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Poverty and Homelessness

Homeless People, Advocates Set Up Protest Camp In Downtown Ashland

Liam Moriarty/JPR News
A small group of homeless people and advocates set up a camp in a downtown Ashland parking garage on Jan. 17 to protest the lack of emergency shelter in town.

A small group of homeless people and advocates is camping in a little-used parking structure near the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in downtown Ashland.

The encampment began Monday evening. It’s being organized by the activist group Housing Now. For several months, the group has been sponsoring similar camps in various prominent places around Ashland to bring attention to the lack of shelter space or affordable housing options in town.

Housing Now organizer Chris Kendrick says this camp is meant to put pressure on the city to take quick action.

"We’re recognizing the urgency, the need to have shelter right now because of the COVID-19, and we’re asking the city to adhere to CDC guidelines around homelessness," he says.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise local governments to leave encampments of homeless people in place rather than increase the risk of spreading the virus by dispersing them.

Kendrick says that, with the danger of community spread of COVID-19, giving homeless campers an authorized place to stay benefits everyone.

"The virus doesn’t care if you’re homeless or live in a home, it’s going to go where it’s going to go and it can affect the entire community," he says. "So we feel that the city council has a responsibility to the entire community to protect not just homeless people but the entire community from COVID-19."

Kendrick says the three-level parking structure could accommodate people living in their vehicles on the top level, and tent campers on the covered, lower levels. Adding portable sanitation and cooking facilities, he says, would give homeless people a safe place to be while they ride out the winter

These days, the structure is mostly unused, due to pandemic-related closures of the Shakespeare Festival and other tourism-related businesses in town.

Ashland officials could not be reached for comment due to the holiday. The city council is slated to discuss emergency shelter options at its meeting Tuesday night.