ashland.news
July 14, 2024

Homelessness master plan for Ashland almost complete

Ashland Police Sgt. Rob Leonard talks with Echo Fields at a meeting of the Ashland Homelessness Masterplan Subcomittee on Wednesday, as other committee members peruse a draft plan. Ashland.news photo by Morgan Rothborne
June 28, 2024

Subcommittee adds additional meeting to fine-tune final draft

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

The due date is fast approaching for a homelessness master plan requested by Ashland City Council. The Homeless Services Master Plan Subcommittee created to produce the plan met Wednesday for what was initially intended to be a final meeting.

After two and a half hours of wide ranging discussion, committee members present agreed with a show-of-hands vote to meet one more time after falling short of working through the entire 76 pages of the final draft of the master plan. 

Compiler and editor of the draft Jan Calvin led the group through an ambitious attempt to review and agree on the mammoth document. 

After a few minor formatting questions and name changes — such as “money map” to “funding streams” — the committee got down to brass tacks. What were their impressions from the information gathered and what should the master plan contribute to Ashland’s homelessness problems?

The report includes surveys conducted online and in person of residents and small business owners, front-line staff working with populations at risk, and some surveys of those living with homelessness conducted with the help of the Oregon Health and Human Sciences University’s Street Nursing Team, according to a draft of the report obtained by Ashland.news. Statistics on the national and state level are also included with a survey of available resources in Ashland. 

Under funding, committee members agreed the majority funding sources are from the government on the local and state level. Much of the funding is too rigid and could be better applied with more flexibility. 

An estimated 70 people have died while homeless in Jackson County since 2022, according to the draft report. Niesewander wondered if deaths related to inclement weather or overdoses were being captured in that data. Subcommittee Chair Echo Fields responded that granular data such as cause of death is available for Multnomah County only. 

“We don’t know the story down here in Jackson County,” Fields said. 

In a section tallying local resources, Lawrence Van Egdom stated he opposed the library as a resource for homeless people. Niesewander responded the report is only listing an existing resource; the library already has a dedicated desk assisting with meeting needs like bus tokens and clothing. 

Echo Fields stated that, after spending time on the Jackson County Library’s budget committee, resources have been dedicated at that level and the city of Ashland can’t control the library’s participation in homelessness resources. 

Councilor Dylan Bloom — acting as a council liaison and not a voting member of the committee — requested that the section should put the city of Ashland’s contributions in the context of its size relative to the county. He has heard from residents a general feeling that the city is already doing more than its small population can support. 

“The question really is, what is it that is here that we’re doing that is working and working well, what we should keep investing in. … What are we not doing right?” he said. 

Other members of the committee voiced similar hopes for immediate practical application of the report. Deb Price advocated using the statistics and information the committee has compiled to lobby at the state level for improved programs and funding flexibility. 

Niesewander said the report should help correct local misconceptions. She hopes for more support for permanent housing programs, but often hears complaints that taxpayer funds are unfairly spent on them because those using the programs aren’t contributing. 

“It’s actually a percentage of their income, they don’t get it for free,” she said. 

Bloom stated in his own research, homelessness is rising nationally, but the Pacific Northwest’s relatively temperate climate and existing social services resources have created a particular regional rise in the problem. 

“The two big pillars are housing and behavioral health. And if we’re not doing those two things, everything else we’re doing is triage. So the big policy question we need to ask ourselves is how much triage are we willing to do and should the community be doing, as opposed to investing in these long-term solutions that will actually address this issue?” he said. 

Van Egdom asked if the information gathered represented “a solution or a band aid.” 

Calvin stated determining what success is for Ashland is relative. 

“When you say, ‘it’s successful, it’s working’ — according to whom, to what metric? We don’t have those metrics. What we have is data that tells you how much and that we need more of everything. But when you want to fine tune it to fair share, that’s a whole other regional conversation,” she said. 

The point-in-time count — an annual manual tally of homeless people conducted nationally in January — is considered by most experts to represent only about half of a homeless population in a given area, she said. 

“You double that, we have an estimated 130 to 320 people experiencing homelessness just here in Ashland. And with 117 beds, but at the time that count happens those beds are also in use. So the disparities are coming in clear but what to do about it we’re still working on,” Calvin said. 

Committee members were told at the beginning of the meeting they would have a chance to use sticky notes to mark up the draft and to include any additional commentary such as individual opposition to facets of the report. But the discussion went too long to get through the document. The final opinions would have to wait for an additional meeting. 

The committee will meet with an opportunity for public comment at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 3,  at 51 Winburn Way. The master plan will then be reviewed by the Housing and Human Services Committee July 18 and sent to Ashland City Council by Aug. 5. 

To learn more about the subcommittee, visit the city of Ashland’s page. 

Meeting disrupted

The meeting began with an unknown man attempting to convince subcommittee chair Fields he was specially invited to the meeting and “gone through three countries” to be there. Asked to sit on the side of the room with other attendees, he piped up from the corner with comments such as “the 10 commandments” and “I’m inheriting the Mafia.” 

Committee members attempted to placate or ignore the visitor but Police Liaison Sergeant Rob Leonard was finally asked to help. APD Officer Billings answered the call over the radio and readily convinced the disgruntled man to step outside for a conversation. 

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

July 1: Corrected spelling of Lawrence Van Egdom’s name.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

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

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