Southern Oregon received a boost in homeless shelters in 2021
On the outskirts of Ashland, a few blocks from Exit 14 to Interstate 5, Cass Sinclair crosses the ravaged ground floor of a former Super 8 motel.
“Once we have completed our entire first phase of renovations – we have to install an elevator, we have to install a fire extinguisher system throughout the building – then we will look to create a commercial kitchen space here.” she said as she walked around a large room of bare drywall.
Sinclair is the Executive Director of Options for Helping Residents of Ashland or OHRA, a nonprofit organization that helps people experiencing homelessness. The construction site that it traverses is a motel turned into a refuge for people making the initial transition from life outside to inside.
âOn a regular basis we see probably 50 to 60 people a day here,â she said.
The lobby houses a guest resource center where OHRA employees help complete Section 8 housing applications, write resumes, and purchase health insurance.
The motel is one of 19 such properties around Oregon that make up Project Turnkey, the pandemic-inspired program that turns underused hotels and motels into emergency shelters.
There have been guests who haven’t seen a doctor in 15 years, said Lisa Smith, OHRA’s director of program services.
“While they were here they received medical treatment, made a disability claim and this gentleman is now receiving a housing voucher,” Smith said. “So I predict he will be housed for the first time in his adult life and he is 57 years old.”
Prior to the Turnkey Project launch, Jackson County had 171 accommodation beds, according to Amy Cuddy, Medford regional director of the Oregon Community Foundation, which distributed the grants for the program. She says the program has added 115 more beds in the county.
âGoing from 171 and then adding 115 in about eight months is a big increase,â Cuddy said.
The Turnkey project was paid for with nearly $ 75 million allocated by the state legislature in 2020 and 2021.
The past year has also been a busy one for Rogue Retreat, a non-profit homeless service provider in Medford. Just before Thanksgiving, she opened a shelter in Ashland with small, prefabricated pallet shelters that will house 49 people. Around the same time, Rogue Retreat opened Foundry Village in Grants Pass, which includes 17 tiny houses. And there are places for 90 people at its urban campsite in Medford, which opened in the summer of 2020 and is now wintered with rigid tents.
“We are exploding, if I dare say it that way. We are really growing, âsaid Chad McComas, Executive Director of Rogue Retreat.
He says the funding and political will for programs like their urban campground would not have been available without the pandemic.
âThe pandemic has brought the problem to the fore,â he said. âAnd it’s actually been so successful that cities across the state are trying to copy it. So it works. The pandemic has been a great push to get us where we need to be. “
Homelessness is also more common in southern Oregon after wildfires in 2020 destroyed entire communities, most of whom weren’t on the verge of living on the streets before.
However, this growth of shelters is not enough to house everyone. There were 727 homeless people in Jackson County, according to 2020 tally. At least one homeless person in Jackson County has already died this winter in what early reports cite as exposure to the elements.
According to OHRA and Rogue Retreat, their facilities are generally full, even with their newly expanded space.
Business challenges have also arisen with the rapid growth of the past year. Sinclair says state funding has increased the OHRA’s budget from less than $ 250,000 per year to $ 2.6 million per year. OHRA must now raise a lot more money to continue its programs.
âEveryone is looking for more operating dollars because they received the capital to buy it, but not the operating dollars,â she said.
Likewise, McComas with Rogue Retreat says that after purchasing a hotel through Project Turnkey, they were surprised at the current cost of materials to renovate it.
Southern Oregon’s extremely tight housing market and lack of affordable housing are huge barriers. But OHRA’s Lisa Smith says this year’s investments and the support services that go with them are a big step forward for the organization, as well as for the shelter’s current list of 42 guests, as well as ten dogs and a cat accompanying them.
âWe’ve always had shelter, but it was in a church every year,â Smith said. âAnd now we have a home port. And we can provide these services year round, which is amazing because people come and are doing so well here.