Ashland faith leaders demand a shelter by winter

An open letter from the Ashland Interfaith Clergy Circle bearing the signatures of 35 local faith leaders calls for recognition that homelessness stops being a “crisis” when the homeless get a home — and that it’s time for the community to take responsibility for that as an ongoing function.

“We entreat the whole community to take the action needed to build, fund and sustainably operate a shelter for men, women and children, the elderly, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, local and accessible for those in need,” it reads in part.

The 757-word letter was written by the Rev. Richenda Fairhurst of the First United Methodist Church of Ashland, after taking notes during a monthly meeting of interfaith clergy. It was published in the Ashland Daily Tidings, with the ad paid for by the Rev. Dan Fowler of the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland.

“We wanted to say that this is the time,” Fairhurst said in an interview. “It’s an important moment for Ashland. Winter is coming and we can’t abandon people to the streets. There’s tremendous agreement on that in Ashland. What we really need is money. We believe a lot of folks in Ashland might want to help financially.”

One signatory, the Rev. Pandora Canton, chaplain of Asante Ashland Community Hospital, said, “These are brothers, sisters, children on the street and they are part of all of us, no different from us. They deserve food, housing, warmth. I see, working in a hospital, what living on the street can do to their health and well-being. I see addictions, frostbite, dehydration, wounds, cellulitis, deterioration of general health.”

The response she hopes for, says Canton, is that “the community finally sees we are responsible for people who are homeless here and need shelter from extreme cold and heat, day care, psychological, social and medical help, so they’re not bouncing back to the hospital all the time. Most of them want to provide for themselves. If we support them, they can be a more regular and supportive, contributing part of our community.”

The letter has already inspired responses, said Fowler, with one Realtor asking him specifics on a property needed for a single shelter. The hot real estate market has caused listed properties to sell rapidly.

Fowler said, “City Hall has told us they recognize that what we have now, the piecemeal shelters, cannot continue forever. With the letter, we wanted to make sure people, not just the City Council, understands that.”

The letter was presented to the Ashland City Council and staff Monday. In response, Mayor John Stromberg said the first important thing about the issue is “the homeless are in a state of ongoing trauma. It’s not something that happened once upon a time … .”

Interim city Administrator Adam Hanks said the city continues to coordinate with shelter-seeking groups, such as the 1-Site Committee, and is inventorying city buildings and properties, as well as working to fast-track any private property that’s a good candidate for shelter.

Fowler said he hopes to see a single site taking care of people’s needs, with an intake person, mental health counseling, showers, storage and job counseling, so people “have a way up and out of the cycle of poverty.”

The letter invites anyone to sign on. It concludes by asking for “the generosity of the comfortable, the stewardship of the professional, the compassion of the faithful, and the leadership of the political … it is unconscionable to imagine November arriving and there still not being a place for our homeless neighbors.”

For more information, email either Fairhurst at revrichenda@ashlandmethodist.org or Fowler at revfowler@yahoo.com.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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