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More homeless villages in the works

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Joe Noriega feels like he’s close to breaking free from his cycle of homelessness and addiction.

“You have to develop your own enthusiasm and not depend on artificial enthusiasm,” the 51-year-old said.

Noriega is one of 31 residents of Hope Village, a small community in west Medford that has 30 tiny, shed-like shelters without power or electricity.

The village, which opened in October 2017, has been slowly ramping up the number of residents after the city approved expanding it from 14 to 30 units. At this point, all but four units are occupied.

Based on its success, Rogue Retreat, the nonprofit behind Hope Village, is gearing up to open another 15-unit village in Grants Pass in 2020, and possibly opening something similar in Ashland.

With a year-and-a-half track record, Hope Village has helped 60% of its residents graduate into more permanent housing, jobs or treatment.

“I’m one of those people who’ve been here the longest,” said Noriega, who has spent six months in his 8-by-10-foot unit.

Noriega, who works full time at night, said Rogue Retreat has helped him get a driver’s license, and he hopes to get health insurance and more permanent housing in the next few months.

Although residents pay just $75 a month for the first three months to stay at Hope Village, the rent increases by $100 every three months. Half of the extra amount goes into a savings account to give the residents some money to get an apartment.

Noriega has sought treatment for his addiction problems.

“Being off drugs is very important,” he said. “It enables us to move forward.”

Cindy Van Camp, case manager with Rogue Retreat who works with the women, said it’s tough for people to let go of their life on the street.

“They’re just in survival mode,” said Van Camp, who was once homeless. “When they first come here, it’s chaos.”

On the street, homeless people worry about where they will find a place to sleep, whether they’ll be attacked or their belongings will be stolen. Women worry about being raped.

While many deal with addiction or mental health issues, other homeless people have jobs but can’t afford a place to live.

Charlie Hale, a case manager with Rogue Retreat who works with the men, said it takes time for people to let go of their street edge.

“When they’re on the street, they don’t have trust for anybody,” said Hale, who was formerly homeless.

He said some of the longer-term residents help the newbies work on trust issues as well as maintaining the grounds, which are spotless.

“They’re pretty good about doing their chores and the gate watch,” Hale said.

Of the 63 people who have left, 38 have successfully moved on, including Clint Hassard, who struggled with addiction and was homeless for six years.

The 41-year-old man, who works at a bed and breakfast near Jacksonville, said he was up in Portland last year when he got arrested for a nearly 20-year-old warrant for driving under the influence in the Medford area.

He said he had failed to complete the required classes. Over the years, Hassard said his life spiraled out of control, particularly after he was no longer able to see his daughter in California.

“I lived a very vagabond lifestyle,” he said.

After his release from jail, he immediately went to Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford and began trying to get on the road to recovery.

He said he felt he was really getting his life back together when he moved into Hope Village last year, allowing him to finish his required classes to help with his addiction issues. He also paid off $1,500 in court fines, and for the first time since 1997, he filed his tax returns.

“Charlie, being the case manager at Hope Village, pushed me to go above and beyond to chase those goals,” he said.

“By the grace of God and the help of Rogue Retreat, I did a complete 180 on my life,” he said.

Of the 31 people living at Hope Village, 19 have jobs. The average length of time at Hope Village is 4.7 months.

Even though more than half the residents transition to a more permanent situation, many homeless people struggle with addiction, mental illnesses or other problems.

“When a person gets housing, addiction often loses its power,” said Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat.

On the other hand, those who have lived on the street for a long time sometimes find it difficult to follow the rules, play well with others or do the required chores. As a result, 40% of those who enter Hope Village return to their former lifestyle.

“They’re so street-minded, sometimes the easy thing to do is run,” McComas said.

Rogue Retreat plans to create a similar tiny house community in Grants Pass, which would be called Foundry Village, anticipating it could open in 2020.

McComas said it takes a lot of work to get homeless people back on their feet, but it also will improve the community.

“They’re not going back to their tents, and they’re not going back to the Greenway or the downtown,” he said.

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

Jamie Lusch / Mail TirbuneJoe Noriega has been living at Hope Village for six months.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneJoe Noriega cooks his soup Tuesday at Hope Village in Medford.