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Ashland council approves funding for shelter community meals

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Ashland City Council approved funding Tuesday for regular meal services at the Ashland Shelter Community, 2082 E. Main St.

City staff received a request from Peace House and Rogue Retreat to assist with the provision of meals for the shelter, which has thus far sourced hot meals three days a week from volunteer church groups, said Linda Reid, housing program manager.

Phil Johncock, consultant with Rogue Retreat, thanked Ashland United Church of Christ, First Presbyterian Church and Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for stepping up.

With the funding approved Tuesday, Peace House plans to provide meals for up to 49 individuals four days a week until March 31 — in addition to the community meals program — for $47,040 of community development block grant CARES Act funding, Reid said. A motion to approve the sum passed the council unanimously.

“What we know is that people need their immediate needs taken care of before they can address the longer-term drivers of what’s led them to where they’ve gotten in their life, and this is a critically important piece: Making sure that people have food,” Councilor Tonya Graham said. “We’re still right in the middle of the pandemic, and this feels like an appropriate way to invest some of that funding.”

Out of “faith and noblesse oblige,” Peace House began serving meals at the Ashland Community Shelter Dec. 8, said Executive Director Elizabeth Hallett, emphasizing a need for funding to continue the program into the new year.

“It has been incredibly heartening to see people dropping off food and doing the best they can, and this will formalize that process,” Mayor Julie Akins said in support of the allocation.

Ashland police make referrals to the Ashland Shelter Community using the same system as Medford’s Rogue Retreat shelter site, according to police Chief Tighe O’Meara. Officers are well-suited to knowing who is most in need and who is a local unhoused resident versus a traveler, he said.

Akins said she recently witnessed a police officer dropping someone off at the shelter, “making sure to help that person walk through the system,” and Sheriff Nathan Sickler signed up to bring toys for children — all part of a valley-wide effort to care for this shelter population, she said.

“Police are actually finding ways to get people over to the shelter as a way of taking care of them as opposed to just arresting them,” Hallett said, highlighting Rogue Retreat staff for maintaining interactions with officers.

“What we’re all involved with here with Rogue Retreat and the OHRA shelter models is a progressive and more compassionate, more creative way of taking care of human beings and helping them to restore themselves when they’ve become homeless or they have health issues,” Hallett said.

The city also opened an emergency inclement weather shelter last week. The shelter closed Monday and will reopen Thursday at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Rd., at 7 p.m., until Dec. 27. The next day, the shelter will move back to The Grove at 1195 E. Main St., according to interim City Manager Gary Milliman.

Guests must bring their own gear to the “no-frills” shelter, masks are provided, and pets and children are welcome, he said.

“The cadre of volunteers who have come forward to assist in this matter are to be commended,” Milliman said. “Many of them have worked with sheltering before in our community and are doing a great job, and are really a Christmas gift to the community.”

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.