The Ashland City Council has authorized the installation of four boxes for monetary donations to help the homeless and discourage aggressive panhandling, as well as the erection of a portable toilet behind downtown plaza businesses.

The Ashland City Council has authorized the installation of four boxes for monetary donations to help the homeless and discourage aggressive panhandling, as well as the erection of a portable toilet behind downtown plaza businesses.

The council approved the concept of a day-use center to serve homeless people, but provided no funding for it during a Tuesday night meeting.

The Chamber of Commerce will collect the funds from the donation boxes and identify a nonprofit group that helps the homeless to receive the money.

Some cities that have had problems with aggressive panhandling have installed donation boxes and seen a drop in the behavior.

In Ashland, some advocates for the homeless spoke out against the idea of donation boxes.

Councilman Greg Lemhouse said he didn't buy the argument that the boxes would take money out of the hands of homeless people.

"I think it will encourage people to give if they know it's going to a good organization," Lemhouse said.

One place where a donation box might be installed is in the small plaza area in front of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Black Swan Theatre, where panhandlers often congregate.

The boxes could be similar to the secure yellow metal box near the Ashland Police Department building on East Main Street where people can drop off parking ticket payments, city staff members said.

Businesses will pay for the donation boxes, while city staff will install the boxes. Installing each box will cost the city of Ashland about $25 in staff time, according to an ad hoc Homeless Steering Committee, which vetted community ideas for dealing with homelessness issues.

The portable toilet will be installed on a trial basis through next summer near the Calle Guanajuato and the Ashland Community Development Department building on Winburn Way.

That area is visible from the street, which could discourage vandalism.

An Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant portable toilet will cost about $1,578 per year, compared to an estimated $8,000 cost to keep a public restroom overnight for a year.

The high cost of keeping a public restroom open overnight is due to added custodial and vandalism repair costs, according to the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department.

The portable toilet could reduce the problem of homeless people urinating and defecating in public. Public restrooms close as early as 4 p.m.

A majority of the council voted in favor of the portable toilet, but Councilman Russ Silbiger was one of two council members who objected to the idea.

"It's ugly. It's crap-ifying the downtown," he said.

The Homelessness Steering Committee had recommended a downtown portable toilet, plus a second toilet on the north end of town and a third on the south end of Ashland.

While the City Council endorsed the idea of a day-use center, several members were hesitant to give the Salvation Army $24,000 to lease a space for the operation.

Councilors said a nonprofit group could come forward during annual periods when the city awards social and housing services grants and try to get funding then.

The City Council decided against extending the life of an ad hoc Homelessness Steering Committee through March 2013, althoughthe council members praised the work of the committee.

Established in April, the committee was created with the intention that it last one year.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.