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Poverty and Homelessness

Homeless ‘Cleanup’ Begins In Jackson County, Raising Concerns From Advocates

Greenway-Camping
April Ehrlich
/
JPR News
A man sleeps among tall grasses as a police officer patrols the Bear Creek Greenway in early April.

Homeless people in Jackson County face a triple threat right now: even fewer places to stay than normal after the wildfire devastation, the coming winter weather, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Law enforcement and homeless shelter providers removed trash and abandoned belongings from the Bear Creek Greenway in Medford this week. That’s where many homeless people in the Rogue Valley lived before much of the greenway burned in the Almeda Drive Fire.

But some homeless advocates worry that people still camping outside will lose their belongings during the current cleanup efforts.

“It’s getting pretty cold at night, and so folks are gathering as much waterproof and weather-proof gear as they can. Sometimes that is the difference between life and death for people,” says Emily Mann, the director of community outreach for the Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity.

Homeless people in Jackson County face a triple threat right now: even fewer places to stay than normal after the wildfire devastation, the coming winter weather, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

This week’s cleanup effort is the first police operation along the greenway since the Medford Police Department evicted an impromptu campground at Hawthorne Park in late-September, Mann says. That led to a number of arrests, including a Jefferson Public Radio reporter covering the eviction.

A spokesman for the Medford Police Department says the current operations, which include officers and members of homeless resource provider Rogue Retreat, are focused on removing trash and helping people get connected to homeless resources.

“We are not displacing people at this point. We are really focusing on cleaning up and getting them connected to resources,” says Lt. Mike Budreau with MPD.

He says notices were posted in cleanup areas prior to the operation so that individuals would know it was coming.

Still, homeless resources remain limited in the Rogue Valley.

“We’re always at occupancy,” says Matt Vorderstrasse, development director with Rogue Retreat, which operates an urban campground in Medford with 50 sites, a congregate facility called the Kelly Shelter and Hope Village, a group of 34 tiny homes. Together, he says, they house over 300 people per night.

Vorderstrasse says there are just under 1,000 homeless people in Jackson County according to the homeless “point-in-time” count and closer to 2,000 according to McKinney-Vento estimates that include unsheltered youth.

He says they work to transition people through temporary programs into more permanent housing, but that too is a slow process. The average stay for people at the Kelly Shelter and Hope Village is 2-4 months, Vorderstrasse says.

As cleanup on the Bear Creek Greenway continues and wet weather approaches, he says, they’re focused on partnering with community organizations like churches to offer emergency shelter.

“We’re just trying to increase and bulk up the emergency safety net of services for the winter.”