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Ashland's winter warming shelter could get new management because of volunteer shortages

A log building with a traditional gable shingled roof. There's an American flag on a pole in the right of the photo. The sign above the building's door says "Pioneer Hall, 72 Winburn Way, American Legion Post 14"
Wayne Hsieh
Pioneer Hall in Ashland

A volunteer-run winter shelter in Ashland could be taken over by nonprofit Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, because of volunteer shortages.

The emergency warming shelter at Pioneer Hall near Lithia Park has been primarily a volunteer operation for years, and coordinator Avram Sacks says they don’t have enough people to keep the shelter open overnight.

“Because of COVID we haven’t been able to have a training in three years, and there’s a natural attrition," he says. "Plus there’s people that got COVID or they’re afraid of COVID so they don’t wanna do it anymore.”

Sacks says he only has around five people willing to stay at the shelter overnight. At least two volunteers are needed for the night, as well as a paid fire watch staff member because Pioneer Hall lacks fire sprinklers.

Because of the shortage, Sacks says they weren’t able to keep the shelter running overnight during last week’s freezing weather conditions.

Local homeless services nonprofit Options for Helping Residents of Ashland will be submitting a proposal to the city soon looking to take over management of the emergency shelter.

OHRA currently runs the low-barrier shelter on Ashland Street, a former Super 8 motel.

City funding would mean the overnight volunteers would get paid for their time.

“Then on those nights when they call an inclement shelter you have those temporary paid staff that can come in, spend the night," says OHRA Executive Director Cass Sinclair. "So incentivizing them, paying them for their work but also providing that inclement warm space for folks to come in out of the cold.”

Sacks says the shelter gets almost no funding from the city right now, only enough to pay for essentials like disposable plates, cutlery and some basic food supplies. He says many people don't realize the shelter is volunteer-run, because the city advertises it on their website, and calls for the shelter to be open when needed.

Sinclair says OHRA is also willing to take on the liability insurance the city would want, something the old provider, Jobs with Justice, had been wary of taking on.

She expects the approval process by the city could take around a month. If the city council approves the funding, OHRA could take over immediately.

A training for those interested in becoming a volunteer will be held at Pioneer Hall on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. Sacks says this introduction will teach people about the basic rules of the shelter, how to be a good host, and how to deal with conflicts between guests. If volunteers don't feel comfortable staying overnight, they can contribute by cooking and serving food.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.