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New home eyed for homeless camp

Courtesy photoMedford officials have zeroed in on an undisclosed property to relocate the urban campground, which is currently just off Biddle Road in the north part of the city.

An urban campground for the homeless is about to pitch its tent in a new location.

Medford officials have zeroed in on an undisclosed property to relocate the campground, which is currently just off Biddle Road in the north part of the city.

The new location hasn’t been disclosed yet because of ongoing negotiations, but the location looks promising.

“It seems like a really good site,” said Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland.

Golden, who toured the new property, secured $1 million during the last legislative session to purchase a permanent location for the urban campground, which has helped relocate many homeless people from the Bear Creek Greenway.

The city had hoped to purchase the existing property off Biddle Road.

“The owner didn’t want to sell,” Golden said.

Rogue Retreat, the operator of the urban campground, has faced opposition to other homeless shelters in the past, and officials may still face opposition to the new location once it’s disclosed.

“I’m not sure we are going to avoid that again,” said Golden.

Rogue Retreat has a contract with the existing urban campground property that allows it to operate until December.

Medford City Council earlier this year authorized an expansion from 75 campsites to 150.

Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, said his organization had wanted to develop more campsites near the old meat packing plant, a location that has electricity and would allow some campsites to have heat in the winter.

McComas said it’s been a struggle finding the right property to relocate because it’s a competitive market for land, particularly after the Almeda fire last year.

“We’re diligently trying to find a proper location for a permanent campground,” he said.

Once the property is purchased, the city could lease it back to Rogue Retreat, or donate the property to the organization.

He said he’s not sure how soon a deal will be reached for the property, or when it would become operational.

“Even if we’re to buy land tomorrow it would take a while to prepare the site,” he said.

Medford police and other local officials have had relatively few problems with the existing campsite and have noticed a reduction in camping along the Greenway.

The current property is seven acres, and McComas said he would like to have at least five acres at the new property.

“We’re looking at consolidating some of our services there,” he said.

Rogue Retreat operates the Kelly Shelter in downtown Medford, Hope Village on McAndrews Avenue and is also looking for a location for Heart Village, a new campsite designed to treat homeless people struggling with drug addiction.

McComas said he would potentially like to relocate Hope Village to the new urban campground property. Part of the property that houses Hope Village is leased from the city. Long-term plans call for widening Columbus Avenue, requiring the city to use a good chunk of the leased land.

By consolidating Hope Village and the urban campground onto one property, operational costs could be reduced.

McComas describes his vision for the new property as “campground 2.0.”

The original concept for the campground was to provide an entry-level site that would take those who come off the Greenway and house them in tents.

“It gives them the chance to take a breath and be a part of the community,” he said.

The campground 2.0 would offer pallet shelters, which are tiny shed-like structures, as well as rigid tents that could be heated and have solar panels.

McComas said the entry-level campground would have 50 campsites and the 2.0 campground would have up to 85.

While Rogue Retreat has made strides getting the homeless into shelters, McComas said he’s noticed more seniors who have become homeless and are looking for help.

He said the money from the state will go a long way to helping deal with homelessness in Medford.

“It’s a nice gift by Jeff Golden,” McComas said. “It’s a great thing.”

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.