Council Corner: One piece of the housing issue

As a community we have had many conversations regarding housing and affordable housing in Ashland. Occasionally there is consensus on the definition of the problem, and many possibilities to address housing issues, but it feels like we have more questions than answers and more ideas and potential solutions than we do resources.

Councilor Michael Morris recently wrote a Council Corner on housing issues, and I agree that we need to define which aspect of the affordable housing issue we are attempting to address — so that as many people as possible can be on the same page with the definition and possible solutions.

I would like to explore one small piece of this much larger and complex problem — addressing our local issue of the un-housed. At a recent meeting of the Housing and Human Services Commission, representatives from the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist congregation gave a brief presentation on an overnight sleeping program, using an example of a Eugene ordinance. The commission expressed an interest in reviewing it and to look at ways in which it may be applicable to Ashland. We do not have the breadth of community resources of Eugene, but I think there are some valuable and compassionate pieces there.

Please let me reiterate that I think there are parts of the Eugene ordinance that Ashland could build upon. For example, Section 1 includes, “Persons may sleep overnight in a vehicle, camper or trailer in a parking lot of a religious institution, place of worship, business or public entity that owns or leases the property on which a parking lot and occupied structures are located, with permission of the property owner. The property owner may not grant permission for more than three vehicles used for sleeping at any one time.”

Pursuing any version of this type of ordinance must include language similar to the Eugene ordinance's Section 2, which includes “a property owner who allows a person or persons to sleep overnight on a property or parking space shall (in legislative land “shall” means they have to and “may” means it could be optional) provide or make available sanitary facilities; provide garbage disposal services as required by code; provide a storage area for campers to store any personal items so they are not visible from any public street; not require a fee to the person or persons parked in the vehicle.” Also, in my opinion security must be assured, and those parking in any vehicles must comply with other parts of existing Ashland Municipal Code.

Ashland’s no-camping ordinance has certain merit, and what I am suggesting are well-defined and regulated exceptions.

I am interested in this option because, through my work, I see many of our local un-housed. Often these are single women who are living with their children in their car and feel they have no safe place to park overnight. How do I know they are truly our local un-housed and not travelers? Many of their children are attending Ashland schools and some are employed locally.

One example of someone who could benefit by a safe overnight parking program is a parent who was evicted from his home because his roommate stopped paying their half the rent. The parent couldn’t afford all of the rent and although he received some emergency assistance, eventually had to move out. Until he can get his life and his children’s lives more stabilized, having a safe place to sleep seems a compassionate response from the community.

Also, if each willing organization vetted, monitored and supplied some level of social support and referrals to assistance programs to a maximum of only three vehicles (families or individuals) at a time — then it could be possible with limited resources. And this is on a volunteer basis — there is no requirement to opt in.

This would seem one reasonable, measured approach to providing safe overnight parking while also turning to the community at large to help provide a solution. This is not a City Council solution but a community solution, and we must make choices understanding the value of all that is “community.”

— Traci Darrow is a member of the Ashland City Council.

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