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OHRA's Sinclair relishes partnerships

Cass Sinclair hasn’t had a lot of time to reflect on her recent promotion at Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, which is fine by her. She’d much rather talk about what OHRA has done lately to help Ashlanders in need.

And since that segment of the population — those at or below the poverty line — is growing by the day due to COVID-19 restrictions, Sinclair is way too busy helping people climb out of their economic hole to spend more than a few minutes talking about her new role as senior director of program services.

“This is my passion and I feel grateful to be able to do the work that I do,” said Sinclair, who had served as OHRA’s winter shelter director before her promotion about two weeks ago. “We are making a difference in people’s lives.”

“This will enable us to integrate our programs better, see the gaps and provide consistent programming, policies, processes and procedures across the board,” OHRA Executive Director Michelle Arellano said in a news release issued Wednesday. “Cass has done an outstanding job at the shelter. The way she has stepped up to the added demands of the pandemic, implementing extra procedures and processes to ensure the safety of our guests, is admirable. She is also reaching out to our partner agencies to find creative ways to support our most vulnerable population during these trying times.”

Sinclair’s expertise has been especially in demand in recent weeks as a series of coronavirus-related restrictions in Oregon have led to a spike in unemployment claims. During the week starting March 22, the Oregon Employment Department received 92,700 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits, a 21% increase from the previous record set only a week prior.

All those lost jobs have created more work for OHRA, which is handling 40 to 50 cases a day now, an increase of about 30 cases a day, Sinclair estimates.

In order to handle the increased caseload, OHRA has leaned on partnerships with state Rep. Pam Marsh, the city of Ashland and several local organizations, such as Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice, that help the most vulnerable. The result has been a wide range of offerings.

Henry’s Laundromat in the Ashland Shopping Center is offering free loads of laundry, a local truck stop has offered up its showers to those who get a referral from OHRA’s resource center, and a few local motels have offered rooms at “a very reduced rate” so that 13 of OHRA’s “most vulnerable” clients, including two Thursday night, could out of the cold for a few weeks.

Sinclair had high praise for Marsh, Ashland City Administrator Kelly Madding and the city of Ashland for stepping up.

“Even prior to state recommendations and everything, (Madding) and Pam Marsh really wanted to get in front of this conversation of how we were going to serve people on the brink of homelessness and our underserved population in Ashland,” Sinclair said. “So we have been meeting for two weeks, and starting this past Monday, OHRA is providing the van and the driver and we’re working with Peace House and Jobs for Justice, seven days a week delivering up to 75 meals to people who are experiencing homelessness.”

Those meals are being delivered to six locations to keep the groups at each site small and encourage social distancing. Also, the city has opened 30 parking spots throughout town where people can “car camp.” The stations are strategically located and include access to bathrooms and hand-washing stations. Two-week parking permits are available at OHRA’s resource center (611 Siskiyou Blvd.).

Prior to joining OHRA, Sinclair was a community outreach educator and syringe exchange program coordinator at the Jackson County Public Health Department. She has also worked for the American Cancer Society, AstraZeneca Pharmaceutical Company and Southern Oregon University. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration from SOU.

Donations to OHRA, she said, are always welcome, now perhaps more than ever.

“Given the fact that a lot of people in town who work in the service industry or work for some of the places that had to close down, this is a new population of people who haven’t had to negotiate the system before or haven’t had to overcome these kinds of barriers,” Sinclair said. “So we are anticipating that we are going to see (more people), and we are just trying to prepare.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Cass Sinclair