The number of homeless people in downtown Ashland swells every summer as wayfarers along the Interstate 5 corridor stop to find food and a place to sleep.
Bobbie Jean Moore-Johnson, a former hunter education instructor from Idaho and Montana who became homeless last year after her 31-year marriage ended, stopped in Ashland while traveling with a friend in a run-down RV.
She said Ashland is a warm place, and she immediately felt welcomed.
"The residents and tourists are all very friendly," she said.
Uncle Food's Diner, a free community meal provided Tuesdays at the First United Methodist Church, sees an increase in patrons once the weather warms.
"Definitely in summer we always have extra people, people we don't know," said coordinator Maren Faye. "Usually we have the same clientele. During the summer, we see a lot more transients."
Faye said resident and traveling transients generally get along, with the Ashlanders sharing advice on services available.
The wayfarers "really come and go," said Regina Ayars, a member of the Homelessness Steering Committee and the Housing Commission. "Unless they cause trouble, they get along fine with the people who are here year-round."
Ayars said resident homeless people encourage troublemaking travelers to move along.
In past years, the lawn on the Plaza was a favorite hangout for resident and wayfaring transients alike.
But after the lawn was replaced by concrete pavers and landscaping during a major renovation, the homeless moved to a grassy median on Main Street in between the Plaza and a bus stop.
Nick, a young traveler who declined to give his last name, was resting on the grassy median earlier this week. He came to Ashland after responding to a Craigslist ride-share request.
He said someone had given him an Ashland Resource Dollar — an alternative currency dollar bill that lists a variety of resources for low-income and homeless people.
Free community meals, medical and dental care and clothing were among the resources listed.
Moore-Johnson said she and her friend found out about the free community meal in Lithia Park from other homeless residents and travelers.
"It was amazing," Moore-Johnson said. "They had fruits and vegetables and vegan and gluten-free options. The salads were so fresh and wonderful. They were giving away peanut butter and almond butter."
Moore-Johnson said that residents in some other towns have been cold-hearted, distant and unwelcoming.
"All of these judgments made on the homeless are disheartening," she said.
In Ashland, Moore-Johnson and her friend were given $20 by a man to help with repairs on their RV.
Samantha Kingston, originally from Ohio, said she has been a traveler for more than three years.
"I do migrant farm working," the young woman said, noting that earlier she had been picking cherries in Washington.
Kingston said she had visited Ashland last year and came back this summer after a friend she met let her stay at a house in Medford.
Kingston said she visited the free clothing box at the Ashland Recycling Center on Water Street and enjoys shopping at the Ashland Food Co-op.
Traveler Jeremy Woldt, a young man originally from South Dakota, said he has been in Ashland for about a week.
"It's honestly my favorite place so far," he said, noting travelers share everything with each other, including food.
"We take care of each other," he said.
But residents and tourists view him as a street kid and don't talk to him, Woldt said.
While young travelers are often visible on Ashland's streets, Ashland Emergency Food Bank Manager Pam Marsh said another group of homeless travelers is less visible — homeless families.
The food bank serves mainly housed residents, with a minority of homeless people stopping by to get food.
As with the young solo travelers, summer is a time of transition and change for homeless families, said Marsh, who is also an Ashland City Council member.
"We've seen a number of families living in vehicles," she said. "There have been three families in vehicles with all their possessions. They are trying to establish themselves. Some will pick up and move on."
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.