Volunteers who staffed a homeless shelter in a city building on Thursday night said they would not have turned away children despite an Ashland City Council vote earlier this week stating that minors are not allowed.
The volunteers and homeless people staying in the city-owned Pioneer Hall building were sad to see that a mother, father and young boy who had regularly been staying at shelters in city buildings and churches did not show up at the Thursday shelter despite below-freezing temperatures outside.
The family had learned on Thursday morning of the council vote, which came during a Tuesday meeting.
A homeless man named Anthony said he was shocked that kids were banned from homeless shelters held in city buildings.
Anthony noted that even his puppy his allowed in the shelter.
"We look out for our own and we're all family because who else do we have?" he said.
Since last winter, the city has offered shelter in a city building on Thursday nights.
Earlier this week, the council voted to begin offering shelter in a city building on Tuesday nights.
Councilor Dennis Slattery brought forward the idea to open on a second night after working on the idea with people concerned about the homeless.
When the topic of children in the shelters came up, councilors reaffirmed the city's stance that minors not be allowed, noting that the city could not guarantee the safety of children.
Community volunteers, including members of the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Temple Emek Shalom congregations in Ashland, have been staffing the city homeless shelters.
John Wieczorek, a volunteer with the Unitarians, had a different interpretation of a city resolution authorizing the shelter nights.
He pointed to language that the city's insurer requires separate sleeping spaces for single men, women and families. The resolution states signs must be posted warning that children must not be left unattended.
At the Thursday shelter, volunteers had posted signs stating that children not be left unattended.
Wieczorek said volunteers would not have turned away the family with the young boy if they had shown up.
"Jesus was a minor," he said, referring to the Biblical story of a pregnant Mary and Joseph searching in vain for an inn before finding shelter in a stable and having their baby.
City Administrator Dave Kanner stopped in at the shelter and talked with volunteers and others there.
Kanner said if the young boy had been in Pioneer Hall, he would not have thrown him out.
But he said the volunteers' stated refusal to turn away children could mean the council may have to discuss whether the city wants to continue the program of offering city buildings for volunteers to use on shelter nights.
"The city is more sensitive to liability concerns because we're seen as the deep pockets," Kanner said. "People who feel aggrieved like to come after governments."
Homeless people at the shelter said they didn't know where the family was staying the night. The family has a vehicle, they said.
A woman named Simone said she sleeps in a truck that sometimes has icicles on it when there is no shelter night in town.
She called the city rule excluding children "barbaric."
With the council voting to have a Tuesday night shelter, there are now four shelter nights in Ashland.
The First Presbyterian Church of Ashland offers Monday night shelter and Trinity Episcopal Church offers Wednesday night shelter.
They offer shelter nights do allow children. When temperatures drop to 20 degrees or lower, the city has a law allowing a city building to be opened as an emergency shelter.
The city resolution authorizing those emergency shelter nights does not include a ban on children, according to Kanner. (Information added from an earlier version)
A man named Roy said people enjoy seeing the boy during shelter nights. He said the boy is sweet, smiles and has fun playing with the dogs who attend.
Last winter dogs were not allowed in city buildings on shelter nights, but councilors relaxed that rule and allowed dogs this winter.
A young homeless man, Colt Thurber, was playing the piano at Pioneer Hall to entertain the guests. His music became more quiet and soothing as the night wore on.
Thurber said the little boy often sits and watches him play the piano.
"I often wonder what he does when there is no shelter," he said.
Thurber said he was appalled and outraged by the city rule banning children from city shelter nights.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.