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Life in Medford's new urban campground

Medford’s temporary campground for homeless people will open to occupants Monday, July 27, with its permission from the City of Medford expiring Sept. 30. Over the next two months, 25 tent sites will be available to host up to about 50 people at a time.

At the fenced-in dirt lot in northeast Medford, campers will have access to four portable bathrooms and two hand-washing stations that can each serve two people at once. With all the weeds now cleared away, the only plants inside will be the nine thin birch trees, on loan from a local nursery, which will be interspersed among the three picnic benches inside the lot. Canopies and other fabric awnings donated by Lowes will help provide shade during the hottest parts of the day.

Friday morning, Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler, Medford Police Chief Scott Clauson, city officials including City Council President Kevin Stine and Kelly Madding, deputy city administrator, and nonprofit employees from Rogue Retreat, OnTrack and the Addictions Recovery Center all gathered at the site, explaining the protocols of the camp to local reporters.

“I’m really excited about this, and really scared,” said Chad McComas, director of Rogue Retreat. “We’re trying to put every safeguard we can in to make sure this is successful.”

Every evening at 10 p.m., McComas said, the gate to the camp will be locked to deter intruders and minimize threat of theft. The gate will be unlocked every morning.

Each day, staff from Rogue Retreat will be on site to work with campers. Addictions Recovery Center and OnTrack staff will alternate days to provide addiction treatment services. St. Vincent de Paul will provide food, off-site showers and laundry services. Jackson County will provide mental health supports and the Gospel Mission will also contribute counseling and food services.

“It kind of consolidates all those services,” said Caryn Mclane, community response supervisor for the Addictions Recovery Center. She’s been out with the law enforcement Livability Team on several visits to check in with people along the Greenway over the last few months, and said those connections have helped steer new clients toward the nonprofit’s services.

Increased isolation and other stressors during the pandemic have also led to relapses back into addictions, she said.

“It’s hard for people,” she said.

Clauson said that Medford police officers on the Livability Team have completed 12 individual referrals for people to transition to the camp, which will be passed to Rogue Retreat for screening starting Monday. Officers and sheriff’s deputies on the Livability team will make all of the referrals throughout the two months that the camp will be in operation.

Sickler said the goal isn’t to turn the space into a long-term solution, but he hopes to see people take advantage of the services offered in the camp while it is in place.

Increased enforcement of camping violations during that time, he said, “is going to be done in a pretty measured, compassionate way.”

A tour of the COVID-19 temporary homeless campground is given off Biddle Road on Friday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune