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Medford homeless campground gets kudos

A temporary homeless campground in Medford has passed its first two weeks with flying colors, with the side benefit of surprisingly fewer vagrancy problems in the downtown.

“We have had no behavioral issues and no crimes,” said Medford police Chief Scott Clauson.

Police are hoping to reduce the number of illegal homeless camps along Bear Creek Greenway, which has had more than 80 fires since March as well as generating significant trash and vagrancy issues.

Since the campground opened, police have noticed fewer homeless problems in Hawthorne and Alba parks in the downtown area, Clauson said.

Businesses located near the campground just north of Crater Lake Ford on Biddle Road have reported no issues since it opened July 27, he said.

Five people have already transitioned from the temporary campground to a shelter, and one homeless man was able to get a job delivering pizzas.

The campground has 25 tents and it immediately filled up with people who had been camping along the Bear Creek Greenway and other locations in the city.

Just a short distance from the campground, on the west side of Bear Creek, there are a number of illegal campsites that have been allowed because of Gov. Kate Brown’s shelter-in-place order during the pandemic.

Clauson said the police department’s Livability Team, which patrols the greenway and downtown, is not forcing anyone to move from these illegal campsites.

He credited the success of the campground to the local nonprofit Rogue Retreat, which operates the year-round Kelly Shelter in downtown and Hope Village, a collection of tiny houses on McAndrews Road.

Rogue Retreat had a difficult time finding a location for Hope Village because of concerns expressed by local businesses. Rogue Retreat had a number of problems with the Kelly Shelter when it first opened three years ago.

Likewise the campground proposal received protests from nearby Cascade Christian High School, which has had issues with transients in the past.

Clauson said he hasn’t heard of any reports of the campground affecting the school.

He said he’d like to see at least 30 days of operations before asking Medford City Council to extend the time frame for the campground, which runs out Sept. 30. If it proves successful, the campground could open the door to other options to deal with homelessness in Medford.

“There are some other ideas on the table,” he said.

One of those is a hotel for the homeless, something that exists in Portland.

“It’s fairly easy to get these things started,” he said. “The problem is the ongoing monthly expense.”

The campground is being supported by a number of local agencies and organizations, including Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler.

The cost to operate the campground, managed by Rogue Retreat, is about $30,000 a month. A COVID-19 relief grant has helped pay for the campground.

Matthew Vorderstrasse, development director for Rogue Retreat, said there have been relatively few problems with the campground, other than a few operational glitches.

He said he hopes the campground sets an example for the community to show that these kinds of operations can be successful.

“Hopefully the community loses its fear,” he said.

Vorderstrasse said Rogue Retreat would like to continue the campground and possibly expand it if it proves successful over the next month.

In the long-term, he said, three or four campgrounds similar to this one, extending from Ashland to Medford, would be needed to make a significant dent in the homelessness problem in the valley.

But the cost to run these types of facilities is significant, he said.

Two full-time employees have to present at all times to operate the campground.

While Rogue Retreat would help other communities establish a campground or other facility, he said it would require support from local cities, businesses and residents.

“We definitely want to be sensitive to the NIMBY (not in my backyard) concerns,” he said.

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

Courtesy photoMedford’s temporary urban campground has 25 tents and it immediately filled up with people who had been camping along the Bear Creek Greenway and other locations in the city.