Tidings file photo
Homeless people line up to enter the Pioneer Hall homeless shelter.

Faith leaders to host homelessness summit

Homelessness is an issue easily overlooked by those who have secure homes. There are people dealing with it. Right? Various nonprofit organizations across the Rogue Valley try to put Band-Aids on the community wound, but they tend to be under-funded, under-staffed and unable to get their arms around a solution that meets all needs.

So the Interfaith Social Justice Coalition (ISJC) in Ashland is going back to the white board. They’ve gathered a variety of experts and passionate people in the community to discuss the issue from 4-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15 at the First Methodist Church of Ashland, 175 N. Main St. The public is invited.

The event, titled “Voices of Faith for Solutions for Homelessness” is free to the public and a “brown bag supper” is included.

The Rev. Rechinda Fairhurst of the First Methodist Church of Ashland said the hope for this event is to encourage the building of relationships between the faith communities in a way that improves on what they’ve previously been able to do around the issue of homelessness.

“Just a safe place to sleep is unbelievably important,” Fairhurst said. “If you can’t sleep in a place where you’re safe from someone stealing your shoes, from animals at night, from the cold, in a city like ours and a country like ours, it’s unconscionable.”

Topics to be presented include the current homelessness and need for shelter in Ashland, the challenges of mental health and addiction, homeless families and youth, the role of shelters in crisis response and volunteer efforts.

Staff will be available to answer questions and offer information on volunteering, said Diane Werich, one of the founders of the ISJC.

“This for all of us is a beloved home and there’s something very wrong in our beloved home,” Werich said. “And I think that all religions, that I know about, call us to serve those who have less than we do.”

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Dan Bryant, pastor at the First Christian Church in Eugene, is also the executive director of SquareOne Villages, a nonprofit organization devoted to creating tiny home villages for those in need of housing.

“He’s really put all of his heart and soul into serving the homeless,” Werich said.

The Rev. Connie Wilkerson, Continuum of Care Homeless Prevention Coordinator at ACCESS, will be in attendance, as well as Tina Stevens and Leigh Madsen from the Ashland Community Resource Center (ACRC), journalist Julie Akins, and representatives from Columbia Care, the Maslow Project, and the One Site Shelter Committee in Ashland.

All these organizations are dedicated to filling the gap of the human existence, whether it be helping to house the homeless or just finding them a pair of shoes. The One Site Shelter Committee’s goal is to find a winter shelter or shelters in Ashland for the homeless because the site that has previously been used, Pioneer Hall, is no longer available.

“Somebody that is homeless, they may have a lot of problems. They might have drug addiction problems, mental health problems, or simply income problems, and what they need is housing,” Fairhurst said. “We tend to throw lots of other things at them. Maybe we assign them addiction counseling or mental health counseling, but none of those things are houses.”

According to a state document, in 2017, there were 633 homeless in Jackson County alone.

An estimated 19.1 percent of Ashland’s population lives at or below the poverty line and 51 percent of people that visited the ACRC in 2017 were women and children, according to the ACRC website.

ISJC was created in Ashland two years ago to bring together faith communities in the Rogue Valley to bring voice to social justice issues and to educate the public.

“We started to come together as a faith community because we believe that there is power in numbers, and that faith communities had another dimension to add to the conversation about social justice,” Werich said. “One that was probably different from the conversation in the public square.”

For more information or to register, email or call 541-482-3647.

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

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