The Ashland City Council dove into a full-throated debate about handling of policies affecting Ashland’s senior population at a study session Monday, but passed for now on the idea of creating a city ad hoc senior committee to advise itself, as that might duplicate the efforts of the city Parks & Recreation Commission, which is about to hire its first senior program superintendent.
Interim City Administrator Adam Hanks said the newly formed APRC Senior Program Advisory Committee (SPAC) is also just “getting its legs under itself … so we should be in a holding pattern for a few months and let them get going.”
Councilor Stefani Seffinger, the council liaison to SPAC, said that body is not working on recreation for seniors but is focused on age-friendly housing, transportation and broader issues and will work with the City Council on them more closely starting in September.
Departmental fissures were exposed and voices raised when APRC Commissioner Mike Gardiner joined a council discussion over just who controls senior affairs — APRC, SPAC or the council — and if they all share in the job, how do they set common policy and who has the final say?
Gardiner told the council that the new senior superintendent is “bigger than just parks (department) and can incorporate anything you want to do. It needs to be centralized. Whatever your needs are, we can incorporate, such as transportation, housing … We can be a legitimate part of that conversation and discuss with other departments on the needs of seniors. I really believe that.”
Councilor Dennis Slattery said the new superintendent “can’t work for two elective bodies” (the Parks commission and the City Council). “I don’t understand how a Parks superintendent is going to be doing transportation and housing. I think you guys have a big learning curve in front of you, a lot on your plate, but you’re going in the right direction.”
He added that everyone needs a lot of education, not “all caught up in who does what. I want to be educated now, not wait till you’re all set and established a year down the road.”
Stromberg said, “It’s not a territorial thing. It would serve us best if we (Parks and Council) have a meeting and conversation or two. We’re all coming at this from different directions. We need to get on the same page and partner with parks, to which Slattery responded, “bingo.”
The council also heard a report on the last homeless shelter season (November to April). The city is experiencing a steady increase in the number of people needing overnight shelter, with an average 35 to 60 guests per night, of whom 54 percent are disabled and 25 percent are female, ranging in age from 23 to 72 with an average age of 42, said Phil Johncock, a volunteer with the shelter.
While regular people look at the homeless and think the answer is jobs and housing, he added, “to the guests, it’s more immediate. It’s what’s for dinner and how do I stay warm tonight.”
The survey of 57 homeless people showed that 75 percent became homeless in Oregon and the average guest has been homeless 46.6 months. Ten were military veterans.
Shelter was provided five nights a week for 122 nights or a third of the year. The past winter of sheltering was the longest so far, with 96 overnight hosts volunteering 3,589 hours, said volunteer coordinator Heidi Parker.
Parker said it was a “hard year” because of weather, insufficient shelter space, mental illness and an increase of guests from Medford who were kicked out there for discipline issues.
Councilors discussed the goal of finding a single, larger shelter to be open seven nights a week, with Councilor Slattery warning it has to be arranged soon if its to be online when cold nights start in November.
Councilor Jackie Bachman said, “It’s a tight timeline … The community needs to all pull together, find options and get it on the agenda in July or August.” Interim City Administrator Adam Hanks said the city could fast-track financial arrangements, conditional use permits or other potential hurdles.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.