Up to three dozen Ashland homeless will now have shelter five nights a week after Eileen Piker of Trinity Episcopal Church announced at Monday night’s City Council meeting the church has agreed to host the shelter for two nights a week. First Presbyterian Church of Ashland previously committed to offering shelter Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
The Ashland Winter Homeless Shelter is set to open Sunday, Nov. 11.
If a temporary location for the other two nights a week isn’t found, Pioneer Hall can be used as a last resort warming shelter. That means that people can come in for a few hours to get warm but can’t stay the night due to terms of the city’s insurance coverage, city Administrator Kelly Madding said.
Phil Johncock, shelter consultant, said he urges faith-based organizations that can help and have the space to come forward. It would only be temporary, he said.
He’s asked for any faith-based organizations that can provide room for the emergency shelter to volunteer as well. Any night that temperatures drop to 20 degrees or below, an emergency shelter will open.
Options for Helping Residents of Ashland (OHRA) has applied for a permit to operate the shelter out of the vacant former Rogue Valley Church at 2082 East Main St.
The earliest the shelter could open there, pending issuance of permits, would be Thursday, Nov. 29. The latest date would be Wednesday, Jan. 30.
This year the shelter is implementing a new system modeled after the Kelly Shelter in Medford. All shelter guests have been vetted through a county-wide screening process which considers their vulnerability, Ashland residency, past behavior and their desire to find a permanent residence, among other factors.
Thirty-one guests have already passed. Another five are currently in the process. These guests will have a bed for the entire winter season, or until they find a permanent residence, OHRA president Ken Gudger said.
This system, used at the Kelly Shelter, kept people from loitering around outside the Kelly Shelter. You wouldn’t have known it was a shelter, Madding said, according to what she was told by the director of Rogue Retreat in Medford, Chad McComas.
“It didn’t look like (a shelter) because everyone was inside when they were supposed to be inside and left in the morning,” Madding said.
Johncock said guests are so grateful to have a warm bed that it keeps them on their best behavior. Everything is at stake for them because they have a bed guaranteed for the entire winter season and disorderly conduct won’t be tolerated, Johncock said.
Gudger said possibly the most important change this year is the ability to provide long-term development help.
“We will have a full-time case manager to do wrap-around case management with these people that have beds,” Gudger said. “Every one of these guests will be working toward a goal. Hopefully it’s a goal of finding some self-reliant lifestyles.”
“Our goal is to help them become self-sufficient to help them get housing or get jobs,” Johncock said.
Madding said the reason Pioneer Hall can’t be used as a sleeping shelter as it has previously is because such use isn’t covered by the city’s insurance.
“Pioneer Hall sort of organically grew. It was maybe for one night and then it was for meals, and then it was more nights and more nights,” Madding said. “It wasn’t until this year that we had been talking to our insurance company about the Hardesty property and a variety of other properties that had kind of come online And it came to our attention that we hadn’t talked to our insurance company about the use of Pioneer Hall for a winter shelter.”
She said if there was an insurance claim in the building while it was being used as a shelter, the insurance would not cover it. It is considered an assembly building, which means people can sit in chairs at tables but can’t sleep for the night.
“Pioneer Hall is not ideal, but it is what the city has to offer legally to protect both the people who are in there and the citizens,” Madding said.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t have some speed bumps,” Gudger said. “I’m not sure the Pioneer Hall concept is going to be acceptable, so we’re looking at other ways.”
Madding said she wanted to commend the city for offering to help find a location for the shelter and for offering city buildings.
“I don’t know of any cities in the state of Oregon that has proffered one of their own buildings for a shelter,” Madding said. “Cities mostly own office space and assembly space.”
Use of The Grove as a shelter was discussed at an Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission meeting last month, but was determined an inappropriate solution for a variety of reasons, Madding said.
Another piece of providing basic services for the homeless fell into place when Grayback Forestry of Central Point donated a shower trailer for free while Ashland’s is being repaired in Eugene.
This trailer was available for the vetted guests at volunteer training sessions Friday and is scheduled to be available again today. The guests are given free clothes and their old clothes are washed for them.
Johncock said there must be at least two volunteer hosts each night for the shelter to open. Hosts must undergo a free background check at the Ashland Police Department first. All other volunteer jobs do not require the check. Jobs range from clean-up to just listening to guests, and everything in between. Johncock said there are more than 800 shifts that need covering for the season, which continues into April.
To volunteer at the winter shelter, visit wintershelters.com or call Johncock at 702-518-8756.