1004933082 Helping Hand Mission Ashland 1931.jpg
Southern Oregon was affected by the years of depression that followed the stockmarket crash in 1929. Many people passed through the Rogue Valley seeking a new life and they placed heavy demands on the local economy. Ashland tried to meet some of those demands by opening the Helping Hands Mission in October 1931. Located on Fourth Street in the Railroad District, the Mission offered the homeless a meal, a bed, honest work and Christian counseling. (Photo courtesy of Southern Oregon Historical Society, image No. 06961)

As It Was: Rogue Valley transients coped with Depression

The issue of what to do with transients is nothing new. Thousands of unemployed, hungry men passed through the Rogue Valley during the Great Depression.

In Grants Pass, some set up camps along the railroad tracks on the edge of town, where they pooled their money or food. Others begged housewives for sandwiches or cooking ingredients.

Hundreds went to the town’s community soup kitchen, which by May 1932 was feeding as many as 625 transients a week before running out of food.

The county judge sent Sheriff Ernie Lester to evict desperate men who were earning 50 to 75 cents a day panning for gold dust at abandoned claims taken over by the county for unpaid taxes.

“There I found them, a small city of them, hard at work on their jobs,” the sheriff told a newspaper reporter. “I didn’t know what to do with them so I herded them into town to the courthouse.”

One of them told the judge, “If we can’t dig gold you’ll have to feed us.”

The sheriff said the judge threw up his hands and ordered the men taken back to the claims.

Sources: Hill, Edna M. Josephine County Historical Highlights. Vol. II, Grants Pass, Ore., Josephine County Library System, 1979.

As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

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