Come in from the cold

While Ashland grappled with its lack of shelter for the homeless recently, Medford residents could pat themselves on the back, secure in the knowledge that the Medford Gospel Mission was filling that need here. But with the onset of the current cold snap, Medford may need to re-evaluate its commitment to those with no place to go.

In fact, all local communities should recognize the threat winter weather poses to those with no shelter.

Ashland's faith community has stepped up to provide warm places to sleep at least three nights of the week. The city government has pitched in by providing Pioneer Hall, a municipal building, for a warming shelter staffed by trained volunteers from two local congregations.

Medford's Gospel Mission shelter has relaxed its sobriety standards and opened extra space to accommodate all comers when the temperature drops below freezing.

In Central Point, Calvary Temple Church has opened its doors to offer a warming shelter five nights a week.

But when nighttime temperatures drop into the 20s and below, daytime hours stay plenty cold until the afternoon. Clients of the Gospel Mission must leave the building about 6:30 every morning — and there is nowhere else to go that's warm until nightfall.

Two client-run, drop-in day centers for the mentally ill in Medford closed last fall. So homeless people must fend for themselves all day until a warming shelter opens again in the evening.

This is more than an academic exercise. It's actually a matter of life and death.

The cold has claimed at least one life already — a homeless man was found frozen to death Dec. 31 behind a strip mall on South Central Avenue. Elijah Pickard-Aguilar was 29 years old. An employee of a nearby women's health clinic found him as she was walking to work.

An autopsy concluded he died of hypothermia. Drugs and alcohol were not a factor — just the cold.

Sub-freezing temperatures are forecast at least into early next week. That means mornings will continue to be frosty.

Pickard-Aguilar wasn't the only victim of the cold. An elderly Medford man was found dead Tuesday morning — and he wasn't even homeless, although the heat in his house was off.

Ashland and Central Point residents have responded to the need in their communities, at least some nights of the week. Medford has nighttime shelter, but no daytime warming centers are available anywhere in the valley. This community can and should do better.

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