The Ashland City Council has asked a long-established social services organization to team up with a new grass-roots group to launch a help center to serve homeless people and others in need.
ACCESS Inc., established in 1976, and Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland, which formed in 2012, both submitted proposals to run a help center in Ashland.
The city is offering $50,000 annually for two years to operate a center.
Councilors voted Tuesday 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, said Councilor Pam Marsh.
"Both of those strengths are what we will need," she said.
OHRA helped run an overnight shelter Thursdays in a city building during the winter months. That effort, launched with council approval in January, 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, originally founded to help senior citizens in 1976 under the name Aging Community Coordinated Enterprises & Supportive Services, proposed offering services out of a mobile vehicle, while OHRA wants to lease space for a fixed-site center.
On Tuesday night, OHRA board Vice President John Wieczorek said his group prefers a fixed site because it 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 securing 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 likely would emerge during the conditional-use permitting process, but OHRA is prepared to handle concerns and educate residents about the people in need who would use the help 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.
In its proposal, ACCESS envisioned providing housing help, blankets, bus passes, gas cards, food, mail service, referrals to other agencies, and other services out of a mobile unit that it already owns.
It would have to buy a separate mobile unit to provide showers, and it could distribute tokens for laundromats.
The cost for one year would have been $143,577, although ACCESS could have cut costs by eliminating some services, such as mobile showers.
OHRA proposed running a help center for $55,660 in the first year.
That would have covered a part-time paid center manager, rent, utilities, an on-demand hot water heater, shower construction, insurance, equipment and supplies, according to OHRA's application.
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.
"We're breaking new ground here," Stromberg said.
Past homeless day centers in Ashland have closed after being faced with problems such as neighborhood opposition, young homeless men dominating locations, residents dumping garbage on property, and diversion of Rogue Valley resources to help struggling families in Medford.
In late 2012, the city of Ashland issued a request for proposals to start a help center, but no groups stepped forward with proposals.
Councilors then eased up on restrictions for how groups could use the $100,000 over two years. At first, it had been restricted to building costs.
A spring request for proposals to start a help center garnered the submissions from ACCESS and OHRA.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.