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Housing Now continues push for winter shelter

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ASHLAND — The Housing Now demonstration and encampment returned Wedneday to the intersection of East Main Street and Lithia Way to continue a public demand for immediate winter shelter for homeless people.

Lead organizer Eric Navickas said he is focused on pressuring the city of Ashland to open the Hargadine parking structure for transitional housing accommodation, including for vehicle camping and microshelters.

Long term, the Housing Now group wants the city to enact a tax on houses larger than 2,500 square feet and an income tax on salaries greater than $110,000 per year to generate revenue to fund homeless services, and replace two police officer positions with social service worker positions in the police department budget.

“There’s such a desperate need with these cold months coming on that we need solutions quickly,” Navickas said. “I think the community is strongly behind us — what we need is our city government to step in line with the values of our community.”

The encampment is scheduled to remain in place through Christmas Day.

The city announced Monday that a new option for noncongregate winter shelter will become available through a Pallet shelter pilot project.

Pallet is a “social purpose company” with a mission to improve equitable access to housing and employment in the U.S. by offering stability through “durable, portable and affordable” shelters, according to the company website.

Each shelter includes two cots, a heater, electrical outlets, shelves, a smoke detector and locking door, according to city of Ashland housing program specialist Linda Reid.

The Pallet shelter pilot project was in progress before Housing Now demonstrations in favor of additional winter housing began, Reid said. Results of an application for state funding to expand the pilot program will be returned in mid February.

Without a designated location to organize several Pallet shelters together, the city pursued placement options through faith-based community partners, she said.

Three Pallet shelters purchased with the city’s Community Development Block Grant capital restricted funds were installed Dec. 18 at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and replaced spaces previously set aside for overnight vehicle parking where people could camp, Reid said. The church will provide a portable bathroom and hand-washing station for Pallet shelter occupants.

“The city was looking for ways to offer COVID-safe noncongregate shelter options for the winter, and Pallet shelters were being used for that purpose elsewhere in the state,” Reid said.

Pallet shelters will not become available until temporary power is installed and inspected by safety inspectors in the coming weeks, Reid said. Anyone seeking occupancy in a shelter must register with Options for Helping Residents of Ashland at 541-631-2235. Families with children and single women are priority groups.

Navickas said while the pilot program is a positive initiative, other micro-housing options with fewer built-in amenities, such as the Conestoga Hut, could be built on a larger scale with donated materials for a lower cost than Pallet shelters.

“The city needs to be commended for their efforts in starting to look at the situation and doing a pilot program,” Navickas said. “This is the first time we’ve seen anything move forward on this issue.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

allayana darrow / ashland tidingsThe Housing Now demonstration and encampment returned Wedneday to the intersection of East Main Street and Lithia Way.
allayana darrow / ashland tidingsHousing Now demonstration and encampment returned Wedneday to the intersection of East Main Street and Lithia Way.