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Help on the way

A temporary homeless shelter that went through a rough patch three years ago is evolving into a permanent, round-the-clock rehabilitation center that will keep 54 people off Medford streets.

Kelly Shelter, which operated four months of the year out of the basement of First United Methodist Church by the nonprofit Rogue Retreat, will open year-round in December at 332 Sixth St.

“I’m happy that Rogue Retreat is behind this,” said Medford police Chief Scott Clauson. “They have learned the hard lessons in the beginning, and they have worked with the city to resolve those issues.”

When Kelly Shelter opened, it struggled with unruly behavior, resulting in frequent calls to police. For the past two years, the shelter has developed a better method of oversight, resulting in few calls to police.

When the shelter operates during the winter months, downtown merchants, often plagued with problems from homeless people, have noticed a decline in vandalism, public urination and harassment.

The new shelter will not only take people off the streets but provides them with the help they need to get their lives in order with counseling, mental health evaluation and drug treatment, with the goal of getting them into more permanent housing.

Clauson said the shelter is another big step toward ending illegal overnight camping on the Greenway. Clauson estimates there are 100 active sites along the Greenway and another 100 inactive sites.

ACCESS Inc. bought the Sixth Street building, which formerly housed the mental health center Compass House, for $465,000 June 6 and is investing about $500,000 to remodel it, including seismic upgrades and a fire sprinkler system. Unlike the former location in the basement of a church, the new single-story building will be accessible to the disabled.

SB James Construction of Medford has been renovating the building.

Rogue Retreat, which runs Kelly Shelter, will have an annual operating budget of $900,000 for the year-round facility, which will have everything under one roof, including showers, laundry room, kitchen and offices for case managers. The lease with ACCESS is $2,500 a month.

“It’s going to take a lot of income sources to cover this,” said Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat.

He said it roughly works out to just under $50 a night per bed, which might seem high to some people.

But the shelter is doing more than just housing the homeless. It’s the first step in a long road to helping people get back to permanent housing, finding them jobs as well as mental and physical health treatment programs.

Having Kelly Shelter as a round-the-clock facility will require having at least two staff members on site at all times. During the day, case managers and other staff will be available, including a cook to prepare three meals per day. McComas said the biggest part of the annual budget is for staff.

He said a state grant for emergency shelters will be available for the new shelter, but Rogue Retreat is working on getting the rest of the money lined up from other sources. McComas said he’s working with local organizations and hospitals to help provide some of the financial help.

Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they don’t have a job. At Hope Village, a collection of tiny houses for homeless people in west Medford, 24 of the 31 residents work, McComas said. Eventually, the residents move into more permanent housing, including one man who moved into a treatment facility in South Dakota, he said.

The existing Kelly Shelter, which housed 141 people at various times, cost about $160,000 last year when it operated for four months.

“We’re excited to have these people for months on end so we can get them the help they need,” McComas said.

Over the next couple of months, Rogue Retreat will seek donations to raise $50,000 to buy commercial-grade metal bunk beds with special mattresses and pillows.

At the previous 2,500-square-foot basement shelter, guests slept on mats on the floor. The new 3,500-square-foot shelter will have 27 bunk beds in a large room with windows facing the federal courthouse building.

Luis Sanchez, spokesman for ACCESS, said his organization has worked with Rogue Retreat and Jackson County Continuum of Care to develop the shelter.

“The investment from ACCESS for this project includes the purchase of the building and significant renovations to accommodate the shelter space that will be leased to Rogue Retreat,” he said. “That investment is over $1 million.”

In another part of the same building, there will be separate office space for outreach services as well as the Continuum of Care team.

Continuum of Care, an organization that pools county resources to deal with homelessness, does an annual count to estimate how many people live on the streets.

The Jan. 22 count found 712 homeless people, a slight drop from 732 last year. Medford has the highest concentration of homeless, 74 percent, of any city in the valley because it also has the most social service organizations. Ashland has a seasonal shelter that is expected to open Nov. 1.

Connie Wilkerson, chairman of Continuum of Care, said a year-round shelter will have a noticeable impact on homelessness in the valley, providing a big first step on the road to a more stable future.

“Once the housing situation is addressed, he or she will be better able to take care of the other parts of their lives that need addressing,” she said.

Each person in the shelter will undergo an assessment developed by Continuum of Care to deal with issues surrounding homelessness, including mental health, drug abuse, job training, life skills and addressing chronic health needs, Wilkerson said.

She said the location for the shelter is close to many of the services needed by homeless people.

“Emergency shelters are an important way station on the way to stable housing,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said talks about a regional center gathered steam last summer, gaining support from social service organizations and government officials.

“It shows momentum in the community to care for people who are not sheltered,” Wilkerson said.

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