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Ashland homeless find temporary shelter

The 36 people evicted when virus restrictions forced closure of the Ashland winter homeless shelter — many of them with high-risk health issues — have found warm homes with good social distancing in area motels and guest rentals, paid for by the city of Ashland, ACCESS and United Way at $50 a night.

This arrangement normally might have been difficult, says Linda Reppond, owner of Carlisle Gardens on East Main Street, but room cancellations poured in when the COVID-19 virus shuttered restaurants and theaters in mid-March, leaving most rooms idle.

She took in 11 people, with priority to medically fragile guests, including seniors and some with dementia and stage 4 cancer, says Reppond.

They get dinner delivered from Peace House’s Uncle Food’s Diner and are “incredibly grateful,” said Reppond, a member of the city’s Housing & Human Services Commission and youth minister with the Center for Spiritual Living.

It’s both humanitarian and financially practical, notes Reppond, adding, “I honestly feel it’s a better use of the property. The town is empty, and it’s more a service to the world to have it used by those who really need it, helping them survive this pandemic.

“It kinda saved my business. I get accolades on Facebook, but it was a tiny bit self-serving. The reality is the rooms would be sitting there empty. These folks are no problem. They come out and thank me, keep social distance and ask for tools to garden the place. Normally, they had to be out of the shelter, on the street from 7 [a.m.] to 7 [p.m.], and now they’re taking lots of time to rest and heal.”

With OHRA (Options for Helping Residents of Ashland) administering the flash program, United Way and the city of Ashland funded the first two weeks, and ACCESS paid for April, opening up 10 more rooms at Ashland Hills Hotel and some at Rodeway Inn.

The group at Carlisle has “gotten grounded as a happy tribe,” working together on gardening and health safety, and getting creative with donated art supplies and books, says guest and group overseer Tam Masdon, who was also evicted from the city shelter.

“There were some breakdowns (among guests) at first, getting dumped on the street, but members of the City Council advocated for us and the city funded us,” says Masdon. “How beautiful it is when we as humans treat other people as humans and equals and witness hearts opening and emotions healing.

“I’m committed to a new world. ... This is a dream come true, the dream of a world that works for everyone. Ashland has a powerful opportunity to take humanity to the next level and show what community looks like as one big, happy family.”

OHRA is in talks with other funders and lodging owners to “open up another block of rooms, as many as we can,” says OHRA Executive Director Michelle Arellano. “Everyone has been absolutely wonderful, and we’re building strong relations. It’s so much safer for the homeless in an individual room, not a large area of a shelter.”

Meals are cooked in their own licensed kitchens by Peace House, Jason and Vanessa Houck of Jobs With Justice, and the Monday Night Food Group of Unitarian-Universalist Church, all in Ashland.

The city has approved 30 parking spots, located near restrooms, for homeless people who are living in their vehicles, says Arellano.

Using the offices of Ashland Resource Center, next to Safeway, OHRA provides access to the social help network, showers, laundry, bus passes, tents, an address for mail (necessary for food stamps) and access to Wi-Fi, vital for email and texting while seeking work and connecting with family, says Arellano. They also help with taxes and filing for unemployment insurance, which is much on the increase.

Wi-Fi used to be available at libraries, but they closed for the duration. Showers and laundry used to be available during Uncle Food’s Tuesday meals, but because of the difficulty of keeping the small space sterile, alternatives had to be found.

COVID-19 has triggered “a whole new set of people who have become homeless,” says Cass Sinclair, OHRA senior director of program services.

“We’re also seeing more travelers and people from Medford. Because of distancing and the small space, we’re doing intake on stairs and in the parking lot, wearing masks and gloves now. Before this, we’d see 20 to 50 people a day. Now it’s 40 to 50, with 65 meals a day. It’s still increasing.”

“People are traumatized, scared, looking for jobs,” says Sinclair. “All the (former) shelter guests did bottle and can collection and would make $15 to $60 a day, depending on if it’s recycling day. They could buy food. But markets stopped taking bottles because of the virus. You just really see how difficult it is, no Wi-Fi, no library, no phone to call where they need to call. There are a lot of barriers.”

Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsTam Masdon (raised hand) spends time with friends at Carlisle Gardens on East Main Street.