Homeless are underserved

It's obvious to anyone who takes a stroll downtown that Ashland has a homeless problem. That's why it's hard to understand why the City Council turned down a reasonable request from homeless advocates to offer showers to men at the city-owned Grove building.

Council members Carol Voisin and Dennis Slattery — who happen to be the council liaisons to the Homeless Steering Committee — voted in favor of a six-month trial program. But four others voted against the proposal.

The opponents seemed determined to find a reason to say no.

Councilman Greg Lemhouse said volunteers running the shower program might be faced with men who were intoxicated, or having a mental health episode. That hardly seems to be a deal-breaker. Supporters propose to train volunteers to deal with problem situations. It seems obvious that only sober people should get showers, and volunteers also should bar anyone who is disruptive or aggressive.

Lemhouse also said he was suspicious that the proposal could be a foot in the door to establishing a city-run day-use center for the homeless. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Ashland prides itself on being an inclusive, caring community, but it has no homeless shelter, despite a sizable population of homeless people.

First Congregational United Church of Christ offers showers for homeless people on Monday mornings, but cannot always accommodate everyone. A second shower facility would take some of the pressure off the church.

Lemhouse left open the possibility that a future proposal might find a more receptive council. He said safety questions and the city's liability need to be addressed. He also said an organization with a track record of running similar projects should be in charge.

Supporters have their marching orders: Bring back a more complete plan. When they do, if it satisfies the council's concerns, it should be approved.

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