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Ashland opens emergency warming shelter

A severe winter storm spurred the opening of an emergency homeless shelter Tuesday and Friday nights in a downstairs room of the Ashland library, and Wednesday and Thursday nights at Bellview Grange on Tolman Creek Road.

The annual Thanksgiving Peace Meal, slated for Pioneer Hall on Winburn Way, has been moved to the Grange, from 2 to 4 p.m., after which the Grange will shift into an emergency shelter.

The move is necessary because Pioneer Hall has roof issues and shouldn’t be used when snow is expected, said Jason Houck of Southern Oregon Jobs With Justice, which is overseeing the emergency shelter.

The National Weather Services called for 6 to 12 inches of snow above 2,500 feet until 4 p.m. Wednesday, with highs in the mid-30s and lows in the high teens Wednesday and Thursday.

The regular homeless shelter on East Main Street remains open daily, and houses 40 people who are vetted by Ashland Resource Center. The emergency shelters open at 7 p.m. and can handle about 100 people, he says. Guests at the emergency shelter are not required to be vetted.

“It’s a low barrier in emergency shelters right now. They can walk in,” says Houck, “but it’s behavior-based. They have to be able to keep it together. Our great team of volunteers will be making sure it’s a safe space.”

Houck notes, “This storm has moved so quickly that we’ve had to scramble for space.”

Usually, social help agencies reach out to churches for space, but because of the four-day holiday weekend, they are booked up, he says, as is the Ashland Historic Armory, which is holding a giant holiday craft fair.

“It’s the perfect storm for us,” he notes, “but everyone has the same goal, a safe space for everyone, every day of the week.” The library has never been called into service as an emergency shelter and, says Houck, “we are honored and humbled.”

It’s up to City Administrator Kelly Madding, consulting with social help agencies, including Options for Helping Residents of Ashland and Ashland Resource Center, to decide when an emergency warming shelter needs to be set up. It usually happens when overnight temps go below 20 degrees.

Guests should bring their own pads and sleeping bags, Houck adds, as they only can offer a few blankets. In the morning, Houck says, they will provide a “spartan breakfast” of oatmeal.

Houck notes they have no shelter planned for Saturday, but long-range forecasts say normal, above-freezing weather should take hold that day.

Pioneer Hall, an aging log building, sits next to the Ashland Community Center, which the city has ruled off-limits because of structural problems. Houck says Pioneer Hall “has its own structural problems, including the issue that if snow is on the roof, it’s a threat to people. Its chimney is also an issue, he said, and repairs are expected soon.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford offers shelter from the cold to homeless people on Monday. file photo