City council hears proposals on homelessness

The Ashland City Council heard Homelessness Steering Committee recommendations for dealing with homelessness but ran out of time to decide whether to act on the proposals. The homelessness committee did offer details on its recommendations during a Tuesday night council meeting.

"They represent a great set of ideas about how we can deal with homelessness in Ashland," committee member Rich Rohde said of the recommendations, which were winnowed down from dozens of community ideas.

The committee endorsed an Ashland Chamber of Commerce proposal that businesses pay for donation boxes that would be installed and maintained by city staff.

Installing each box would cost about $25 in city staff time, the committee said.

A social services group would collect money from the boxes and use it to help people escape from homelessness.

Committee members have had discussions with St. Vincent de Paul about that group collecting and using the funds.

Other cities that have installed donation boxes have seen a drop in panhandling near the boxes.

Committee members said they don't know if donation boxes would reduce panhandling in Ashland, but the boxes would provide a means for people to donate and have some assurances that their money would be used wisely.

"It's an alternative way of giving for residents and people who visit here," said City Councilor Dennis Slattery, a council liaison to the homelessness committee.

Some people who spoke at the Tuesday meeting urged the City Council to be cautious about the donation box idea.

Former City Councilor Eric Navickas, who often speaks in support of homeless people, said the donation boxes would be mean-spirited, would invite vandalism and wouldn't raise a substantial amount of money.

"You're taking money from the most impoverished people," Navickas said.

The homelessness committee also recommended that the city provide $24,000 for the Salvation Army to rent space in Ashland for a year to provide a day center.

The day center would have a small thrift store and would provide basic services such as shower and laundry facilities.

Ashland has no day center or overnight shelter for the homeless.

Aaron Fletcher, an advocate for homeless people, said he would like the city government to go even further and provide overnight shelters or housing. He recommended that homeless people who stay there be required to perform work for the community, such as picking up litter, and that they abide by strict alcohol and drug-free policies.

Fletcher said the shelter could be paid for with donation box proceeds and other fundraising methods.

Another recommendation from the homelessness committee was to install portable toilets in central Ashland and on each end of town.

One insured portable toilet would cost between $1,026 to $1,578 per year, compared to an annual estimated cost of $8,000 for keeping one public restroom open overnight, committee members said.

The high cost of keeping a public restroom open overnight is due to added custodial and vandalism repair costs, according to the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department.

Ashland's public bathrooms close in the evening.

A downtown Ashland portable toilet could potentially be located next to a well-lit public restroom near the Calle Guanajuato and Lithia Park, committee members suggested.

"There needs to be a place for people to safely and hygienically go to the bathroom," committee member Heidi Parker said.

One idea that is moving forward and doesn't require city funding or the City Council's approval is a plan by local churches to provide a "listening post."

Trained volunteers would simply listen to homeless people, who can become socially isolated, committee member Sara Hopkins-Powell said.

Volunteers will launch the listening post in coming weeks at Uncle Food's Diner, a free Tuesday meal site.

If the Salvation Army receives funding for a day center, the listening post could expand to that location, according to the committee.

Finally, committee members recommended that the City Council extend the committee's existence to March 2013.

Established in April, the committee will automatically dissolve after one year of existence without council action.

"They've only begun to scratch the surface," said resident Sandra Coyner, who has attended some of the committee's meetings.

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

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