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Library offers special morning hours for homeless people

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Luke Vranna, a senior nursing student with Oregon Health & Science University, prepares a foot soak Wednesday for a homeless man at the Medford library.
Patrons who lack housing drop in for coffee, services

Lamont sat in a chair in the morning sunshine, sipping a cup of coffee and eating a pastry outside the entrance to the Medford library.

A table nearby was loaded with coffee, pastries, bananas, apples, applesauce and other breakfast food. Chairs set up outside gave people a place to eat and chat.

Lamont is searching for housing, but in the meantime he’s grateful for special morning hours at the Medford library, where homeless patrons can get coffee, breakfast, hygiene kits, time to clean up in the public bathrooms, foot soaks in the lobby, socks and gear to stay warm at night.

The Morning Hours program is offered from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave.

It’s staffed by Jackson County Library Services resource specialists and a social worker, plus Oregon Health & Science University nursing students studying at Southern Oregon University. A La Clinica representative can help people sign up for physical, mental and dental health care benefits through the Oregon Health Plan.

“I would like to thank God for having them here,” Lamont said. “They are showing they really do care. They didn’t have to do this. They’re doing this out of the goodness of their heart.”

To respect their privacy, the Mail Tribune is using only the first names of people who visited the library for services Wednesday morning.

Lamont said he comes to the library about three times a week during regular hours to charge his phone and rest.

“When I’m tired and beat down, I come in and sit down. It’s a great staff. I like the staff,” he said.

JCLS resource specialist Leigh Madsen normally spends two days a week circulating through the Medford library and two days a week at the Ashland library, aiding patrons and providing unarmed security.

The special Wednesday morning hours at the Medford branch have helped him get to know patrons in need even better.

“I know about half of them by name and more by face. You get to know them in a different way. Usually you don’t have time to sit down and have a cup of coffee in the library,” he said.

Madsen arrives at the Medford library at 7 a.m. Wednesdays to make coffee and set out food at the entrance next to the back parking lot.

“I try to serve everyone a cup personally. Most of the people here don’t get served. I want to treat them as they deserve to be treated,” he said.

Although they remain mostly out of sight, there are about 100 people without homes who stay within three or four blocks of the library in downtown Medford, Madsen estimated.

JCLS launched the Morning Hours program in January and serves almost 30 people each Wednesday. It received a grant from AllCare Health to buy supplies, including a 45-cup coffee maker, coffee, reusable water bottles and 2,500 hygiene kits with soap, razors, shaving cream, toothpaste, toothbrushes, antibacterial wipes and KN-95 face masks.

“The program came from recognizing that people who live unhoused don’t have good access to bathrooms. Like everyone else, they want to get cleaned up,” said Claudine Taillac, JCLS assistant director of public services.

Bathing in the library’s public bathrooms is prohibited during regular hours, she noted.

“Allowing people in before we open lets them have the privacy and safety they need and deserve to use the bathrooms and get cleaned up so that doesn’t happen while we’re open,” Taillac said.

She said the unhoused patrons who visit the library Wednesday mornings take pride in the Morning Hours program. During the most recent one, they asked for a broom so they could tidy up the entrance area to the library.

“They made it look nice and ready for people to come in,” Taillac said. “We’re really focused on creating a sense of community. When people feel welcomed, they have more buy-in to create a harmonious environment.”

Inside the library lobby, the refreshing scent of peppermint and lavender filled the air. Nursing students bathed patrons’ feet in small tubs, smoothed on essential oils and lotion, then slipped on fresh new socks.

The foot baths are part of a larger effort by OHSU nursing students to provide health care to people who are unsheltered, said Luke Vranna, a senior nursing student.

“The idea is to provide a space to connect to another human being,” he said. “People who are unhoused experience a lot of time on their feet. Taking a minute to soak them and get a new pair of socks can help maintain the health of their feet.”

Vranna said the nursing students let the patrons steer the conversations.

“It really is just to build a space for people to feel comfortable as humans. They can bring up other health needs if they want. It’s a person-led conversation. In hospitals and doctors’ offices, it’s usually a provider-led conversation,” he said.

Vranna said the foot care service helps nursing students get to know people from all walks of life. As in other areas of society, he said, there is bias in the health care industry against homeless people. In addition to helping at the library, nursing students go out in other parts of the community to provide health care for people without housing.

“It’s a wonderful way for us to connect with others, because we’re friends with a lot of the people sleeping on the streets. It’s a huge joy for us,” he said.

Seamus, who lacks housing, was at the library getting his feet bathed. He got a new pair of socks plus HotHands hand-warming pouches that create heat through a chemical reaction.

Seamus said he is a high-functioning autistic person with dyslexia who is in recovery from addiction.

“A lot of people are ‘hobo-phobic.’ They have a fear of unhoused people,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize they are victims of crime, domestic violence and rape.”

Seamus said the library staff members, nurses, La Clinica representatives and mental health workers who visit the library are helpful and make sure people feel welcome.

“It’s hard for me to find a place where I can feel comfortable,” he said. “At the library, I feel comfortable.”

JCLS employs a full-time social worker and five resource specialists to help child, teen and adult patrons get referrals and information on housing, food, mental and physical health care, substance use disorders and treatment, jobs, child care and more. For more information, see jcls.org/services/social-services/.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.