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OHRA winter shelter opens Nov. 1

The emergency winter shelter hosted by Options for Helping Residents of Ashland is scheduled to open Sunday in Calvin Hall at First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, with new COVID-19 safety precautions in place.

Anyone seeking a bed must register at the OHRA Community Resource Center as capacity will be limited to 45 people. The shelter will be open from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m.

“This is not a drop-in shelter, rather it is a place for 45 individuals to have a safe, warm place to sleep every night for five months,” said Cass Sinclair, senior director of OHRA programs and services.

Registered people will have access to the same bed nightly, meals provided by Peace House and faith-based organizations, and support from OHRA case workers to seek permanent housing. Last year, 28 people transitioned from crisis to stability, according to Sinclair.

Others, including some clients facing mental health or substance abuse disorders, opted to use the shelter without working on permanent housing or were unable to follow through with the required steps, she said. It can take three years to move up the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher priority list — a lack of affordable housing is a case worker’s biggest challenge.

Rather than “first come, first served,” the registration process for the winter season assesses who within the homeless population faces the highest risk and requires priority space in the limited-capacity shelter. OHRA uses a risk-scoring tool approved by HUD. Assessments may be completed Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the resource center, 611 Siskiyou Blvd., Unit No. 4.

Five caseworkers, including Spanish-speaking, are available during the day, and two caseworkers, a shelter director, additional hired staff and fire watch staff are assigned to the shelter in the evening.

Formerly located at 2082 E. Main St., the shelter moved to a larger facility to accommodate coronavirus-related spacing requirements and offers space for volunteers to prepare evening meals.

In early October, OHRA received more than $170,000 from the city of Ashland’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Community Development Block Grant to operate the emergency shelter in line with safety protocols, which pushed the organization’s annual budget far beyond the norm.

“Costs of shelter operations have increased greatly due to spacing, separation and sanitizing precautions we are taking because of COVID,” Sinclair said. “We have the additional expense of paying overnight staff, as most of our volunteers are at ‘at risk’ ages, and we believe they should stay home and safe during this pandemic.”

The shelter is open for adults, while youth will be referred to the Maslow Project for emergency housing assistance.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Cass Sinclair
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Cass Sinclair sets up for the winter shelter opening Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland.