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Homeless center expected to be ready by July

Mail Tribune file photoTwo buildings on Market St in Medford are being converted into a homeless resource center.
The 15,576-square-foot building, at 685 Market St. in Medford, could house up to 100 people a night

A $4.45 million homeless navigation center should be completed by July, but the high costs to operate the facility are still being worked out.

The city estimates the annual cost to operate the center, which will have 25 staff members, at $1.63 million, or $45.83 cents for each homeless person every day.

In preparation for the opening, Medford City Council Thursday reviewed a proposed operator’s agreement with Rogue Retreat, an organization that currently houses 550 homeless people each night in Southern Oregon from Grants Pass to Ashland.

As part of the agreement, the city is looking at providing Rogue Retreat with $500,000 over a three-year period to help offset some of the steep operations costs for the navigation center.

The 15,576-square-foot building, at 685 Market St., just off Biddle Road, is undergoing a transformation that will ultimately allow it to accept up to 100 people a night.

Rogue Retreat would move its existing Kelly Shelter into the building, tentatively referred to as the Medford Navigation Center.

The center should be ready by July, but a much-needed commercial kitchen will not be finished until August, so officials are looking at the possibility of a mobile cooking facility to provide three meals a day.

Single men and women as well as couples and families will be accepted at the center.

Families with children will be placed in a separate area in the upstairs of the center. An administrative area will be located in the front of the building, with sleeping quarters in the rear.

Homeless people will have to sign up for entry into the center at another Rogue Retreat administrative building to avoid disturbing surrounding buildings.

The city is investing $4,455,000 from state, federal and local dollars to undertake the remodel.

Kelly Madding, Medford deputy city manager, said the city is exploring purchasing an adjacent property for a community garden and potential additional housing for homeless people.

Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, said his organization currently houses 550 people a night, including at the urban campground, in converted motels and in facilities in Ashland and Grants Pass.

McComas said many local communities reach out to his organization to provide shelter for the growing homeless population.

“Yes, we’re overextended,” he said. “Everybody kind of wants us to do this for free, but we just don’t have consistent funding.”

His organization has 100 employees, and payroll is about $400,000 a month, McComas said.

Even though many homeless people are in shelters, he said the problem of homelessness is probably going to get worse.

“We’ve got a mess coming,” he said.

When the moratorium on evictions expires, McComas said, many more people will be pushed out onto the street. Likewise, he’s seeing an increase in homelessness among seniors and because of the economy.

Rogue Retreat’s staffing needs are required to properly manage the homeless population, many of whom suffer from mental illness.

“Our biggest issue is mental health,” he said.

The navigation center will offer mental health services through a number of local agencies that will set up shop in the building.

He said shelter operations are not cheap, but they’re still less expensive than sending someone to jail.

The urban campground, which is often the first step for homeless people looking for shelter, costs about $20 a day per person.

“It’s expensive because of staffing,” he said. “You cannot leave the homeless alone.”

At least two staff members are available at each facility during the night to help the homeless.

“Many of these people have mental health issues, and that shows up more at night,” McComas said.

Many other local agencies, such as Addiction Recovery Center and Columbia Care, will set up shop in the center.

Expanding the size of the Kelly Shelter to 100 beds at the navigation center will result in about 40 fewer people on the street, McComas said.

McComas said it’s difficult to turn someone’s life around after they’ve spent years living on the streets, but there have been many success stories.

He said that a week ago a couple who had been doing drugs and living on the Bear Creek Greenway went through an addiction program and were reunited with their kids in Idaho.

Another woman who was living on the streets has had her mental health stabilized with medication and is now working at Harry & David.

Even though homeless issues have plagued the community for years, McComas said, “It would be far worse if we weren’t doing what we were doing.”

Councilor Clay Bearnson, who helps run two downtown businesses, said he appreciates the work of Rogue Retreat, but he’d like to see more results from all efforts to deal with homelessness.

He said anyone who walks downtown hasn’t noticed a decrease in homeless people and their problems.

“You can’t see that right now,” he said.

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