Council keeps efforts toward homeless day center alive

Ashland will try again to attract an organization to launch a homeless day center in town — but the center won't have to operate out of a single building devoted to services for the homeless.

Instead, an organization could piggyback off another group, operate out of several locations, run a mobile center in a recreational vehicle or come up with another creative solution, Ashland city councilors said during a Monday night meeting.

In late 2012, the city offered $50,000 annually for two years for a group to lease a building and pay facility expenses for a homeless day center. The money could not be used for staffing or other expenses.

There were no takers.

Representatives of the Salvation Army estimated it would take at least $150,000 annually to cover expenses for a building, staff, supplies and other needs for a center.

For its second attempt, Ashland will still offer $50,000 per year to help cover services for homeless people, those at risk of becoming homeless and others in need, but it will consider proposals that cost a bit more, rather than rejecting them outright, councilors said.

The money won't have to be spent just on building costs, either.

Councilor Pam Marsh, who is manager of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, said $50,000 annually is enough for a bare-bones start.

"But in a diffused model, that might be a very important contribution," Marsh said.

Councilor Dennis Slattery emphasized that the city has never meant for the $50,000 to cover all expenses of the services.

Groups would need to bring some of their own resources to the table, seek grants or look for other funding.

Offering services in several locations or out of a vehicle could help Ashland avoid some of the pitfalls of past homeless day centers.

One operating just outside downtown Ashland on North Second Street closed after neighbors filed a lawsuit in 2004, claiming they were being harassed by clients who loitered there.

A new day center opened in a former hardware building near Shop'n Kart, but trash was dumped on the site and the center was often monopolized by young homeless men, according to former Mayor Alan DeBoer, who provided much of the funding for that effort.

That center closed in 2008 after its operator, the Interfaith Care Community, shifted resources to Medford in the midst of an economic downturn to help families in need.

City Councilor Greg Lemhouse said day centers operated out of single locations in Ashland have run into logistical and cost issues in the past.

"With a non-centralized facility model, our money will go a lot further," Lemhouse said.

Marsh said a day center in Ashland — whether in one location or in different places — could have wide benefits by attracting more social services to town.

So many services to help homeless people are centered in Medford that Ashland often gives out bus tokens for people in need to travel there.

"My hope is that this will be an impetus to provide more services in Ashland, instead of sending them to Medford or even farther away," Marsh said.

Medford also has regular overnight shelter.

The city of Ashland and faith groups have teamed up to offer overnight shelter three nights per week in Ashland by rotating among a city building and two churches.

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

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