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Ashland shelter, former motel, is expanding

Options for Helping Residents of Ashland plans to offer round-the-clock services, including health care, at the former Super 8 motel on Ashland Street
A former Super 8 motel, at 2350 Ashland St., was converted in 2021 into a transitional shelter using $4.2 million from Project Turnkey. The shelter, operated by Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, is expanding services. [Mail Tribune/file photo]
Sheila Chaney, a former resident at the OHRA shelter on Ashland Street, says she is back on her feet and in her own apartment because of help from the agency. [OHRA photo]

A former Super 8 motel in Ashland is on its way to providing round-the-clock housing, services and health care for the homeless. More fundraising must be done, however, to bring the project to fruition.

Options for Helping Residents of Ashland held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at the former motel on Ashland Street to celebrate work it has done at the site and to highlight fundraising needs. Some renovations are done, others are underway, and the nonprofit has expanded services, but it plans to provide more.

The project was the first recipient in the state of funding from Oregon’s Project Turnkey, a pandemic-inspired effort to turn hotels past their prime into shelters.

Since opening a little over a year ago, it has provided a locked door, a roof, central air, heat and one hot meal a day to over 200 people. Residents also are allowed to bring their pets with them.

“We are the only walk-in center like this in Jackson County, where anyone can walk through our front door,” said Executive Director Cass Sinclair.

Six caseworkers, known as “navigators,” staff the center. Sinclair said the resource center predominantly serves housed people struggling to make ends meet.

The resource center also serves as a mailing address for homeless people, which helps them get jobs, receive supplemental nutrition assistance, a driver’s license, benefit checks and numerous other necessary services.

“We ask people, ‘What would you like to work on?’ and the navigators work with them,” Sinclair said. “We help people get birth certificates ... to job hunt. We help people with resumes, with clothing for job interviews. We sign people up for housing vouchers, VA benefits if they qualify — you name it,” Sinclair said.

The organization estimates its resource center serves 40 to 50 people per day.

The resource center once was the motel swimming pool. Now it is filled with concrete to accommodate tables and desks. Computer stations are planned for the area, as well as more seating to allow for communal dining. The one free meal of the day — dinner — for now is delivered to guests’ rooms to comply with COVID-19 precautions.

The organization describes itself as a low-barrier, trauma-informed shelter.

“These are your friends and neighbors,” said development and marketing associate Zoe Templeton. “These are members of your community. This could be you.”

The shelter also allows people who have criminal records, even for sex crimes. Families with children younger than 18, therefore, are not allowed inside and are served through the resource center and connections to local partners such as Rogue Retreat.

Sheila Chaney , a former resident of the shelter, said she had been homeless for five years. She had been in California when a friend in Oregon urged her to come over the border, but that friend later assaulted her, she said.

Chaney had no friends or family in the area, and she ultimately went down what she called a “bad road.”

“I left my church; I left everything and turned to meth,” Chaney said.

Chaney turned to OnTrack to get clean and was introduced to OHRA. When staff called to tell her a room was available, Chaney said she was overwhelmed with gratitude for a bed and hot water. She said those hoping for a room shouldn’t expect to have the work done for them.

“It’s not up to OHRA to do everything — you know they have someone else waiting for a bed,” Chaney said.

Chaney said shemet with navigators, filed papers, made phone calls and did everything in her power to get herself housed. As she waited for a housing voucher, she walked past an available apartment and applied. Then she learned she was approved for a housing voucher because an OHRA navigator made a phone call Chaney didn’t know she needed to make.

Chaney said she has now been clean for over a year. She has a home, a truck, a business selling jewelry and a backyard her dog enjoys.

“I love telling people it’s possible — because it is,” Chaney said.

Sinclair said OHRA applied for the Project Turnkey grant to buy the former Super 8, then started renovations and opened their doors at the same time. The first visitors to the shelter walked in through sheets of plastic, and those running the phones talked and listened over the sound of jackhammers.

Now, some renovations are done, and others are underway. The ADA-accessible elevator is an empty shaft. The fire suppression system has been completed on the first floor, and manager apartments are about to become executive offices and exam rooms to be staffed by La Clinica.

Once the exam rooms are complete, guests can access health care for body and mind. Soon a laundry shower trailer from the organization’s current location at the Grove will be installed in the parking lot of the new building.

The cost of the improvements — and to staff the 24-hour shelter — is $2.5 million, of which $1.4 already has been raised.

Those interested in services, donating, volunteering or touring the new facility are encouraged to contact OHRA at helpingashland.org/campaign/

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.