Ashland may retool plan for day center

Problems closed city's previous day shelter

By Vickie Aldous
Ashland Daily Tidings
Posted: 2:00 AM January 17, 2013

City officials may retool their concept for a homeless resources day center in Ashland after no social service organizations stepped forward to apply for $100,000 in city grants to launch one.

The Medford-based branch of the Salvation Army, which was expected to apply, doesn’t have the resources to run a day center at this time, said Development Director Jackie Agee.

“It’s not a cheap undertaking at all,” said Agee, an Ashland resident. “It would take a minimum of $150,000 per year to do it. It still makes a lot of sense, but right now we’re not in a financial position to be able to do it.”

Homeless day centers have had a troubled history in Ashland.
A day center run by the Interfaith Care Community on North Second Street faced a lawsuit in 2004 from neighbors who claimed clients loitered on the property after hours and harassed them.

Former Ashland Mayor Alan DeBoer then stepped forward, using $150,000 of his own money, to pay for a day center in a former hardware building near Shop’n Kart on Ashland Street.

That center, which was managed by the ICC, was shuttered in 2008 by the board, which wanted to shift resources to Medford. The late Sharon Schreiber, director at the time, told the Daily Tidings then that many Medford families were on the brink of homelessness and needed help, whereas in Ashland, too many people had chosen homelessness as a lifestyle. Those people weren’t using housing and job-assistance programs offered at the day center in Ashland, she said.

DeBoer said this week that despite much effort, the day center was a failure.

“It did not work,” he said.

Community members began dumping couches and other items on the property that were expensive to remove, DeBoer said.

Homeless males also took over the shelter. Many had alcohol and drug abuse issues and mental health problems, DeBoer said.

In late 2012, the city put out a request for proposals to create and run a center that was meant to help homeless people escape the streets and prevent people from falling into homelessness.

The city asked organizations to consider offering services such as toilets, showers, laundry facilities, clothing, storage lockers, job-skills training, mental health and substance abuse counseling, transitional housing information and a mail-drop service and address for people sending out job applications.

The $100,000 would have been spread over two years to lease a building and pay facility expenses.

Agee said the center would need two full-time employees, in part because of the case management and life-skills training proposed.

Agee said the Salvation Army has directed more of its resources toward its Hope House transitional shelter in Medford, which serves men, women and families.

The organization has increased staffing there and drawn down its reserves to pay for that effort, she said.

While the city’s funding wouldn’t pay all the costs of a day center, Agee said she believes there would be community support and funding offered to help operate it if one did open.

Councilor Pam Marsh suggested Tuesday that an adjusted request for proposals might garner a different response. Councilors directed city staff to query organizations on why they didn’t submit proposals.

Former Mayor Alan DeBoer, who financed a day center on Ashland Street in the 2000s before it was closed because of problems, said America is not doing a good job helping people with substance abuse and mental health problems.

He said people with alcohol and drug dependency need professional help, but they will often abuse assistance until they hit rock bottom and decide for themselves that they need to change.

DeBoer said he doesn’t feel qualified to offer solutions to the complex problem of homelessness, and will leave that to others.

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