Nonprofit proposes day center for homeless youth

The Ashland Homelessness Steering Committee unanimously voted Monday night to endorse a proposal from Community Works to use The Grove building on East Main Street as a drop-in day center for homeless youth as well as other teens and young adults.

The proposal would have to be approved by the City Council.

Council liaison Mike Morris said he will take the committee's endorsement to City Administrator Dave Kanner so that the issue can be scheduled for a future council study session or regular meeting.

Community Works, a nonprofit social services agency, is based in Medford but also operates girls' and boys' homes in Ashland as well as an alternative school here.

The lease for the alternative school expires in February 2013, so Community Works has proposed moving the school to The Grove.

It is asking that it be allowed to lease the space from the city of Ashland for $1 per year. Community Works would fund school and homelessness programs at The Grove.

After school was over for the day, the organization would operate a youth drop-in center from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday to serve homeless youth, runaways and other young people up to 21 years old.

The center could have shower and laundry facilities, lockers, computers for youths to write resumés, donated clothing, life skills classes, hygiene supplies, referrals to transitional housing programs and other services.

It would also have music programs and recreational offerings such as basketball. The Grove houses a gym as well as multiple smaller rooms.

Among its many programs, Community Works does street outreach to homeless youths in Ashland, offers transitional housing and serves warm meals on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lithia Park. Those meals would be moved to The Grove.

The Grove opened in 2000 as a youth center, but lost federal funding because it could not meet a quota that 51 percent of the youths it served be low-income, according to Ashland Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid.

"Historically, it would bring a smile to my face to see it used for youth again," said Sarah Powell, a member of the homelessness committee.

Other nonprofit groups would be invited to provide services there as well, and Community Works would use volunteers and its own staff members, according to Community Works President and Chief Operating Officer Ginger Hahn.

Members of the homelessness committee said the city would have to work with the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, which holds about two dozen recreation classes at The Grove.

Finding new venues for those classes could prove difficult. Many class instructors and students objected to a prior plan to use The Grove for an expansion of the Ashland Police Department.

"That's where the push-back could come from," said Graham Lewis, a member of the homelessness committee.

City officials decided to remodel and expand the current police department building on East Main Street after discovering that that option was cheaper than converting The Grove to police use.

Steering Committee member Rich Rohde said he supports the idea of using The Grove for a youth drop-in center, but the committee should not lose sight of the need for a drop-in center for older homeless people.

Some committee members said it was a good idea to separate youths from older homeless people when it comes to drop-in centers. Some older homeless people have been known to prey upon younger homeless people, they said.

Earlier this month, the City Council directed staff to investigate possible locations and costs for creating a day-use center for homeless people. The council did not specify age restrictions.

Hahn said Community Works cannot operate an all-ages homelessness drop-in center alongside its alternative school in The Grove.

"But we can do the youth piece," she said.

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

Share This Story