An Ashland City Council majority voted Tuesday night against allowing homeless men to shower in the city-owned Grove building on East Main Street.
The city's Homelessness Steering Committee had recommended allowing homeless males to shower there. Homeless males outnumber females in Ashland.
The Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ, 717 Siskiyou Blvd., offers showers for homeless people on Monday mornings, but often has to turn people away because time or hot water runs out.
Homelessness Steering Committee Chairwoman Heidi Parker had offered to train volunteers to run a shower site at The Grove on Friday afternoons, but several City Council members said they would rather have an established nonprofit group manage such an operation.
"There are so many things that could go wrong," Councilman Greg Lemhouse said, noting that volunteers could face men who are intoxicated or suffering from a mental health crisis.
He said offering showers at The Grove also could be a way for homeless advocates to get a toe in the door toward the creation of a day use shelter there.
"I'm suspicious that this is a step toward a city-run day use shelter," Lemhouse said.
Ashland has no homeless shelter, although the Church of Christ offers an emergency overnight shelter when temperatures drop.
Lemhouse and fellow Councilmen Russ Silbiger, David Chapman and Michael Morris voted against allowing showers at The Grove on a six-month trial basis.
Council members Carol Voisin and Dennis Slattery both voted for the trial run. The two are council liaisons to the Homelessness Steering Committee.
In urging council members to approve showers at The Grove, Parker said she and other volunteers would have received training from Aaron Reed, a Community Works street outreach coordinator who helps supervise the showering site at the church. Community Works is a Medford-based social services organization.
Showers would have been offered at The Grove on Friday afternoons, when classes and community events are not scheduled there, Parker said.
Volunteers would have had the door locked from the inside and could have turned away intoxicated men. As an additional safeguard, The Grove is located across a parking lot from the Ashland Police Department, she said.
Parker said having an opportunity to shower once a week is a basic public health issue. Being clean also could help people escape homelessness.
"People need to be clean if they're going to apply for jobs," Parker said.
On Wednesday morning in an email, Lemhouse said the proposal for showers at The Grove is not dead, but issues such as safety and the city's liability risk need to be worked out. An organization with a history of successfully taking on such projects also needs to handle the shower site, he said.
"If a fully thought-out plan were to come back to (the) council that could be implemented in a responsible way, by an established group or organization that would address all our concerns up front, then I would support it," Lemhouse said.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.