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Andy Atkinson / Daily Tidings
Jason and Vanessa Houk show some of the socks they received at the new Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice location.

Site found to prep meals for homeless

After a long search, Ashland-based nonprofit Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice has found a home, a 910-square foot office where it can prepare crockpot-style meals for the homeless five days a week and train some in food prep skills in the hope they can then land jobs in area restaurants.

Monday was moving in day, as Jason and Vanessa Houk and several volunteers schlepped in food supplies, hammered shelves together and began the challenging and expensive process of building their simple kitchen, which will include sinks, fridge and a freezer, but no stove.

The space is in light industrial buildings on Hersey Street, formerly occupied by True South Solar — and the Houks emphasize that, while they will respond to any problem homeless people walk in with, or will refer them elsewhere, it is not a “hangout space.”

For years, the Houks did their food-centered “social justice” work out of their home and a storage unit, so signing the lease on this space Friday put big smiles on their faces.

“This is so exciting,” says Vanessa Houk. “We’re so full of joy.”

The new quarters were made possible by a $4,000 grant from the Anna May Family Foundation, which helps nonprofits that “enhance the well being of economically disadvantaged and vulnerable people, emphasizing children, women, elders and minorities.”

It also is using a two-year, $5,700 social services grant from the city of Ashland, along with many smaller donations from the community, Jason Houk said. Rent is $950 a month, which, they note, is within their budget.

Among the items being moved in are 2,000 pair of Bombas socks, which have an anti-fungal weave and retail for $12 each. They are donated by the company. The Houks say that foot problems are among the top ailments of the homeless, as they are walking or on their feet much of each day.

The office offers such first aid to walk-ins — and distributes first aid kits to other agencies. It can also be used as a space for homeless people to sell arts and crafts they make.

The office will take on any issue that comes in the door, says Vanessa, for example, “Right now we’re working with a seven-month pregnant woman who needs to get home to Kentucky. We advocate for finding a home and we do outreach with restaurants, who tell us they need kitchen help, and are seeking workers who have a food handler’s permit and know what they are doing on the job. When we train them here, we emphasize kitchen skills 101, cooperation, courtesy, work ethic and showing up on time.”

She says a chef with Southern Oregon University has already volunteered to tutor in kitchen work.

SOJwJ supports daily meals at the Lithia Park gazebo on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It’s in Pioneer Hall on Fridays. On Saturdays, it’s at the gazebo at 2 p.m. Uncle Foods Diner is at the Methodist Church on Tuesdays. The privately supplied “Kormac meal” is Sundays at the gazebo.

Regarding the 1-site shelter campaign seeking to replace Ashland’s previous six-night, three-location shelter system with a seven-night, on-location system, the Houks said the search for that space is continuing and “the city is working diligently on it.”

A “Faith Summit” including discussion of that effort is set for 4 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, in Wesley Hall at United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St. Ashland. The summit is entitled “Voices of Faith for Solutions for Homelessness.”

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

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