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More shelters on the way

A second homeless village is in the works for Medford, and a campsite that would serve as an emergency shelter also is on the drawing board.

These efforts are part of years of effort by local homeless advocates, hoping to get people off the streets and to minimize the negative impacts on the community, particularly in the downtown and along the Greenway.

“More will be revealed as we move forward with those plans — a lot of big things for 2020,” said Matthew Vorderstrasse, development director for the nonprofit Rogue Retreat, which runs various homeless programs in Southern Oregon.

Also in the works is a facility that would care for homeless women who have medical issues.

Rogue Retreat opened a permanent year-round, 54-bed facility known as Kelly Shelter in downtown Medford a month ago. Local nonprofit ACCESS Inc. invested $1.2 million to buy the building on Sixth Street and remodel it, and Rogue Retreat operates the round-the-clock emergency shelter for another $1 million a year, Vorderstrasse said.

In addition, Rogue Retreat built Hope Village, a collection of 30 tiny houses for the homeless, in west Medford. Vorderstrasse said his organization is working with the city of Medford to add another four tiny houses in the near future. He said a similarly sized village with tiny houses is being eyed in another part of Medford. Many homeless who find themselves in the Kelly Shelter graduate to Hope Village as they get treatment for mental and physical ailments as well as drug addiction.

Other local groups also house the homeless, including the Medford Gospel Mission and Hearts with a Mission Youth Shelter. Ashland also has opened a winter shelter on East Main Street and houses 40 people who are vetted by Ashland Resource Center. Still other organizations provide food and showers, such as The Salvation Army.

Jackson County Continuum of Care, an organization that pools county resources to deal with homelessness, did a count on Jan. 22 and found 712 homeless people in the county, a slight drop from 2018 when it was 732.

Most of the homeless were male, and most were identified as white and non-Hispanic.

Some of the main reasons for becoming homeless included job loss, family breakdowns, financial hardship, evictions, divorce, drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, can’t afford rent, abuse, or death in the family

Of those counted, 74% were in Medford and 12% were in Ashland. Medford has many of the social service organizations in Jackson County.

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department requires a homeless census every two years, but Continuum of Care does it every year to measure local progress.

Volunteers go to homeless camps along the Greenway, to social service organizations and other areas to make contact with as many people as possible.

While organizations chip away at the homelessness problem in the county, Vorderstrasse said the local organizations can only do so much to deal with homelessness, a problem that affects many cities throughout the U.S.

“The big key to eliminate homelessness is to build 4,000 to 5,000 affordable housing units,” said Vorderstrasse.

Many homeless people have low-paying jobs and can’t afford rent, and some live out of their vehicles, which is one reason why organizations are considering a campsite to offer a more secure place to bed down for the night.

Rogue Retreat also is branching out into Josephine County.

Rogue Retreat hopes to open another 15-unit village in Grants Pass in 2020. About $300,000 has been raised so far to create the new village.

Hope Village has helped 60% of its residents graduate into more permanent housing, jobs or treatment.

Residents pay $75 a month for the first three months to stay at Hope Village, and 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.

To help pay for the facility, from local organizations, businesses and local government have donated $507,873 to date to the Kelly Shelter.

The shelter is a “low-barrier” facility, which allows those struggling through addictions to stay as long as they don’t consume drugs or alcohol on the premises. The residents also are expected to follow all the rules and keep their areas clean.

Robert Chamberlain, a 48-year-old who has been homeless for 12 years after a divorce and addiction problems, said the Kelly Shelter has helped him while he’s taking medicine for hepatitis.

“I wish Medford had a bigger shelter,” Chamberlain said.

He sleeps on the bottom bunk and says its a far cry from sleeping on the Greenway close to Table Rock Road.

“This place is pretty good to me,” he said.

Chamberlain has his own views on ways to ease the homelessness in the Valley.

“The biggest problem is the drug issue and the jail,” he said, noting the jail is woefully inadequate to house inmates.

“It’s like shooting a BB gun to stop a freight train,” he said.

Chamberlain said he’s struggled with addiction and criminal behavior over the years. He said he’s got a record for identity theft and is a recovering meth addict, who has been sober for nine months

The Kelly Shelter is locked down from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. everyday, when residents should remain inside the building.

Margarita Moody, manager of the shelter, said it takes a while for a homeless person to get used to living inside after being on the street for a while.

“It’s a big relief,” she said.

Even though the shelter has a kitchen, it’s not commercial size that allows the preparation of dinner and breakfast for residents, though snacks can be made there.

“We’re struggling to get enough donors who bring the meals here, Moody said.

Local churches with commercial kitchens have pitched in to provide the meals.

“We’re hoping to get a commitment to receive one meal a month from different organizations,” Moody said.

Medford police Chief Scott Clauson said the Kelly Shelter has been doing well since it opened, and he threw his support behind the proposed efforts Rogue Retreat has planned in the future.

“I’m a little biased toward anything they do,” he said. “It will be successful.”

He said if a new or unknown organization approached the city with plans for a new shelter he’d have a lot of questions.

But Rogue Retreat, which got off to a rough start with the first incarnation of the Kelly Shelter, learned from its mistakes.

“They hold people accountable, and that’s what I like,” he said.

Clauson said Rogue Retreat not only houses the homeless but gets them the case management to deal with their addiction, mental health or behavioral issues.

Rogue Retreat also started Clean Sweep, a program where homeless people clean up the streets in downtown Medford.

The program, a partnership between the city of Medford and Rogue Retreat, began as a means to show the community that homeless people are helping deal with the garbage and litter issue downtown. Clean Sweep has evolved as a way to help homeless community members develop work skills, earn a job reference and receive $10 gift cards each day they work.

Rogue Retreat has other housing available for the homeless who are further along on the road to recovery, including housing for women recovering from addiction.

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

Jamie LuschAbandoned homeless camps are near Railroad Park in Medford.
Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford offers shelter from the cold to homeless people on Monday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune