ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Four years in, Ashland’s OHRA shelter has permanently housed hundreds

Cass Sinclair stands outside the OHRA Center, a former Super 8 motel that is now used to house and provide services for Jackson County homeless. It opened in April 2021 with 36 rooms. It now has 52 guest rooms. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
June 20, 2024

There’s always a waiting list for a shot at a stay of up to six months in one of 52 rooms at former Ashland Street motel  

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

The Opportunities for Housing, Resources & Assistance location at 2350 Ashland St. is only four years old, but has already established itself as the largest social services resource hub in the region and continues to work hard to meet demand for its services. 

The shelter’s 52 rooms are always full — a waitlist of around 80 people has remained constant since the doors opened in April 2021, OHRA Executive Director Cass Sinclair told Ashland.news. 

Walking through the doors of the former Super 8 motel while giving Ashland.news a tour, Sinclair said it is one of the only former hotels turned shelter during the pandemic to offer a walk-in resource center. The center is humming with around 50 visitors a day and nine dedicated “navigators” — akin to a social worker. 

The OHRA Center is a former Super 8 motel on Ashland Street/Highway 66 in south Ashland. It opened in April 2021 with 36 rooms. It now has 52 guest rooms. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Since opening the doors at this location, Sinclair said 430 families have been permanently housed and 418 families received eviction prevention assistance from OHRA.  

“Staff are knocking it out of the park,” she said. 

The resource center has also steadily aligned with a vision for increased cooperation between service agencies. She remembered with pride the day she walked into the resource center and saw the Southern Oregon Lion’s club offering vision and hearing services, La Clinica staff, the street nurse team from Oregon Health & Sciences University and nonprofit Pathfinder Network Resilience & Recovery Project to help those who may have cases pending with the justice system. 

The OHRA shelter has also converted two rooms into a clinic including a lab and an exam room that can handle small procedures. Sinclair said it’s similar to seeing a general practitioner, but on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, anyone can walk into OHRA and receive care from La Clinica without cost. 

La Clinica has opened a federally qualified health center in the OHRA center. It is open three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“That’s part of our model — get folks in and remove barriers,” she said. 

Creating a one-stop shop where those in need can get help with medical needs, disability benefits, obtaining a driver’s license, or having a primary mailing address can make the difference for those struggling to stabilize. 

She remembered one man who had spent his entire adult life on the street. He had mental and physical health challenges and was living with substance use disorder. He had been in and out of various shelters around the valley. After becoming a guest and working with a navigator at OHRA, he has been housed for three years and continues to meet with his navigator. 

In most shelters, once a guest leaves, services from that facility also end. Nonguests and former guests alike can enter the OHRA resource center and meet with their navigator, she said. 

Moving through the second floor hallway, Sinclair struggled to find an open room to show but eventually found one with all the familiar trappings of a budget motel. OHRA kept the Super 8 furnishings out of frugality. Each guest has a private bathroom, a place to store their things and a mini fridge. Outside in the parking lot is a dog run for guest’s pets and a smoke area. Downstairs guests have access to laundry facilities. 

A room in the OHRA center is ready for a new resident to move in. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Throughout the six months allotted to each guest, navigators and staff perform “wellness checks” every morning. Staff knock on doors but remain respectfully in the hallway. Navigators remind guests of tasks they could work on to achieve stability. But no one is compelled to do anything aside from following behavioral rules. 

“We’re here to provide respect and dignity to those we serve. There is no mandatory requirement that they use navigation services. They can simply stay here and have a roof over their head,”  she said. 

Some Ashland residents have been critical of OHRA for the way they provide services or the behavior of homeless people in Ashland. Sinclair said the nonprofit does everything it can to encourage their guests to be good neighbors, but once outside the facility, they are adults, she said, adding that sometimes there is also a mistaken perception that every person on the street in Ashland is connected to OHRA. They’re not. 

An OHRA employee responsible for safety and security works in her office on a residential floor. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

OHRA opened the shelter in April 2021 before needed renovations such as a new fire suppression system had been completed. Sometimes guests were shuffled between rooms to balance the need for renovations and shelter beds, she said. The transformation of the former hotel was made possible by a capital grant — from the $65 million statewide Project Turnkey — created by the Oregon State Legislature. OHRA was awarded $4.2 million for the shelter. 

The organization ballooned suddenly with pandemic-era funding and rising need. Sinclair said when she first started in 2019, OHRA had only five paid staff and an operating budget of $240,000 dollars. The organization now has 46 staff members and a $2.6 million budget, she said. 

Cass Sinclair, executive director of OHRA, has seen the organization grow tremendously since she started with the organization in 2019. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

OHRA continues to receive and is increasingly dependent on grants. Sinclair estimated the organization’s operational budget is currently 80% grants. It’s a complicated patchwork of funding with limitations such as timelines and specific purposes for the funds. Sinclair estimated she and their sole grant writer spend an average of 20 hours on each application. 

More information
Visit OHRA’s website (click here) to learn more about services, find volunteer opportunities or make a donation. 

To continue providing services that meet the growing need, the organization will need to diversify its funding sources. It hopes to attract more donors and sponsors, she said.  Fundraising events are being planned for the future. The nonprofit has also ordered bricks for a brick walk to be installed in the front of the building with the names of donors engraved on the bricks. 

A previous partnership with the city of Ashland to operate the severe weather shelter and the emergency homelessness shelter ended March 31. The severe weather shelter was particularly challenging, Sinclair said. There are few temporary staff who could be available suddenly when intermittent weather situations arose.

On May 7, the Ashland City Council approved a staff plan to put out a request for proposals for a new shelter provider for the city’s severe weather shelter and a potential host for the city’s dusk-to-dawn camping area. Sinclair said OHRA was interested in putting in a proposal for the camping area, but can’t manage the staff requirements of the severe weather shelter. 

At its large site on Ashland Street, the shelter is “busting at the seams,” Sinclair said. 

Part of the former pool area of the motel is being converted to an all-electric commercial kitchen. They hope to have it open in mid-to-late 2025. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

More people are coming in experiencing homelessness for the first time and many are seniors, she said. When one spouse dies or health conditions change, seniors on a fixed income are sometimes unable to cope and find themselves without a home. 

“We’re serving the highest need individuals,” she said. “The whole goal is, once you can just get folks in and get a room over their head, give them a place to store their things, then they can start attending all the other things — they can stabilize.”

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

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

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

Related Posts...

Council agrees: A denser Ashland would make more city more ‘liveable’

In just an hour and half on Monday night, the Ashland City Council strongly affirmed that the city’s future will include major swaths of taller, denser development designed to reduce our dependency on automobiles, adapt to climate change, and provide a greater amount of multi-family and affordable housing, while striving to provide spaces for commercial and small-scale industrial uses.

Read More »

Fire reported outside Ashland only a ‘water dog’

Lighting on Monday appeared to spark a small fire outside Ashland but the apparent fire was only what’s known as a “water dog.” Oregon Department of Forestry Public Information Officer Natalie Weber confirms the apparent fire has been found by aircraft to be a “water dog,” or a small low cloud formed by water evaporating in the heat.

Read More »

Latest posts

Council agrees: A denser Ashland would make more city more ‘liveable’

In just an hour and half on Monday night, the Ashland City Council strongly affirmed that the city’s future will include major swaths of taller, denser development designed to reduce our dependency on automobiles, adapt to climate change, and provide a greater amount of multi-family and affordable housing, while striving to provide spaces for commercial and small-scale industrial uses.

Read More >

Chris Honoré: A debate narrative

Chris Honoré: Donald Trump simply cannot win the presidency. He must not return to the White House. Perhaps he can last four more years, but our Democracy won’t. With a mixture of regret and urgency, the number of elected Democrats calling for President Biden to step down grows.

Read More >

Obituary: Jed D. Meese

Obituary: Jed Meese died on June 24 at the age of 86. Jed started several successful companies, each with a physician partner in Japan, Sweden, Turkey, and the UK, which designed and developed both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Jed was extremely generous and philanthropic to our community and nationally. He served on Boards of Directors and Foundations for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University, Ashland Community Hospital, Asante, Ashland Family YMCA, and many others.

Read More >

Obituary: Joyce Theresa (Brenner) Epstein

Obituary: Joyce Theresa (Breener) Epstein, 96, of Ashland died March 26. Her work has been dramatized by college and university theater arts departments, and she is the author of the chapbook, “A Journey Through Life Unguarded, The Book,” and “The Stars Gave Us Names.”

Read More >

Explore More...

In just an hour and half on Monday night, the Ashland City Council strongly affirmed that the city’s future will include major swaths of taller, denser development designed to reduce our dependency on automobiles, adapt to climate change, and provide a greater amount of multi-family and affordable housing, while striving to provide spaces for commercial and small-scale industrial uses.
Chris Honoré: Donald Trump simply cannot win the presidency. He must not return to the White House. Perhaps he can last four more years, but our Democracy won’t. With a mixture of regret and urgency, the number of elected Democrats calling for President Biden to step down grows.
Ashland's Street Division installed a colorful thermoplastic artwork piece titled "Walking Upstream." The work was designed by Glory Salinas Nylander and chosen by the Public Arts Advisory Committee and funded by the Ashland Beautification Initiative.
City Corner: Please remember, effective emergency preparedness means ensuring ALL your family members have access to Citizen Alerts, including older children with cellphones.
Jed D. Meese, known in the Rogue Valley for the many millions he and his family donated for the betterment of the community, died at home in Medford on June 24, 2024, at the age of 86. Friends and associates say the true measure of the man was in the contribution of not only his treasure, but also his time and talent and empathy.
ashland.news logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)

Don't Miss Our Top Stories

Get our newsletter delivered to your inbox three times a week.
It’s FREE and you can cancel anytime.