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Colt Thurber, a homeless man living in Ashland, plays the piano at the homeless shelter at Pioneer Hall across from Lithia Park. Daily Tidings File Photo

Shelter proposal gets cold shoulder from council

Ashland City Council appeared to lean toward rejecting a request to increase the temperature needed to trigger an emergency cold-weather shelter from 20 degrees to 32.

Options for Helping Residents of Ashland President Ken Gudger told the council Monday that the board believes councilor Julie Akins' proposal will spread the volunteer staff too thin.

"I represent a board of very compassionate people at OHRA who would like to do all things for all people," Gudger said. "We have to prioritize those resources, and right now with the Ashland winter shelter program, we're planning 154 nights, seven nights a week, for 22 weeks."

He said daily operation of the winter shelter requires two volunteer hosts, a fire watch and volunteers who provide food, listening posts and clean-up assistance every single night.

“We are concerned that we’re already thin on those volunteers,” Gudger said.

He said the board discussed this for three months trying to find a way to make it work. But ultimately the fear that an additional two months of another shelter would decrease the success of current work.

He said since the winter shelter program started in November, they’ve found housing for four people. One person will find housing this week, and OHRA is working to get a family of three to another state to live with a relative.

Gudger said everyone in the shelter has health insurance now as opposed to only half when the season began.

“Eight people who started the season homeless will now have homes,” Gudger said. “Good things are happening with the Ashland winter shelter program to change lives, and what we don’t want to do is allow our compassion to take us down to a place that would hurt the work we’re doing.”

City Administrator Kelly Madding said the fact that the city is providing a seven-night-a-week shelter through the churches and OHRA is an incredible feat. This is the first year the city has operated that kind of shelter and used a model that focuses on housing the fire marshal allowed for 34 people.

“When people are talking about other cities who have increased the temperature, and they’re talking about Denver, Berkley and New York City, those cities are significantly larger than the city of Ashland,” Madding said. “And there should be a parade for these volunteers, because they’re doing an outstanding job.”

Madding said if the temperature requirement was increased to 30-32 degrees, the city would need an emergency shelter, on average, 50 days a year.

OHRA currently receives a grant from ACCESS to operate the shelter for 10 days.

Madding said she has spoken with some of the churches and volunteers and heard that they don’t feel they have enough resources to facilitate two shelters for that period.

“They feel the volunteers they have right now are focused on this winter shelter that’s for the 34 people,” Madding said. “The city can have a different temperature and put the word out to activate the shelter, but if there’s no one to activate the shelter or there’s no money to activate a shelter, that shelter doesn’t happen.”

She recommended that the city continue to operate the shelter the way it is now and return to the subject in the late spring or early summer so the people who provide the services can have an input.

Councilor Dennis Slattery said he’s proud of how far the shelter has come.

“When I first started on council 10 years ago, there wasn’t anything, maybe one night or two,” Slattery said. “The winter shelter 20-degree rule is sometimes misplaced as far as a rule. It is the city’s rule of opening an emergency shelter under those conditions. It does not dictate in this community that there aren’t people who can’t open a shelter under whatever temperature they want to.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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