A warming shelter for homeless people in the basement of a Medford church faces an uphill battle this winter, so supporters are keeping an eye out for other possible buildings.
"We are going to move ahead, but we don't know if it's going to work at the current location," said Chad McComas of Rogue Retreat, an organization supporting the Kelly Shelter. "If we can't, we'll try to find another place. We can't leave people on the streets."
McComas said the basement location has been the biggest obstacle for the shelter, requiring a sprinkler system as well as a person hired as a fire monitor during the night for the upper stories of First United Methodist Church, 607 W. Main St.
After the sprinkler system was installed last year at a cost of about $15,000, it was discovered that the water main from the street needed to be upgraded as well. McComas said the upgrade could cost far more than the sprinkler system.
McComas said supporters will try to see whether they can make the basement work this year, but he said they are also looking at other warehouse locations. He said the city has told him that a single-story structure would be more suitable for use as a shelter.
Last year, the shelter faced a number of challenges, including some guests who didn't abide by the rules. As a result, the shelter, wherever it may be located, will have more supervision this year. It would be open from 6 p.m. to noon, Jan. 1 to March 31.
A shelter manager would organize meals, volunteers and other activities from 4 p.m. to midnight. An assistant manager would be available from midnight to 8 a.m., and a case manager would be on hand from 8 a.m. to noon.
McComas said he wants the case manager to work closely with shelter users to see if they can be placed in a more permanent location.
"Last year what really haunted me is that we had two 80-year-old ladies in the shelter," he said.
This year, the shelter will have the same 50 people staying each night, rather than a line of homeless vying for a mat to sleep on.
In addition, McComas said, he hopes to line up seven churches or other locations where homeless people could stay during the day in the three coldest months.
"That should mean less people hanging out in Alba Park," he said.
Rogue Retreat has struggled with the water line issue, a project that would require an underground vault and an outside water hookup for firefighters.
“We’re researching all of our options right now,” said Heather Everett, director of Rogue Retreat.
She said she's still trying to figure out costs and how to pay for the project.
Sam Barnum, Medford building director, said upgrading the water line for the sprinkler system is the big issue that needs to be resolved before the warming shelter can reopen.
In addition, new door hardware needs to be installed to provide easier entry and exit from the building in case of emergency, Barnum said. He said a permit has been pulled to put in the new door systems.
He said someone is needed during the night for fire watch in the upstairs portion of the church, because only the basement has fire sprinklers.
In addition, because only 50 people are allowed to stay in the warming shelter, lines on the floor help emergency service personnel quickly determine whether the sleeping area is overcrowded, Barnum said.
So far, Barnum said, he has been under the assumption that the warming shelter will open at the current location.
“They’re looking at opening it back up on Jan. 1,” he said.