Ashland Must Expand and Improve its Services to the Homeless

ASHLAND, Ore. — Ashland needs to improve and expand its services to the homeless population now that the nonprofit organization, Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland (OHRA), is no longer under contract to the City Council. This was announced at a City Council Study Session earlier this week by Interim City Manager, Sabrina Cotta.


The Demands of Services for the Homeless are Beyond the Capacity of City Staff

Supported by Emergency Management Coordinator, Kelly Burns, the pair say the demands of providing services to the homeless are now beyond the capacity of city staff.

They called on the council to appoint a new service provider to operate both the emergency shelter at 2200 Ashland Street, as well as at the dusk-to-dawn sleeping area behind the Civic Center buildings at 1175 East Main Street. They said by combining the two shelters, the council will create an “economy of scale” that could make the proposal more attractive to an outside service source.

They have also called for the appointment of a full-time Homelessness Service Coordinator.


The Motivation Behind Their Reasoning

Motivating their proposals, the two city staffers said operating the 2200 Ashland Street severe weather shelter had been demanding and a full-time job. Volunteer staff have proved unreliable, and the shelter should be a permanent resource that connected residents to other services for the homeless.

They said the shelter proved to be a permanent challenge because of the vagaries of weather conditions, such as temperature highs, lows, and air quality affected by wildfire smoke. Most often volunteers had to be organized at short notice, requiring consistent weather monitoring, and gathering people willing to work at short notice.

Wildfire smoke made smooth operations at the shelter time consuming and complex. Burns explained rising smoke levels that triggered the use of the shelter happened at short notice. The changeable smoke levels presented its own challenges, complicated by difficulties coordinating volunteer staff.

Kelly Burns reported that operating the severe weather shelter during the 2023-2024 winter season had cost the city more than $25,000. This was for the period November to February, as OHRA had yet to submit its invoice for March. During that time, the shelter was open for 39 nights, and its capacity rose from 12 to 28 homeless people seeking a safe and dry place to spend the night.


Proposals to Solve the Situation

Apart from the appointment of a new service provider, the duo also called for supervision at the dusk-to-dawn sleeping area where problems are being experienced with safety and behavior. Mayor Tonya Graham has suggested that “a person from within the community” could be willing to undertake the job as he would have “a stronger ability to manage the different personalities on site.”

Longtime volunteer coordinator, Avram Sacks, told the study session that the severe weather shelter capacity was insufficient and said women and children should be housed in a separate section of the building, away from other shelter residents.

The council approved Burns’ suggestion that he be allowed to announce a Request for Proposals (RFP) so that an outside service provider can take over operations at the severe weather shelter before the start of the wildfire season. They also approved a draft job description to appoint a homelessness service coordinator.



Cotta told the study session that homelessness has grown into a countrywide problem and Ashland had reached a stage where it could no longer absorb the cost and coordination the services required.

Mayor Graham expressed concern that funding additional resources ahead of the city council budget could be “something we cannot feed.” She pointed out that Ashland’s Homelessness Services Masterplan would not be completed until June. She said the city council has already called for an ad hoc committee to propose further developments at 2200 Ashland Street, while the dusk-to-dawn sleeping area would require several full-time positions.

Morning Brief Newsletter
Sign up today for our daily newsletter, a quick overview of top local stories and Oregon breaking news delivered directly to your inbox
You can unsubscribe at any time
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.