Homeless center desperate for donations

As local temperatures plummet workers at the Interfaith Care Community Association Center in Ashland are desperately trying to provide coats, sleeping bags, blankets, tents, thick socks and gloves to the city's homeless.

"Ashland has no shelter, so many of the homeless have to sleep outside battling the elements," said Amber Thomas, office manager for the emergency services center located at 2200 Ashland St. "Temperatures are starting to drop, and I'd hate to see someone die because they froze to death."

The center receives some funding from the city and United Way, "but many of our private donations have dropped off because there was a rumor that we had closed," Thomas said. "But we did not close. We simply moved to a new location."

She said the center serves about 200 people on a weekly basis. "But that's just the people who actually come in. In reality, there's probably close to 500 people who are homeless in Ashland. That's a huge number for such a small community."

Thomas said, "Many of the homeless don't come in for services because they are afraid to leave their tents &

their comfort zones. They feel that they are lower than dirt because that's how many people treat them. That's why they're afraid to ask for help or make any changes. The homeless, like anyone else, need positive reinforcement."

The center provides showers, laundry, Internet access, telephone and mail service for the men and handful of women who seek help.

"We have coffee and a place for folks to keep warm during the day," Thomas said. "There's no food to speak of because we don't have a food-handlers card. But sometimes we're able to provide peanut butter sandwiches or an occasional donut."

Steve Hansen serves as the center's case manager and counselor.

"Our goal is to motivate with empathy to try and build a rapport so we can try and help get people off the streets," he said. "A majority of the people we assist want to change their situations. But it is a slow process that can sometimes take years.

"We have a great success rate here of people turning their lives around. But for those who aren't ready yet, we'll help them the best we can. But we need the community's help."

Thomas said her biggest concern right now is letting people know that the center is open and desperately needs donations. The center is open 9 a.m. to — p.m., Monday through Friday.

The Dollar Tree is accepting donations for the center as well. General Manager Kevin Geyer said he agreed to collect the donations because he "believes in helping the community. So many people here need our help. Anyone who brings items to the store, I'll personally make sure the center gets it."

A client at the center, who would only give the name Bennett, put in a special request.

"I could use a sleeping bag made for really cold temperatures," he said. "It gets down to zero here, and that's the only thing that will keep me warm. I also need a tarp to try and keep my things dry when it rains."

He's been living in Ashland for seven years.

Israel, another client at the center who is just passing through Ashland trying to get to a warmer area, said, "You know what I think is weird? That there's a church on every corner and homeless people sleeping on every street. That's weird, man."

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