APD chief seeks help for homeless

The unique demographics of Ashland's homeless population &

weighted toward older men and teens &

create special challenges when addressing the issue.

"Tourists aren't doing the homeless any favors by giving them money down at the plaza," said Morgan Silbaugh, pastor associate for Trinity Episcopal Church, at a Thursday meeting at the United Way office in Medford.

Ashland Police Chief asked for the meeting with Dee Ann Everson, executive director of United Way, and service providers in the Ashland/Medford area so that he could put together a comprehensive resource manual for his officers.

He said his department had been spoiled while the Interfaith Care Community of Ashland was operating. But since its April closing, Holderness said he's at a loss for where to direct people who need services.

Representatives from The Department of Human Services, faith groups, the Salvation Army, St. Vincent DePaul and the Homeless Task Force of Jackson County turned out for the meeting to offer and explain their services.

What came out at the meeting was that most services were in Medford, and that finding transportation to that city from Ashland was a concern. But many also indicated that few of the homeless in Ashland wanted help getting off the streets.

Everson told the group that a very small percentage of the population wants to live on the streets.

Amber Pershal, former office manager at ICCA, said many of the men who came to the homeless center did try to find work.

"A number of our clients tried to get jobs with the MaraNatha plant and Mt. Ashland Ski Resort," she said. "They were refused. Many do want to work, but there are no opportunities in Ashland."

Richard Thomas with the Homeless Task Force of Jackson County said Ashland's homeless population was very different from Medford's and that most of the homeless men refused to leave Ashland.

"We've tried to help them, but they want to stay," said Thomas.

Pershal also said the reason the men didn't want to leave is because Ashland is their home.

"Some people have been homeless in Ashland for years""it's the only home they know," she said.

Bill Yeager, social services director with the Salvation Army in Medford, said he attended the recent homeless awareness rally in Lithia Park and met a man who had successfully transitioned from a life on the streets.

"But he eventually went back to his tent in Ashland," he said. "Socially, it's much easier for them in Ashland than in Medford."

Holderness agreed that Ashland appeared to be very attractive to the homeless. He also said the high number of homeless teenagers could be attributed to young adults being released from foster care.

He said the teens travel all over Oregon, following the warm seasons and tourists, which may explain why Ashland has such high teen homelessness.

Holderness compared Ashland's homeless situation to where he used to work in Fontana, Calif.

"We went from being known as a great place to be homeless to a great place to get off the streets," he said. "The downside is that a lot of people were displaced, but we did reduce homelessness by 90 percent."

Holderness said that due to the city's current budget constraints, the city really wasn't in any position to help with the kinds of resources that plan would take.

Holderness did leave with a few handouts outlining the services available around the county and will have someone on his staff put it together in a pamphlet to be distributed to the homeless.

Everson said overall that she thought the meeting was a success.

"Just the act of engaging in dialogue helps," she said. "We've also seen that when the homeless have access to services, they start to see that there's a way out of their current situation."

Graham Lewis, operations manager of First United Methodist Church, said after the meeting that he'd like to see the homeless receive a resource guide rather than monetary handouts.

"Show them that there's lots of help available out there and that they don't have to live like this," he said. "People have to do something for themselves in order to change things."

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226 or .

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