Friday is a busy day at Set Free Ministries on West Main Street in Medford.
Its sanctuary, a large room in a small office building, is transformed for the day into an ACCESS food-distribution center for the homeless and low income Medfordites. In the parking lot, a trailer offers a shower and laundry facilities. Tables support bins of clothes. Lunch is grilled outside for clients and volunteers. Sometimes La Clinica sends its van and health care professionals; sometimes there is a barber. Counseling and spiritual guidance are available. All is free to those disadvantaged enough to qualify.
Many homeless clients also serve as volunteers. At the parking lot entrance sits a tiny house, a model for Hope Village, a tiny-house village for the homeless that Set Free Pastor Chad McComas and all of us would like to see built.
Sharie and I sometimes volunteer.
After qualifying for help, clients wait their turn for the “shopping experience.” I check a client’s paper and push a cart with a cardboard box around the sanctuary, pointing out how many of the different kinds of packaged foods, such as pasta, rice and beans, canned vegetables, soup and cereal she can have, which depends on how many people are in her family and how much food is available from ACCESS that day.
Down the hall, Kevin hands out refrigerated food. Kevin asks clients questions like, “Are you indoors or outdoors?” “Do you have access to a refrigerator and stove?” Down the hall, the last room has baked goods and some fresh fruit and vegetables.
Then the clients deal with the logistical problem of transporting their food box to their destination. Some have cars, some have arranged for help from a friend, some walk carrying their box. Homeless people don’t take much food because they can’t carry much and can’t store it.
Who are they? Disabled people; the working poor; a young couple living in their car; an old logger who, when you tell him there’s a logjam at Kevin’s station, tells you what a real logjam was like back in the day; two veterans from different branches of the service who have become friends trying to find a place to live; former substance abusers, proud of their sobriety but anxious about it, living in transitional housing; women heading one-parent families; a couple with a family of eight; a slight young woman with a backpack almost as big as she is, carrying her tent, trying to adjust things to carry her food; a musician; an artist; intense people, damaged people, optimistic people; a man who slept in a doorway; a man who slept in a tent by Bear Creek.
Several homeless want to live at Hope Village, but Rogue Retreat, a nonprofit leading the effort, will not take applications until there is a place to put Hope Village.
City Council rejected a proposed location at Third and Front streets and has not approved a different site. And winter is coming.
David Beale lives in Medford.