Severe weather shelter expected to also open on same site, but separated
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
Residents slowly began moving in Wednesday, the first day of operation for Ashland’s new emergency shelter.
Workers were busy installing slatted privacy fencing in a perimeter around the shelter at 2200 Ashland St. as residents carried in their belongings. Two young children ran through the hallways, laughing and playing together. Another resident walked through with an amiable old pug on a leash.
Cass Sinclair stood near the front door where packets of information and boxes of cookies waited for the shelter’s new residents. As executive director of Options for Housing and Rental Assistance (OHRA) — the city’s contracted shelter operator — Sinclair was on site to oversee day one.
“I think today there’s 30 people that said they were going to move in. Usually the first day, we’ve found in shelter, it can be pretty slow. Then when it starts to get cold, it gets much quicker,” she said.
Everyone moving in that day spent the night before sleeping on sidewalks or in their cars, she said. This would be their first night in a climate-controlled space with the luxuries of a refrigerator, a microwave, a coffee pot and a cot to sleep on.
In the dining and gathering room, Shelter Supervisor Pete McBennett sat with new residents reading over the behavioral contracts they would sign to stay in the shelter. The contracts lay out basic expectations of behavior, Sinclair said: Respectful behavior to other residents and staff. Pets are allowed. An expectation that some residents may be living with substance abuse disorder — but can’t use on site.
McBennett has worked in Ashland’s shelters for years. Sinclair turned to him with appreciation — he helped train her when she first began her career with OHRA and the organization began working with the city of Ashland to provide shelter. McBennett was giddy.
“The guests are super excited. … It’s just so wonderful to have a new space, so today is just great. This is a really important place,” he said.
Laundry and shower trailers were expected to arrive Thursday, she said. The emergency order grant that is supporting the shelter requires available showers. The trailers — formally a staple of OHRA’s property — will remain at the Ashland Street shelter until the grant period ends on Jan. 10. OHRA residents will come to the new shelter to use these facilities, she said.
The 34 residents of the new shelter were all chosen through an application and a vulnerability risk assessment, explained Lisa Smith, director of program services for OHRA.
“We bring people in by the highest risk score first. The exception to that is if we have families with littles, they can be a little bit lower score because of the kids,” she said.
Sinclair was looking forward to the potential for the new shelter. Congregate shelter — shelter with shared rooms and common areas — can lead to development of community and connections between residents. Residents will not only enjoy the kitchen but an evening meal provided by a local restaurant. Two navigators will be available in the new space. At OHRA, navigators provide help akin to social workers.
“We need navigation, we need case work. Because you can put a roof over people’s head and keep them safe and warm, but let’s also get an opportunity to remove some of the barriers,” she said.
“Even though we only have 71 days, we’ll have those two navigators here working alongside people. They may start with getting a driver’s license, a birth certificate then they can get a job, they have a place to keep their things, they can get connected to medical care and they aren’t getting their medication stolen when they’re living outside, so it really starts to stabilize people.”
The space now has smoke detectors, but there will still be dedicated fire watch staff morning and night. The shelter will have navigators on site Monday to Friday with additional shelter staff seven days a week.
The severe weather shelter will also be provided at the 2200 Ashland St. property, but the city and OHRA are still working on the contract, Sinclair said. Ashland City Council will look at the contract on Nov. 7, and a finalized contract is expected by Nov. 10.
The severe weather shelter requires a different liability insurance because it is low barrier, accepting anyone in need without the background checks required for the emergency shelter. Measures will be taken to ensure the guests of the two shelters are separated. Portable toilets will be brought on site for severe weather shelter guests.
The building represents stability for the severe weather shelter, she said. Ashland’s attempt to offer this form of shelter has happened for years with no set location and with only volunteer staff. The pandemic whittled the available volunteers down until the shelter could barely operate — if it could find a church or public building to open in, she said. OHRA taking over its operation will mean paid and trained staff at the severe weather shelter.
The future of the emergency shelter is uncertain. The governor’s order will expire on Jan. 10. But there has been information from the governor’s office that more money may “come down the pipe” to continue supporting shelters created through the emergency order, Sinclair said.
“We have to show that we can operate here — what does the community think about it? It’s kind of coming in parts. …It’s up to the council and community and the mayor to solve for, what do they want to utilize this asset for?” she said.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com.