Ashland is lacking in homeless services, says report

ASHLAND — Gaping holes in Ashland's social services network make it difficult for homeless residents to secure jobs or find housing, according to a city report released last week.

Since the Interfaith Care Community of Ashland closed its doors in April 2008, homeless residents have had no access in Ashland to counseling, housing assistance, job-search assistance or a phone where potential employers can leave messages, among other services, the report found.

"I tried to look at what services were the most necessary to help homeless people attain self-sufficiency," said Linda Reid, the city's housing program specialist, who compiled the report.

"In order to obtain self-sufficiency, you have to have a job, and in order to have a job, you have to be able to clean yourself and have clean clothes and have a way to be contacted. And in order to get a job, you have to be able to do a resume and have people be able to contact you."

Homeless residents also no longer have access in Ashland to a mailing address, a homeless advocacy group, life-skills training or a day-use center, Reid found.

The brief report, which Reid will present to the City Council early next year, lists the services that the ICCA provided to homeless residents and identifies which of those services are no longer available through other organizations.

Many of the services are available in Medford, but homeless Ashland residents often are unable to access them because of travel and timing difficulties, Reid said.

"I think the crux of the situation is that most of these services are available in Medford and Medford pulls a lot of the resources because it has the (larger homeless) population, but it's really difficult for people here to access those services," she said. "Even though we have a bus system, it takes a long time to get there and get back, and there's the issue of the cost and where they're going to leave their stuff for the four hours or so that they're gone."

Reid said she doesn't think all of the services in Medford need to be duplicated in Ashland, but access to the services should be improved.

"There needs to be a better way of integrating these services into the Ashland population," she said.

A collection of government agencies, nonprofits and churches has begun offering some of the services the ICCA provided.

South Valley Department of Human Services, 1658 Ashland St., provides homeless people with toiletries and access to phones and computers for housing or job searches. The agency also refers people to other resources available in Medford.

Homeless residents can get bus tokens from the Ashland Police Department and clothing from the Ashland Recycle Center or ACCESS Inc.

A group of churches opens a cold-weather shelter when temperatures dip to 20 degrees or below.

The same group sets up a shelter every Sunday night, except in the summer months, at the First Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Walker Avenue. Between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., transients can sleep in the church. On Monday mornings, they can travel a few blocks to the First Congregational United Church of Christ, which hosts a free breakfast and provides hot showers.

Free, hot meals also are offered at least three other times every week, including on Tuesday evenings at the United Methodist Church and Saturdays and Sundays at the Lithia Park gazebo.

Medford-based nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul provides emergency rental and utility assistance. Community Works, also based in Medford, holds a teen outreach program in Ashland.

Reid expects the council to weigh in on the report and offer suggestions on what the city could do to help restore some of the services that were lost when the ICCA closed.

The council has discussed working with a nonprofit to set up a shelter for homeless youths in the city, she said.

One of the council's goals for this year and next is to study homelessness in the city and develop strategies for aiding homeless residents.

It's important the city research the services available to Ashland's homeless population and its demographics if it wants to help as many people as possible, Reid said.

"When you talk about homelessness, there's always a tendency to create broad generalizations," she said. "But it's really hard to draw generalizations about Ashland's homeless population, and I think to do so would be to do them a disservice."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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