City of Ashland officials, volunteers and a social services organization are attempting to locate a family that appears to have shied away from staying in an Ashland shelter on Thursday night after learning children are not allowed there.
A family with a young boy has been staying in shelters held on different nights of the week in city buildings and two churches. Those shelters are run by volunteers.
Minors are allowed in the churches but not the city buildings on shelter nights. Volunteers have been letting the man, woman and boy stay in the city buildings.
ACCESS, a Medford-based social services group, is trying to contact the family to offer temporary housing help, ACCESS Executive Director Jackie Schad said on Friday afternoon.
Organizations sometimes have emergency money available to help people stay in hotels for three to five days. Alternately, the family could stay in a Medford homeless shelter that allows minors, Schad said.
ACCESS would like to work with the family and provide long-term services that lead people toward self-sufficiency, she said.
Schad said it's vital for families to get off the streets in order to rebuild their lives.
"You can't really plan when you're living hour to hour," she said. "It's hard to help people when they don't have a stone to stand on."
The family is often seen around Ashland with their belongings covered in a tarp atop their car. The three have been homeless for at least several months, according to volunteers.
Earlier this week, the Ashland City Council voted to reaffirm an existing resolution that minors are not allowed in temporary shelters held in city buildings.
Usually among the first to arrive when the doors open, the family members did not come to a Thursday night shelter held in the city's Pioneer Building across from Lithia Park.
They had learned about the council vote reaffirming the ban on children while talking to volunteers and other homeless residents on Thursday morning, volunteers said.
At the Thursday night shelter, homeless residents who have grown attached to the young boy said they missed seeing him and were angered by the city rule barring children.
Volunteers said they would have allowed the trio to stay if they had shown up.
City Administrator Dave Kanner paid a visit to the shelter and said if the volunteers wouldn't follow the city rule, the City Council might have to reconsider whether city buildings could be used for shelter.
Kanner said on Thursday night that he would not have made the family leave if they had come to the shelter.
On Friday morning, Kanner reached out to ACCESS to see whether the organization could provide help to the family, said Mayor John Stromberg.
Stromberg said the council made a rational decision in reaffirming the ban on children in shelters in city buildings. The city doesn't screen the homeless people who stay there.
"We're not going to put a child at risk," he said. "We do recognize it's really cold and we don't want to send them out into the cold."
Minors are allowed in city buildings for shelter when temperatures fall to 20 degrees or below and the city opens a building for emergency shelter.
Minors are not allowed during the regularly scheduled city shelter nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Stromberg said councilors are trying to be prudent, responsible and humane.
Shelter volunteers — some of whom are members of the Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland advocacy group — are trying to help connect the family with ACCESS.
Stromberg said that's a good example of OHRA and ACCESS working together.
The two groups already teamed up to develop a plan for launching a daytime help center in Ashland using $100,000 in city grant money spread out over two years.
The help center will aid homeless people and others in need.
Schad said ACCESS is in negotiations now for a fixed location from which to operate the help center.
The organization just purchased a mobile shower and laundry trailer. It could begin offering showers and laundry services in various Ashland locations for 20 hours per week by the end of January 2014, Schad said.
Homeless people have identified showers as a top unmet need in Ashland.
Schad said that when people with children are homeless in Ashland, they should seek shelter where they can find it. That might mean staying in Medford shelters that allow children because they separate men from women and children, she said.
"The shelters are trying to prevent women from getting assaulted and children from being hurt," Schad said.
Volunteers who staff the shelter nights in Ashland said one of their roles is to protect women and children.
Homeless people in Ashland said they police themselves and watch out for the young boy.
Some homeless people said if the family had come to the shelter on Thursday night and been turned away, they would have left the shelter with their coats and sleeping bags and huddled with the family outside overnight to help provide warmth.
Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.