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Keep the conversation going

 Posted: 2:00 AM September 15, 2012

We're not sure that using The Grove as a drop-in center for homeless youth after school is the best approach to dealing with Ashland's homeless population, but at least it is keeping the conversation going. To its credit, the City Council appears ready to ensure that conversation continues as it considers The Grove proposal and other options.

The city's Homelessness Steering Committee has endorsed a proposal from Community Works to use The Grove, a community center on East Main Street, as the site for an alternative school and after-school drop-in center for homeless youths. The idea certainly has merit, but the proposed location comes with built-in resistance.

The Grove is already used regularly by the community for everything from classes to meetings and private events. About 3,000 people used it in the past fiscal year, according to Don Robertson, the city's parks director.

Robertson said the committee's recommendation would eliminate the use of The Grove for adult recreation classes and other events now offered there. That, he said, could cost the city's general fund the $45,000 it now gets annually from fees charged by the Parks Department to those adults.

When put on the public scales, taking care of homeless youths should outweigh making room for dance classes. But it's not quite that simple. Using the site for an all-day alternative school and an evening homeless drop-in center would take a significant community property out of play. The proposed $1 a year rental charge also would essentially give one social service agency a city building free of charge.

Providing services for the homeless is a responsibility the community should take on and the city should support. But we're not sure how providing a building free of charge for an alternative school fits the city's mission. For one thing, the Community Works school receives its at-risk students — many of whom have been in trouble with the law — from around the region, not just from Ashland.

Creating a drop-in center for homeless youths also leaves out the largest portion of the local homeless population, the adults. A more comprehensive solution would provide services for those above and below the age of 18.

Despite some reservations, the city is exploring options for that more comprehensive approach. In early August, at the urging of council members Dennis Slattery and Greg Lemhouse, the council agreed to investigate starting a day center for homeless people, perhaps by teaming up with a nonprofit group such as the Salvation Army.

That idea will be the topic of a council study session at 5:30 p.m. Monday at city offices at 51 Winburn Way. City Administrator Dave Kanner will report on the potential costs of setting up a center where services could be provided for the homeless.

That seems to us a more viable option than the proposal to use The Grove as a part-time drop-in site for youths. Many questions remain, including how to pay for a site and who would operate it.

But, again, credit to the council for continuing the conversation and considering the options. Because the only option that shouldn't be on the table is to do nothing at all.

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