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Medford Greenway campers get help to stay put

Armed with rations, medical supplies and a sense of purpose, a crew of eight focused on social distancing rallied Friday in a small dirt parking area at the north end of the Bear Creek Greenway, off Dean Creek Road.

Day one of Jackson County’s program to provide meals and medical care for homeless people living along the Greenway went off without a hitch.

Some 80 meal bags were handed out, and Greenway campers were provided with information about available resources and medical care.

The crew, composed of workers from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, ACCESS, Mercy Flights and Compassion Highway Project, was led by sheriff’s Deputy Noah Strohmeyer.

Strohmeyer said he drove his usual patrol route along the Greenway earlier in the week to pass out flyers about the program and about COVID-19. The goal was to provide homeless people living along the Greenway with access to food and medical care. Like most local residents who are trying to shelter at home, homeless people camping along the Greenway are being asked to shelter in place to help reduce viral spread.

On Friday morning, crew vehicles were loaded with bags of food, medical supplies and other necessities such as dog food and naloxone kits to reverse any opioid overdoses. Nearly as soon as the crew cars pulled onto the path — campers had been directed to walk up to the edge of the Greenway path — a homeless man approached the ACCESS rig and accepted a bag of food in addition to socks and other supplies offered by Compassion Highway Project.

Laura Chimeo, CHP vice president, said it was heartwarming to see such a widespread effort to care for the community’s most vulnerable.

“We are so happy that people can get checked on and, if they need some help, we can get it to them instead of just sitting and worrying about them,” she said.

“We’ve had so many phone calls from people who are just terrified right now. We’re urging them to stay put and avoid spreading it. It feels really good to know that the state really does care about people even though so often it feels like there is always so much red tape. It is really great to see everybody out here.”

Mobile Integrated Health Supervisor Sabrina Ballew was on hand to check on campers and answer questions about symptoms. Ballew applauded the county’s efforts to provide care.

“This is brand new, so we’ll figure it out as we go. I think it’s an awesome thing for them to provide a meal and for basic needs to be met,” she said.

“It’s a phenomenal turnout of support for these members of our community, and we’re happy to be part of providing care.”

Elisa Ibarra, a Medford woman who is homeless, said being made to shelter in place was an ironic change from being constantly evicted from the Greenway.

“They’re usually up our butts, so it’s funny that now they’re like, ‘Stay out there! Don’t check in with your (probation officers), stay where you’re at!’” she said, shaking her head.

“They’re suddenly telling everyone to wash your hands, but seriously we all should be washing our hands anyway. We practice social distancing as the norm already. I usually avoid stores because of how they treat me, not because I’m worried about anything else. It shouldn’t be a special thing for the community to help each other and come together. It should be what they do all the time.”

Strohmeyer acknowledged the irony of encouraging transients to stay on the Greenway during the virus restrictions, whereas much of his time is spent trying to help campers escape homelessness or dealing with the criminal element.

“I hope they’re feeling encouraged to know there’s some help right now, a little bit of hope,” Strohmeyer said. “One person, down toward the creek, said she was really trying to follow the rules and stay in place but it’s kind of hard.

“We don’t want any of our community members to feel like they’re ignored in all this,” Strohmeyer continued. “We’re definitely focusing a lot more on the protect-and-serve side of the job description and not so much the law enforcement side. I’m already down here almost every day with the goal of helping people get off the Greenway, cleaning the Greenway. This is definitely a change of pace, but it’s what’s needed right now for sure.”

Ibarra agreed that the change of pace was refreshing.

“I do feel more helped out or cared for that they can at least bring us some food and make sure we’re OK,” she said.

“Most of us want a hand up, not a hand out. It shouldn’t take a virus to make these kind of changes. They say it takes a village to take care of the whole village.”

Meals are being provided between the Greenway trailhead off Dean Creek Road, beginning at 11 a.m., and the end of the trail in Ashland. Those living along the Greenway are told to dial 211 to reach an outreach worker if a fellow camper is experiencing severe symptoms or difficulty breathing.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJackson County sheriff’s Deputy Noah Strohmeyer helps to feed homeless people Friday along the Bear Creek Greenway in Central Point.