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Homeless center to start next summer

Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford offers shelter from the cold . Mail Tribune file photo

Medford City Council is on track to award a $2 million contract to S&B James Construction to create a centralized, one-stop center for homeless services.

At its Thursday night meeting, the council unanimously approved an exemption from competitive bidding because of the tight timeline to complete construction by July 1, 2022, a requirement of a $2.5 million Oregon grant.

The building contract with S&B James of White City is scheduled to be voted on at the council’s Nov. 18 business meeting.

The city previously bought the buildings at 685 and 691 Market St.for $1.9 million plus closing costs.

Located just off Biddle Road, the buildings are next door to the Oregon Department of Human Services Self Sufficiency Program and about a block from La Clinica.

Rogue Retreat, which operates a number of homeless shelters in Medford, would run the navigation center at the 16,365-square-foot building at 685 Market St. That building would be connected to another 7,500-square-foot building at 691 Market St.

Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, said the goal is to provide a stable environment to help homeless people stay off the street.

“We’re going to get them the support and the services they need,” McComas said.

Under the current plan, the 685 Market St. building would be carved up into a 7,500-square-foot sleeping quarters, 4,857-square-foot office spaces, 2,488-square-foot confidential meeting spaces, and 1,520 square feet for bathrooms, a kitchen and storage.

Some of the big improvements to the building will include a new heating and air-conditioning system and a door that will connect the two buildings.

The 691 Market St. building would house a family shelter, a mental health stabilization area and an isolation area for COVID-19 cases.

Other money for the navigation center includes $600,000 from the city’s general fund and $1.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The exemption from competitive bidding was necessary because the bidding process could take three months or longer, which would make it difficult to complete the project by July 2022.

Councilors also cited the ongoing emergency from the 2020 Almeda fire, which severely impacted the amount of affordable housing in the valley.

Rogue Retreat plans to move its 64-bed Kelly Shelter into the navigation center.

“When we move, we anticipate that will increase to another 40 beds or so,” McComas said.

The existing Kelly Shelter, owned by ACCESS, will be turned into a severe weather shelter.

To operate the existing Kelly Shelter, it costs $40 to $50 a day per person, which includes 24-hour staffing.

At the urban campground, also run by Rogue Retreat, it costs about $30 a night per person.

By comparison, McComas said the jail runs about $115 a day per inmate.

McComas said he had some reservations at first about operating a one-stop shop for homeless people.

He said the first year of operations at the Kelly Shelter created a chaotic situation because people lined up outside the building on a first-come, first-served basis.

“You can’t have a line-up process,” he said. “The neighborhood hates it.”

Instead, people looking for a place to stay the night have to sign up at another location run by Rogue Retreat and are placed on a waiting list. As a result of this operational change, most people aren’t even aware of the existence of the Kelly Shelter.

“You don’t see people milling around or doing drugs,” McComas said.

He said he envisions a similar type of operation at the navigation center, where people can go to Rogue Retreat’s offices off East Main Street to sign in.

“The navigation center can still be a one-stop shop for the people who are inside the building,” he said.

To make sure the navigation center has fewer operational bugs, McComas said, the organization is seeking a request for proposals from a consultant to ensure the right procedures are in place.

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