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Volunteers needed for winter shelter

Shelter for homeless people has been arranged for three nights a week starting in mid-November and continuing into April, but the One Site committee is still working on finding a solid location for the other four nights a week. To prepare for what they hope will be an expanded schedule, shelter coordinators are recruiting volunteers and planning on training hundreds of people next week.

The First Presbyterian Church of Ashland has agreed to host the shelter for three nights a week. The church will host the shelter on Friday through Sunday nights, starting Sunday, Nov. 11, through Saturday, April 13. The emergency shelter will also open any night the temperature drops below 20 degrees.

Site search continues

The city’s goal is to provide shelter for the homeless seven nights a week during the winter. A team of organizers have vetted many locations, including school buildings, Southern Oregon University, the Briscoe School property and more.

City Administrator Kelly Madding recently approached the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission requesting that The Grove be used as a temporary shelter until something more permanent is found. Although a final decision has not been made, the request was met with a mostly negative response at the APRC meeting.

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. This would only be a two to three-year solution if the permit is granted, since a new owner has development plans for the property.

According to Phil Johncock, shelter consultant, there is some work that needs to be done within and around the building before it can house sleeping people. There’s also a nightly paid fire watch coordinator position that needs to be filled. The applicant would have previous fire expertise, Johncock said.

If everything goes well, the earliest that the shelter would open there would be the end of November.

As a last resort, Pioneer Hall could be used as a warming shelter, but due to safety risks it can not be used as a sleeping shelter as it previously has been. At a warming shelter,people can come in and get warm for a few hours but would not be allowed to sleep.

Johncock said the committee will have a better idea of possible locations by Nov. 8.

Shelter volunteers needed

Heidi Parker has been the volunteer coordinator for the winter shelter for the past six years. This will be her seventh season volunteering. Parker said for the past 15 years each year there’s at least one or two of the Ashland homeless population that die.

“The first year we started the homeless winter shelter, there was one of Ashland’s homeless who had finally gotten a bus ticket to go home to visit his family for Christmas and he walked to Medford to catch a bus and that night he froze to death behind the bus station,” Parker said. “He was a young man with so much potential. It’s very dangerous for people to live on the streets in wintertime.”

Johncock said the most needed positions are for hosts. For the shelter to open every night, two hosts have to stay the night. Hosts welcome guests, troubleshoot with whatever is needed and are the contact that night. This shift lasts from 7:30 p.m. to 7:30/8 a.m.

“We need to have a minimum of two overnight hosts per night,” Johncock said. “It’s the greatest need. It’s the hardest job and not everyone can do it.”

Johncock said if people could volunteer just one night a month for five months, it would fill a lot of vacant slots. There are 924 total shifts that need to be filled for the winter at 6 shifts a day for 154 days.

Night coordinator Alex Reid said she has met wonderful people and heard incredible stories of perseverance, but that there are challenges that comes with the job.

“Sometimes people are under enormous stress living on the street, it’s exhausting,” Reid said. “Although they are grateful and happy to be inside, they have such little space for their things, when that space is infringed upon, sometimes they get upset, and sometimes in the morning they can be grumpy that they have to leave. You just can’t take it personally.”

The volunteer orientation is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8 at the First United Methodist Church, Wesley Hall, located at 175 N. Main St, Ashland. The orientation will be professionally recorded for those who can not make the orientation, but still wish to volunteer. The video link and more information about the shelter can be found at wintershelters.com.

Volunteers are also needed to help deliver and serve both dinner and breakfast. These shifts are from 7:30–8:30 p.m. and 6–7 a.m.

“This may sound silly, but we also need listeners,” Johncock said.

Yes, listeners. These volunteers simply listen to the guests. That’s it. From 7:30–9 p.m. nightly.

“Many people that live on the streets not only feel invisible, they feel unheard,” Reid said.

Johncock said the guests open up to the people that listen to them and the nights are so much smoother with the listening volunteers.

Night coordinator Vanessa Houk said she has formed close relationships with the guests throughout her time volunteering.

“The relationships you form with people … It’s hard to put into words, the closeness,” Houk said. “Some people have become like extended family to me.”

The final shift needed is for clean up from 7-8 a.m. Guests are always encouraged to help in all activities, Johncock said, but they are asked to leave by 7:30 a.m. each morning, so it makes it a little difficult to have them help clean up, especially if they have a job to get to.

Johncock said students and whole classes are encouraged to volunteer for service learning projects. To schedule a class volunteer opportunity, contact David Wick, executive director for the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission at 541-552-1061 or davidwick.acpc@gmail.org.

To reserve a bed, guests can either walk into the Ashland Community Resource Center at 611 Siskiyou Blvd., Unit 4, or call 541-631-2235 to schedule an appointment. Every guest will be vetted prior to reserving a bed. The bed will be reserved until the guest finds housing. There are 36 beds available at the church and 46 at the vacant building.

Wick said it all boils down to creating a culture of peace within the community.

“It’s about everyone learning how we create harmonious relationships with all parts of our community and it starts with each individual and the choices we make in our interactions,” Wick said. “The City Council has proclaimed Ashland as a city of peace, that means that’s the intention and direction, so working with the unhoused is a part of our community.”

“These are very challenging times that we live in and it’s important for all of us to look to our higher values,” Wick said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get through all of this.”

Donations for the winter homeless shelter are accepted by OHRA at helpingashland.org. Click the “add special instructions to the seller” button to specify “winter homeless shelter.”

Contact Info@WinterShelters.com or 702-518-8756 for more information about the shelter and volunteering.

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

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