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Ashland asks ACCESS, new agency to team up for homeless center

 Posted: 1:10 PM June 19, 2013

The Ashland City Council has asked a long-established social services organization to team up with a new grassroots group to launch a help center to serve homeless people and others in need.

ACCESS — a Medford-based organization originally founded to help senior citizens in 1976 under the name Aging Community Coordinated Enterprises & Supportive Services — and Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland, which formed in 2012, both submitted proposals to the city to run a help center in Ashland.

The city is offering $50,000 annually for two years to operate a center.

Councilors voted on Tuesday night to ask ACCESS and OHRA to meet and return to the council with ideas for working together.

ACCESS has a long history of providing social services locally, while OHRA has passionate, committed volunteers, Councilor Pam Marsh said.

"Both of those strengths are what we will need," she said.

Though still young, OHRA has already tackled tasks like helping to run an overnight shelter offered in winter months in a city building on Thursdays. That effort launched with council approval in January and wrapped up at the end of April.

The city provided the building space, while volunteers staffed the shelter.

ACCESS and OHRA submitted different ideas for how to best run a help center in Ashland.

ACCESS proposed offering services out of a mobile vehicle, while OHRA wants to lease space for a fixed-site center.

On Tuesday night, OHRA Board of Directors Vice President John Wieczorek said his group prefers a fixed site because that will help generate community and volunteer support, while creating a place where those in need can find a sense of community.

OHRA has its eye on a parsonage building by the United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St.

Lease negotiations would have to move forward and running a help center there would require a conditional use permit from the city, according to Wieczorek, who has extensive experience in the real estate industry.

Wieczorek said opposition to a help center would likely emerge during the permitting process, but OHRA is prepared to handle concerns and educate residents about the people in need who would use the center.

Although he said he would need to consult with the rest of the OHRA board, Wieczorek said OHRA likely would be honored to work with ACCESS.

ACCESS Executive Director Jackie Schad said the parsonage building proposed by OHRA has a lot of possibilities for use as a help center.

"We would be delighted to work with OHRA," Schad said.

Perhaps after a year, ACCESS could withdraw from the help center's operations after ACCESS and OHRA have it up and running, leaving OHRA in charge, she said.

Mayor John Stromberg said he is looking forward to OHRA and ACCESS returning to the council in coming weeks with ideas for working together to launch a help center.

— Vickie Aldous

Read more in Thursday's paper.

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