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Medford looks at new site for homeless campground

Medford City Council will vote Thursday on whether to buy almost four acres near Hope Village for urban campground
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune An urban campground off Biddle Road in Medford provides temporary shelter for about 125 homeless people. Medford City Council is looking at buying land on West McAndrews Road to relocate the existing campground.

Medford is closing in on a $1,510,000 deal to buy almost four acres on West McAndrews Road for a permanent homeless campground.

Medford City Council at 6 p.m. Thursday will consider whether to give authorization to the city manager to purchase the unimproved property, contingent on an environmental assessment.

A separate meeting with residents living within 500 feet of the McAndrews Road property will be at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 14. The meeting will be in the Prescott Room of the Medford Police Department.

Local, state and federal dollars will provide the money to purchase the property, located at 842-860 McAndrews Road.

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, secured $1 million toward the purchase from American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 dollars.

“When I got the money, the city thought they had another deal on another parcel,” Golden said.

The 3.69-acre property at 842-860 McAndrews Road, owned by Kodiak LLC, is next to the city’s Public Works Service Center at 821 N. Columbus Ave., a short distance from Hope Village, a collection of tiny houses for the homeless.

About 1 acre of the property would be needed for the homeless campground. The remaining land would be used to build transitional housing in the future.

“It’s close to ideal as far as conflicting uses,” Golden said.

The city has been searching for a permanent location for the 125-bed urban campground, now located off Biddle Road near the airport.

The campground is operated by Rogue Retreat, which houses more than 500 homeless people per night at various locations.

Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, has come under fire from groups accusing McComas’s church Set Free Ministry of passing out gay conversion therapy pamphlets in 2018 for people with same-sex attraction.

The allegations made this week prompted the city of Medford to announce Friday it has paused city grant funding to Set Free Ministry. The city gave the church a grant in 2021 for services such as showers for homeless people and a food pantry.

The city has asked Rogue Retreat, which shares personnel with Set Free, to conduct an investigation to make sure there is clear separation between the organizations.

McComas is executive director of Rogue Retreat and pastor of Set Free.

“This current flap is about important things,” said Golden. “The concerns are well placed.”

Despite his concerns, Golden said he’s confident Medford officials will make sure there is clear separation between the activities of Set Free and Rogue Retreat.

“There is going to be serious conversations within Rogue Retreat,” he said. “What needs to be clarified is whether any of that condemnation of homosexuality or LBGTQ bleeds over to Rogue Retreat.”

At the same time, Golden said no other organization has stepped forward to house so many homeless people each night in the valley.

“You can start to imagine what the homeless problem in Medford would be like if that (Rogue Retreat) disappeared,” he said. “I’m actually full speed ahead on purchasing that property while these other problems are being worked out.”

The city on Thursday is also going to consider a contract with Rogue Retreat to manage the new navigation center at 685 and 691 Market St., near Biddle Road.

Rogue Retreat would operate the facility and accept about 100 people a night.

In the proposed agreement, the city would provide Rogue Retreat with $500,000 over a three-year period to help offset some of the steep operation costs for the Navigation Center, which will be open seven days a week.

Rogue Retreat would receive three installments, with $158,000 in its first year, $167,000 in year two and $175,000 in year three.

The arrangement could be terminated if there is a substantial breach in the terms of the agreement.

The city is investing $4,455,000 from state, federal and local dollars in the remodel of the Market Street buildings, which should be open as a homeless center in July.

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