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Oregon mayors tour homeless village

Medford’s homeless village has become something of a tourist attraction.

On Thursday, mayors from throughout the state made a tour of Hope Village on McAndrews Road to learn more about one solution for the homeless problem that plagues many cities in Oregon.

“This is awesome having mayors from 40 different cities here,” said Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, the organization that has been the driving force behind Hope Village.

For a project that had a hard time getting off the ground a few years ago, the collection of 30 tiny houses has been attracting a lot of attention.

Medford officials escorted the mayors by charter bus to Hope Village. Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler was part of the tour and the city hosted the mayors' visit.

The property Hope Village sits on is on land leased by Rogue Retreat and another portion owned by the city of Medford.

Rogue Retreat even offers a $199 program that explains how to do something like Hope Village in other communities.

Grants Pass Mayor Roy Lindsay said his city is also looking at a similar village as it tries to figure out how to deal with homelessness in Josephine County.

The idea behind the village is to provide a safe, clean home for the homeless to help get them off the street, stabilize their lives, provide health services and drug treatment. After several months, homeless people are encouraged to find more permanent housing. For the first three months, a homeless person pays a $75-a-month fee that goes up to $175, though 50% of that amount is put into a savings account for the homeless person.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Lindsay said. “It’s not easy developing something like this.”

Grants Pass has been working with Rogue Retreat to develop its own homeless village, though on a much smaller scale than the Medford complex.

“We don’t have the resources that they have,” he said.

Lindsay estimates that Josephine County has up to 1,500 homeless, noting that many live in wooded areas surrounding the city.

Coquille Mayor Kathi Simonetti said she was impressed with the facilities, including the tiny 8-foot by 10-foot rooms for the homeless that don’t have running water or electricity. Nearby Rogue Retreat has built showers, bathrooms and a common kitchen area.

Simonetti said her town doesn’t have the homeless population or the kind of services that Medford offers, so she didn’t think it would work in her city.

Coquille provides bus tickets for the homeless, she said, with many going to the larger city of Coos Bay.

“They don’t usually want to stay,” she said.

Canby Mayor Brian Hodson said these types of projects are a tough sell for cities.

“Community members don’t know what to expect,” he said.

Hodson said his city will be looking at emulating some of Medford’s ideas for dealing with homeless problems.

“I think it’s a possibility,” he said. “As our community grows and change, it will be something to keep in mind as a possibility,” he said.

Matthew Vorderstrasse, development director at Rogue Retreat, said homeless villages with tiny houses are only located in three Oregon cities: Portland, Eugene and Medford. Cottage Grove is also gearing up to create a village.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Mayors from 40 cities throughout Oregon toured Hope Village in Medford on Thursday.