“As shelter volunteers, we bring our open hearts and best intentions to the shelter,” Johncock said. “You may have known moments when all of our skills seemed inadequate to quell an escalating argument, quiet the flinging of racial slurs or ward off anger coming in your direction. Being human, we are as susceptible to becoming triggered by a distressed guest, as are the other guests.”

About six to eight volunteers are needed to move the cots from Calvin Hall at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland to the OneSite location at 2082 E. Main St. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact henry.knutsen@alumni.ucla.edu. Vehicles able to transport the cots are also needed. Lunch is provided to volunteers.

Finally, a volunteer appreciation party will wrap up the season at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at 2082 E. Main St.

“That’s one of the highlights for me for the whole season,” Johncock said. “To highlight the volunteers who made it happen. We wouldn’t have as many successes as we have this year without them.”

The winter shelter operated at multiple locations for various nights this season. Six faith-based communities, four nonprofits and three governmental agencies made it possible, Gudger said.

“It has to be one of the biggest community collaborative efforts,” Gudger said.

True said this shelter season was the best temporary shelter made up of all volunteers she has ever volunteered at.

“I thought it was superbly run,” True said. “It was non-chaotic, orderly, very respectful of the guests and their needs and their autonomy, and it was a safe space for both males and females.”

Last week the City Council approved an interagency agreement in which the Ashland Police Department will respond first to any calls from the OneSite assuming the county permit to run the shelter from that location is approved.

County representatives previously brought up concerns that the responding agency, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, would be delayed for other residents if they had to respond to calls at the OneSite location.

“What they did last week was a big step forward,” Gudger said. “We’re making good progress now and I think the city, OHRA and the county are all on one mind on this.”

He said he fully expects to be in the OneSite location for the next winter shelter season which begins in November.

“It’s always a challenge, it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s amazing that all of these people come together,” Gudger said. “This community can feel very proud of what they’ve done and there’s still a lot to do.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities, contact Ashland Community Resource Center at 541-631-2235 or visit www.helpingashland.org.

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

A woman by the name of Gummy Bear and her dog Lunatic are part of the client base at Ashland's homeless shelter. Photo by Denise Baratta
A man rests at the homeless shelter inside the Presbyterian church in Ashland. Photo by Denise Baratta