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What homeless? Small cities don't attract them like Medford, Ashland

Homeless problems have plagued Jackson County’s most populous cities, Medford and Ashland, while leaving smaller communities largely unscathed.

“We don’t have that wonderful Greenway running through town,” said Darin May, interim Eagle Point police chief. “Eagle Point has nothing to offer the homeless.”

Medford officials have been searching for a regional solution to homelessness, reaching out to other cities and the county to potentially shoulder some of the cost.

May said Eagle Point doesn’t have Medford’s resources, which the homeless rely upon, including health facilities, meals programs, shelters and public transportation. As a result, he said, they have little reason to come to his city.

“There’s not much at all for them here,” he said.

Some smaller communities have had issues with the homeless over the years, but not the ongoing problems in Medford and Ashland that have annoyed businesses and community residents.

Medford police have said Rogue Retreat’s Kelly Shelter, which was open from January to March, made a significant dent in problems for downtown merchants. In addition to offering 50 people a place to stay each night, Rogue Retreat found a place for many of the homeless to stay during the day. Medford, which has several places for homeless people to stay each night, also has Hope Village, a collection of 14 tiny houses in west Medford.

The Medford City Council has been looking for aid from a program that helps coordinate homeless outreach and also ensures the area receives U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dollars. Funding for the Continuum of Care program has declined from $320,931 in 2012 to $257,733 in 2017.

Over the next year, Continuum of Care officials plan to develop a more sustainable revenue stream by reaching out to other municipalities for support. Other goals include developing a better system of tracking efforts that help the homeless, developing subcommittees to craft policies, adapting services to better handle youths, and working with individual communities to tailor services to better adhere to HUD requirements.

The local program provides money for housing for the homeless administered by ACCESS, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments and Community Works. ACCESS has been shouldering the financial burden for much of the administrative costs to keep the Continuum of Care program going.

Medford Councilor Mike Zarosinski said, “How do we keep this program going so HUD will continue to send funding to the area?”

While outlying communities say they don’t have significant homeless issues, Zarosinski said the council routinely receives complaints from residents throughout the valley.

“People from other communities are telling us to do something about the issue,” he said.

However, he said Medford does continue to see significant growth in issues surrounding homelessness.

If surrounding cities don’t want to help, he said, it will fall on Medford to come up with its own solutions.

Chris Clayton, Central Point city manager, said he thinks Medford and Ashland have a greater problem because those communities have a lot of services that cater to the homeless.

He said his city does provide money to deal with issues that might affect local residents to prevent homelessness in the first place.

St. Vincent de Paul receives $36,000 a year from the city for rental assistance for the poor to help keep them in their homes, Clayton said.

The city funds the Meals on Wheels program operated by the Rogue Valley Council of Governments.

A 50 percent reduction in utility bills is also offered to those earning less than federal poverty guidelines.

Central Point has a strong police presence on the Greenway as well, Clayton said.

He said his city has a willingness to talk about regional homeless issues with Medford and potentially to collaborate on solutions, though Clayton said that would ultimately be his City Council’s decision.

“I hope everyone comes together and solves this problem,” he said.

Phoenix police Chief Derek Bowker said his town occasionally finds a transient camp or two on the Greenway.

“When transients are on private property, people give us a call,” he said.

But his department generally gets only a couple of calls a month about homeless issues.

Bowker said his city is sandwiched between Medford and Ashland, which have far more resources available to their homeless populations.

“The homeless just want to be closer to where those resources are offered,” he said.

Bowker said he’s open to discussing the homeless issue with Medford or Ashland.

“All the agencies in the region routinely discuss ways to fix issues on a regional level,” he said.

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune A homeless camp is set up between Fir Street and the railroad tracks in downtown Medford Monday. City officials are exploring the idea of a 'Livability Team' that could deal with homeless and other issues downtown.