ashland.news
February 21, 2024

Ashland emergency shelter seeing some success: ‘There’s something happening here’

Peter McBennett, supervisor of the Ashland emergency homeless shelter, and Cass Sinclair, executive director of OHRA, talk in the lobby of the Ashland emergency homeless shelter on its opening day, Nov. 1, 2023. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
January 15, 2024

Emergency shelter houses 32 adults in separate facility from severe weather space

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

A handful of individuals at the 2200 Ashland St. emergency shelter have been housed since it opened Nov. 1, but the bigger success is what goes on inside every day, said Peter McBennet, shelter supervisor. 

“There’s something happening here and I wish I could tell you what it is,” McBennet said. 

The shelter is congregate living, meaning large common areas and shared rooms. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some 22 people have chosen to return to the streets rather than live in the shelter, he said. It’s difficult to say why homeless people refuse shelter, there are too many reasons. Poor mental health, substance abuse disorder, simply being overwhelmed by the noise and petty irritations of sharing a space with strangers. Two weeks is the “honey spot,” he said. 

“Most people that are going to leave, they leave within two weeks. But if they can make it past those two weeks, something happens,” he said. 

McBennet has prepared staff to weather the “edge” of people fresh off the street. They come in with harsh words and a harsh attitude, a way to survive in a harsh environment. But after two weeks in shelter guests begin to form relationships in those common areas — especially a large open room in the center of the building where guests play board games together and kids can color, he said. 

With Opportunities for Housing, Resources & Assistance (OHRA) navigators on site five days a week, guests are taking advantage of the opportunity to pull their lives together. Many come in without I.D. cards. Once they obtain those, guests create resumes, hunt for jobs or apartments or obtain healthcare, he said. 

For those who have spent years living on the street, it can be easy to fear success and difficult to trust themselves or those who offer help. Small steps are often easier, he said. The 2200 Ashland St. emergency shelter offers a 24/7 shelter with a bed, reliable meals and a place to store their things. 

“There’s something about the city shelter that’s created both a community and a low risk commitment,” he said. 

He gave as an example two women who came into shelter. After working nearly a dozen years with homeless people in Ashland, McBennet knew them. He didn’t think they would come into shelter but they did. Both have since moved into the OHRA shelter where they will have six months to keep working at improving their lives. 

There are currently 32 adults in the shelter at 2200 Ashland St. The severe weather shelter is also operating at the property’s garage and is only open nights when weather conditions call for shelter. 

Of the 32 adults in the emergency shelter, the majority are male, maybe one third are female, McBennet said. Some are young, but seniors are increasingly seeking shelter at 2200 Ashland St. and OHRA’s larger shelter in the former Super 8 motel at 2350 Ashland St. 

Since Nov. 1, the shelter has served a total of 61 individuals, six of whom were children, McBennet said. Five have moved into permanent housing, one has moved to the larger OHRA shelter and one moved into a substance abuse detox program. 

Peter McBennett, supervisor of the Ashland emergency homeless shelter (front), and Quinn Harding, a navigator who helps shelter residents remove barriers, work with a couple checking in to the shelter. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Despite initial opposition from residents in the area, a recent poll on the city of Ashland website was “generally positive,” and no complaints have been sent to her office, said Sabrina Cotta, Ashland’s acting city manager. 

McBennet said the large open area around the buildings and fire checks at 15 minute intervals have made it easy to “police” the property. Ashland Police have also increased patrols in the area. Conflicts with neighbors have been nearly nonexistent, he said. 

Thanks to a state emergency proclamation, funding for the shelter at 2200 Ashland St. has been extended to March 31. The shelter originally planned to close Jan. 10, one year after the state’s initial emergency proclamation. 

The building at 2200 Ashland St. was purchased with funds from Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek’s homelessness emergency declaration, executive order 23-02. The executive order was renewed Jan. 9 as executive order 24-02, bringing additional funds to keep the shelter operational, according to a release on the city of Ashland webpage

To date, the city of Ashland has financed shelter operations at a total average cost of $47,000 per month and $141,00 to continue operations to March 31, Cotta said. Jackson County will receive $1.5 million in funding from OHCS (Oregon Housing and Community Services) to address homelessness. Funding is still being finalized with the state, she said. 

The building at 2200 Ashland St. cannot be used for shelter after March 31 because “The City faces building and fire code related constraints at the building for a dormitory use,” Cotta wrote in an email. 

The city would be required to file for a change of use for the building, install full fire and smoke alarm systems with off-site monitoring, lower the windows and potentially add additional windows. What the building will be used for will be determined after the Homeless Services Master Plan Subcommittee submits a plan to Ashland City Council in June. The city will then create a facility masterplan for the site, Cotta said. 

McBennet said that as he is excited about the work the shelter is doing, it’s important for Ashland residents to keep a clear picture of who is being helped. 

 “We’re taking care of Ashlanders and that’s hard for people to believe. … These people live here, I ran into someone I’ve known for 30 years and he’s in shelter,” he said. 

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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