Ashland opens 2-night-per-week winter homeless shelter

Homeless people in Ashland can now find shelter from the cold four nights a week.

The City Council voted earlier this week to open a city-owned building on Tuesday nights as well as Thursdays through April 2014. The city shelters are staffed by community volunteers, including members of the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Temple Emek Shalom.

The First Presbyterian Church of Ashland provides a Monday shelter, while the Trinity Episcopal Church welcomes homeless people Wednesday nights.

John Wieczorek, a volunteer with the Unitarians, thanked the city for offering a building for an additional night.

City Councilor Pam Marsh said the various shelter nights would not be possible without volunteers.

"We all really appreciate the volunteers who make this possible. What the city is doing is a small piece of the pie. It really requires an enormous volunteer effort," Marsh said.

During a streak of below-freezing weather earlier this month, shelter was available for several additional nights after the city opened a building and a church also offered a safe haven.

The city has a policy to open a city building when temperatures dip to 20 degrees or below.

For its shelter nights, the city usually uses Pioneer Hall across from Lithia Park, but occasionally uses The Grove on East Main Street.

Shelter volunteer Leigh Madsen said 18 people were served on one night alone during the cold spell.

"They were at huge risk of freezing that night," he said.

Madsen said his heart broke when the additional shelter nights were no longer available and people had to spend the night outside in the cold in their wet, snowy clothes.

Homeless people have dubbed the end of the week "fend-for-yourself-Friday" because the Ashland library is closed all day and no regular overnight shelter is scheduled.

City councilors affirmed this week that children under age 18 are not allowed in homeless shelters in city buildings.

Marsh said the city cannot protect children inside its buildings on shelter nights.

Churches that offer shelter nights do allow children, said longtime volunteer Ruth Coulthard.

She said families can be partitioned off with chairs or other objects to create their own space.

"There are families that are homeless and living in their vehicles," Coulthard said. "They're more at risk there than in a shelter."

Barbie Breneiser, shelter facilitator for the Presbyterian church, said a family with a toddler has been regularly using the church's shelter this season, but children are usually rare at the shelter.

That family has not asked to be separated from other shelter users, Breneiser said.

Shelters do sometimes get an influx of families when stranded travelers cannot make it over the snowy Siskiyou Pass, she said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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