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Medford’s First Official Severe Weather Shelter Nears Completion

Snow falling on the Southern Oregon University campus.
April Ehrlich / JPR
Snow falling on the Southern Oregon University campus.

Medford officials and homeless advocates are finalizing details on the city’s first severe weather shelter. But rather than a single location, it will be a network of resources that can be deployed to different sites.

On Tuesday, members of the Medford Homeless Task Force laid out their plan for helping unsheltered people during severe cold or hot weather, or during unhealthy air quality.

The program will provide a network for resources including bedding, meal preparation, cleaning, and staff trained in de-escalation, that can quickly be deployed to a site, according to Angela Durant with the Medford planning department.

“All of those types of things, churches and their volunteer staff aren’t equipped to handle,” Durant says. “They just can’t do it, as much as they want to. This system is in place to put all those things together in a package deal for other potential sites down the road.”

St. Vincent de Paul would be the lead shelter operator and the Medford Gospel Mission would provide food. Jackson County Mental Health would provide crisis de-escalation resources.

The shelter services are essentially ready to be deployed, says Christine Quitt, chair of the Homeless Task Force.

"If something happened, we are prepared to say we’ll open. Is everything perfect and in place? Probably not 100%, but we have enough, we feel, in place at this point that we could do that," Quitt says.

The Medford Senior Center is slated to be the first severe weather shelter site, on a temporary basis since the center is not currently in use. It would house 25 people. Future sites could be in churches or other properties deemed safe, Durant says.

Severe weather incidents happen on average 10-15 times per year, according to organizers. Those incidents would have to be declared by city officials to trigger the emergency resources. The pilot program in Medford is being funded through the end of June.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.