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Rogue Retreat controversy overshadows homeless camp land purchase by City of Medford

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On Thursday, the City of Medford approved a $1.5 million land purchase for a permanent homeless campground. But the decision was met with last minute controversy over allegations against homeless nonprofit Rogue Retreat.

The city is currently leasing land for its Urban Campground for homeless individuals. The Medford city council intends to purchase property before their lease expires at the end of the year.

The Urban Campground is currently located off Biddle Road. The proposed nearly four-acre site would be on West McAndrews Road.

But recent controversy surrounding homeless services nonprofit and campground manager, Rogue Retreat disrupted discussions about the purchase.

Members of the public called for Pastor Chad McComas to be removed from Rogue Retreat’s board. Last week McComas was accused of promoting conversion therapy at his church, Set Free Ministry, which shares some services with Rogue Retreat where he is also the executive director.

“The effects of people’s ignorance weighs heavy on all communities, especially on our unhoused and queer neighbors who are often forced into making the choice between conforming to religious ideologies or being left without basic human needs," said Sam Strong, who attended Thursday night's meeting.

Medford City Councilor Eric Stark defended Rogue Retreat's longstanding record in the community, but questioned McComas' motives.

“Everyone has the right to speak their opinion, religious beliefs," Stark said, "but it cannot be part of this organization.”

Council members ultimately approved the land purchase. But they retained the right to find another service provider if an ongoing investigation shows Rogue Retreat discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. 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 JPR newsroom.