Council nixes city winter shelter idea

The Ashland City Council decided not to move forward with a proposal to open emergency overnight shelter in town when temperatures fall to 33 degrees or less — a move that would have led to significantly more openings when compared with the current standard that calls for opening a city building for shelter when temperatures are at 20 degrees or below.

Councilor Carol Voisin had proposed the change, but several other councilors said it would mean Ashland would in effect be creating a winter homeless shelter.

During a Monday study session, a majority of councilors declined to put the temperature change issue on the agenda for tonight's regular council meeting.

"Basically what we're talking about is not a cold weather shelter, but a winter shelter," said Councilor Pam Marsh.

She was among the councilors who said the idea and its potential impacts hadn't been researched thoroughly enough for the council to take it up on Tuesday night.

Several councilors were also concerned that a semi-permanent winter shelter would displace activities held at city buildings such as The Community Center, Pioneer Hall and The Grove.

Overnight temperatures average 33 or below from November into March, according to weather data.

This week alone, the National Weather Service forecast that overnight temperatures would range from 24 to 33 degrees, meaning a city building would have been used as an overnight shelter all week under the proposed 33 degree threshold, but will not be open at all with the existing 20 degree threshold.

Councilors did ask city staff to investigate the possibility of partnering with the local faith community to open a city building one night a week on a regular basis for overnight shelter. The council could take up that proposal as early as January 2013.

Faith groups have pledged to provide volunteers to staff a city building one night each week.

The First Presbyterian Church of Ashland already hosts an overnight shelter on Mondays and the Trinity Episcopal Church hosts a shelter on Wednesday nights.

Members of the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Temple Emek Shalom have offered to provide trained volunteers to staff a city building for overnight shelter one night per week.

Other residents also volunteer for shelter nights.

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

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