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City of Ashland photo
The former Rogue Valley Church, now vacant, on East Main Street.

Empty church could welcome homeless

The city of Ashland and homeless action groups hope to turn an empty church into a winter homeless shelter, but until the permits come through, they'll have to rely on other venues.

The homeless will be able to sleep in Pioneer Hall Monday through Thursday and in the annex of the Presbyterian Church Friday through Sunday during the five-month “shelter season,” November through April.

The main players in the project are due to meet with Jackson County planners to try and bring Rogue Valley Church online as a shelter, overcoming its main deficiency — lack of fire sprinklers — said City Administrator Kelly Madding.

Situated at 2082 East Main St., the former Rogue Valley Church will be overseen by the nonprofit group Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland. It is located in the county and the permitting process is projected to take 60 to 75 days, or until somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, Madding is a former Jackson County planner and, said Councilor Dennis Slattery, her experience will be vital in expediting the process.

“We’re very positive this is the solution to provide winter shelter in Ashland,” Madding said in an interview, adding that the long-term goal is to focus on several winters, then a regional shelter 365 days a year.

“Right now, we’re just focusing on this. There are still a lot of pieces of the puzzle that need to come together.”

Councilors discussed the problem of how homeless can get to the East Main site, which is nearly 2 miles from downtown, in the freezing darkness. There is talk of a shuttle, funded by the faith community — and also lighting for walkers. It opens at 7 in the evening, when it’s dark that time of year.

“We haven’t figured that out yet,” Madding said.

Ashland is asking the county to issue a land use permit, a temporary use until the sprinkler issue can be resolved. To do that, Jackson County Fire District 5 will have to approve it, which it can do for up to 90 days, says Madding.

The project has received a $25,000 grant from ACCESS for a volunteer coordinator, but the funds can’t be used for sprinklers.

Councilors Slattery and Jackie Bachman and city staff have been working with the Winter Shelter 2019 Work Group, which includes OHRA, the One Site group, the faith community, volunteer coordinators, and other homeless advocates.

Slattery, who is a member of the exploratory group, said a main goal is to help people move out of homelessness, adding, “This is a new path and we’re all moving down and we’re moving as quickly as we can.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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