As the recently formed “1-Site Committee” searches for a central, permanent shelter for the homeless in Ashland, it’s running into one big obstacle — as soon as they find a possible site, the real estate market is so hot that it gets snatched up quick.
“It’s become clear we need one sustaining, uniting place that’s a day-and-night shelter, with one standard of care,” said chief organizer Phil Johncock at a Wednesday meeting of 22 volunteers at the Ashland Public Library.
Volunteers noted that the shelter movement is attaining a sense of inevitability and momentum, so a single bank account is being set up to receive donations and grants, said the Rev. Linda Reppond, an innkeeper and member of the city’s Housing & Human Services Committee.
Heidi Parker, a main organizer for 1-Site, said, “When I started seven years ago, people didn’t want to hear about it, but it’s a very different climate now. We have a new City Council and I believe the whole community has come to terms with not blaming the victim … The unhoused part of our community needs protection and resources.”
An abandoned church on East Main Street went on the market, she said, but “by the time we found out, it was already sold.”
Calling homelessness a “moral crisis,” John Nosco, a board member of OHRA (Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland), said, “A lot of people say they are ready to write us a check” and many churches are behind it.
Reppond added, “Some people have said ‘if you move the shelter out of downtown, I’ll write you a check right now.’”
OHRA last year purchased bare land on Washington Street by the south interchange and, Leigh Madsen, executive director of Ashland Community Resource Center, said, in an interview, that OHRA is considering many options for the land and, depending on city regulations and other factors, one might be a shelter.
OHRA and 1-Site are inviting any leads on a spot that is at least 2,000 square feet (or 34 square feet per guest), has fire sprinklers, can serve food, has access to showers, laundry and bus lines and can separate men and women guests.
Volunteer Vanessa Houk said people are needed as “listeners” who can sit with a homeless person when they are being served meals in the park. “The mental condition of some is diminished and they need people to talk to them and have interactions. Some are starting to lose it.”
Parker adds, “You don’t need any special skills. Often, even having one person helps them feel more recognized and human. You don’t have to be afraid to go up and introduce yourself. It’s important to feel part of the community.”
Houk adds that food supplies on hand have dropped significantly in the last few months, which is especially hazardous for pregnant un-housed women who run out of food stamps, leaving them with only one meal, the community meal, all day.
Food can be donated at Ashland Emergency Food Bank at 560 Clover Lane and at A Street Print & Parcel at 258 A St.
Cooks are also needed and may contact Jason Houk, 541-841-8341. Foods cooked in crock-pots are especially welcome.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.