Two panels may merge their goals

The Ashland City Council may dissolve the city's Homelessness Steering Committee and Housing Commission in favor of a new, merged commission that would tackle broad housing and human services issues.

On Tuesday night, the council directed city staff to draft a new ordinance that would dissolve those two panels and create a Housing and Human Services Commission.

The Housing Commission long has been a fixture in Ashland, while the Homelessness Steering Committee was formed in 2011 with the intent that it be temporary.

The two panels could remain for up to a year as they wrap up projects and give input on the mission and responsibilities of a new commission.

"I'm not interested in a shotgun wedding that has to happen, say, next week," said Councilor Dennis Slattery, noting the two panels have made progress on their respective issues.

Councilor Greg Lemhouse said there was a time when he would not have wanted to extend the life of the homelessness committee, saying that it had lacked focus.

But Lemhouse said the committee now is operating with a sense of focus and direction.

While delving into the political minefield of homelessness issues, the committee occasionally ran afoul of some councilors and residents — as when it jumped to endorse a controversial proposal in 2012 to turn The Grove community center into a homeless day center and school for juvenile delinquents.

The nonprofit group proposing the plan later withdrew it.

If the city does form a new commission, councilors said they want members of the existing panels to weigh in on its formation and role.

"I think their expertise is critical," Councilor Pam Marsh said.

Homelessness committee member Connie Saldaña said members want to continue their work and are supportive of a new committee with a broader focus.

Saldaña said Homelessness Committee members want a six- to 12-month transition in which they could continue working on a safety program for homeless women and kids who sleep in cars, showers for homeless people, and creation of a veterans' court.

Housing Commission Chairwoman Regina Ayars said members generally are supportive of a merged panel.

However, they are concerned about a lack of focus on housing, since the new panel might focus on acute human services needs, she said.

Historically, the Housing Commission has worked mainly to provide affordable housing in Ashland for low-income residents, including low-income workers. Its primary mission has not been to support housing for homeless people, although it has supported some homelessness programs.

Councilors Marsh, Slattery, Lemhouse and Mike Morris voted to move toward dissolving the homelessness and housing panels to create a broader panel in the future.

Councilors Rich Rosenthal and Carol Voisin voted against the move.

"I think this will come as a total surprise to people who track this issue," Rosenthal said.

Lemhouse said another opportunity for public input will come when the council makes the decision on whether to create a new commission.

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

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