Homeless Shelter Complaints Aired
By David Runkel
Ashland city officials encountered a hornet’s nest of 50 or more angry citizens last night, upset at what one person said was the creation of a “homeless hub” in the city’s southeast sector.


At a community meeting, complaints about the location of a homeless shelter at 2220 Ashland Street below the Clay Street bridge voiced by:


– Alan Hersh who objected to “the way this was decided” without any prior consultation with the neighboring community.  “Why was this decision made without a meeting with the neighborhood first?  Your own papers show that the city has committed to a 10-year use of the property for the homeless.  We weren’t given any notice,” adding that most are not “Council groupies” and were unaware the Council was going to approve the property purchase on Aug. 15.


– Priscilla High who complained that the area along the railroad tracks adjacent to the new shelter location already requires her and others to clean up garbage left by people.  “We need a plan for policing” the area, she said.


–Trina Sanford, a business property owner, added that the whole area on both sides of Tolman Creek Road, is currently abused by homeless people requiring business operators and neighboring residents to spend time daily to pick up garbage, needles, other trash and to clean up human waste.


– Janet Bell recounted a recent experience with a homeless person.  Ms. Bell left her house unlocked for a 10-minute trip to ShopNKart.  When she returned, a woman was on her porch claiming she was the owner and went inside and locked the door.  Ms. Bell took out her key and escorted the woman out. 


– Lisa Good raised a series of concerns about the impact on community residents of an addition just a short distance from the existing homeless residential and program center at the former Motel 6, including the potential negative impact on nearby property values. 


– Others voiced concerns about the safety of children, older people, bikers and hikers.


Even the few supporters of the shelter location, such as Dan Rouse, wanted to make sure that the city provides garbage cans and portable toilets outside the facility for use by homeless people.


Defending the Council’s decision to buy the 3,000 square foot office building and making promises for its operations in a manner that responds to neighborhood concerns was Mayor Tonya Graham. 


“It was still better for the city to buy the property than to let the state dollars go by,” she said with reference to the more than $2 million in grants from the governor’s homeless emergency program. “The process didn’t go the way we wanted.  To all the people here, I want to say that we intend to be good neighbors.”


In keeping with state law, the purchase agreement was put on the Council’s agenda three business days before the Oct. 15 meeting even though a final agreement had been signed.  No time was available between the Thursday afternoon posting and the Monday meeting to hold a community meeting, she said.


More than 60 people attended the session in Stevenson Hall at Southern Oregon University, with most of them ending up sitting and standing around a table marked “Neighborhood Information.”  An attempt by the mayor to get them to split up into two groups for better discussion was shouted down.


Along with the mayor to outline the city’s position were Councilors Bob Kaplan and Dylan Bloom, Fire Chief Ralph Sartain, Community Development Director Brandon Goldman and Interim Parks Director Leslie Eldridge.  Police Chief Tighe O’Meara, Public Works superintendent Mike Morrison and City Manager Joe Lessard were at other tables.


Speaking for 40 minutes to the full group at the beginning of the meeting,  Lessard talked about national, state and regional issues in dealing with an increasing number of people living in shelters, in vehicles or on the streets.  Jackson County has seen a 132 percent increase in homelessness in the last five years, he said.


The new facility will provide at least 30 beds, in addition to the 52 at the former Motel 6 operated by OHRA.  The city will take possession of the building Friday and begin remodeling it with a goal of opening it Nov. 1, Lessard said. 


The $2 million purchase price is funded by $1.4 million from the state and a $600,000, 20-year note with the previous owner, Coming Attractions Theaters, at 3.75 percent.  No figures have been offered by the city on the remodeling costs, although $700,000 remain in state grants for operation, maintenance and conversion from office to bed spaces, kitchen, toileting and perhaps laundry services.


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