City Council Endangers Members of Our Community?
The Ashland City Council is failing to adequately govern, putting people’s lives at risk. The primary purpose of city government is to serve the needs of the citizenry; infrastructure, basic services and safety, according to one definition. (Can we get Hersey Street and crumbling sidewalks fixed?) According to our Federal constitution, this should apply to all citizens equally. This also applies to the safety and services for the homeless community.
Mayor Stromberg in his guest opinion (Daily Tidings 9/19/18; ‘City camping ordinance doesn’t violate Constitution’) enlightens us that if camping occurs on public property it constitutes a violation whereas on private property it constitutes a crime. This all relates to a Boise, Idaho court case that ruled citations for camping as cruel and unusual punishment. You would need your own attorney to split the hairs any further than Stromberg does. (He’s a ‘letter of the law’ man when it comes to homelessness; not so much when it comes to city budgets.)
The Mayor further states that he joined the Jackson County Continuum of Care Board of Directors, (a form of government), that is developing a regional approach to the homeless. The mayor further adds the City of Ashland will distribute close to $1 million from local and federal grant programs for this purpose. This indicates his acknowledgement that government is responsible in the effort to serve, and presumably protect, homeless people. Local governments have been trying to sell us the notion that homelessness and other forms of disenfranchisement are the responsibility of faith based organizations. Maybe in the 1700s that was true, but not in this day and age. What’s most interesting is that the City of Ashland won’t even work with non-governmental, faith based organization groups to provide a room or building for a shelter this winter.
What I find so very appalling is that Ashland is not living up to its responsibility. At Monday’s one-site meeting, Dennis Slattery announced that the city was reneging on allowing the homeless to use Pioneer Hall for the winter shelter for several months, before the one-site location is properly permitted. Instead, Pioneer Hall can be used as a warming center for a few hours but no one can sleep. Really? So if a homeless person chooses to sleep they must do so outside while attempting to evade the Ashland Police who will ticket them either $100 or $400 dollars depending on whether the individual is sleeping on public (violation) or private (crime) property. Not only are they subjected to harassment by the police and saddled with debt they cannot pay, but now they are in danger of being attacked by cougars or bears, especially those with dogs. I wonder how many city council members have ever slept outside in 40 degree weather, let alone the 20 degree threshold for being able to use Pioneer Hall or other public shelter?
I am not afraid of homeless people, but I’m a realist. If a homeless person chooses to ‘warm up’ at the Hall and falls asleep, is it the volunteers’ responsibility to wake the person up? Some of these individuals, (let’s call them human beings), suffer from PTSD as a result of combat trauma, abuse or a combination of many factors as do many housed folks suffer from PTSD. Does the City expect volunteers to wake them up after a few hours of warmth, possibly triggering a reaction? Isn’t the City putting them and volunteers at risk with this arrangement?
Further, isn’t denying sleep to these human beings night after night, and then harassing them for minor infractions during the day, creating a hostile environment for both the individual, citizens, and police?
I have watched the city council under John Stromberg for many years. When they want something, they make it happen. For example, in 2014 there was a drought. However, all ended well because citizens diligently conserved water. Never the less, the city council saw an opportunity to build their Talent Ashland Phoenix Pipeline. The selling point was the drought and the cost estimate of $2 million. Unfortunately, the actual cost came in at $10 million. Then there’s the downtown plaza makeover, which cost the city $300,000 and still looks like something left over from the cold war. To add color, the City pays thousands of dollars to hang flower baskets. The list is endless.
Conversely, when the council does not want to do something (such as using city property to provide shelter), they use whatever excuse. The Council is now reluctant to use Pioneer Hall for winter shelter because it does not have water sprinklers. There are numerous alternatives; such as renting a place by substituting funds intended for hanging flower baskets, asking OSF to contribute one of their unused spaces (since they encourage community involvement and the City gives them $100,000 annually), contracting with someone to monitor Pioneer Hall throughout the night to ensure no fires ignite, etc., for several months. Considering all of the recent predator sightings, the chances of a Pioneer Hall fire are less than a homeless person, (particularly someone with a dog), being mauled by a cougar or bear. Let’s err on the side of caution and open Pioneer Hall. Let our most vulnerable citizens sleep at Pioneer Hall for several months.
In my opinion, this City Council fails at governing. It fails at providing adequate infrastructure. It fails at providing basic services. It fails at ensuring safety for the most vulnerable people in our community and those volunteers in our community.
Ashland Chronicle Contributor (not affiliated with a faith-based organization)