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Medford City Council to vote on land purchase to relocate Urban Campground

A row of tents at Rogue Retreat's Urban Campground in Grants Pass.
Rogue Retreat
A row of tents at Rogue Retreat's Urban Campground in Grants Pass.

The Medford City Council will vote at its Thursday meeting on whether to authorize the purchase of land for the city’s Urban Campground for homeless individuals.

The city of Medford and homeless services nonprofit Rogue Retreat first opened the Urban Campground in July 2020 on Biddle Road. Deputy City Manager Kelly Madding said at the time, it had room for 25 campsites.

"It has since grown to be able to provide temporary housing for up to 150 people. So we had been leasing the site, and we went out to try to find a permanent site. That's really the catalyst for this moving forward," she said.

The city has since been leasing that property and now will vote on whether to buy three parcels of undeveloped land, totaling almost four acres, on the west side of Medford as a permanent site for the campground.

"When we started the campground, I think we were all a little nervous about how it was going to operate and how successful it would be. And it has been very successful. All we're doing is moving this successful program to a different location," Madding said.

One acre of the property would be used for the Urban Campground, and Madding said the rest of the site could be used for transitional housing in the future.

The new property would cost $1.5 million dollars. $1 million comes from State of Oregon American Rescue Plan Act funds that were secured by Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland. The rest will come from Medford's American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

The Urban Campground is "that initial step to leave homelessness, get into a more stable environment," said Medford Planning Director Matt Brinkley. "You start kind of working on making the transition to whatever it is next. It kind of depends on your own circumstances. That could be going into some sort of temporary supportive housing, permanent supportive housing, maybe even independent living."

At the new site, Rogue Retreat would continue to operate the campground, which provides shelter, food, hand-washing stations, and bathroom facilities, as well as other services from a variety of nonprofit organizations that visit the site. Residents are referred by the City of Medford Livability team, which is a component of the Police Department. They live in tents or hard-sided tiny houses.

"There's about a 33% success rate, success being moving on to other housing, whether it's Rogue Retreat housing or not, which is actually pretty phenomenal," Madding said. "The program works very well, much better than we all thought it was going to work."

Rogue Retreat recently came under fire after a report alleged that Set Free Ministry, which is led by Rogue Retreat founder Chad McComas, passed out pamphlets promoting conversion therapy in 2018. The city of Medford has paused payment of a grant to Set Free Ministry while the Rogue Retreat board investigates the allegation.

Rogue Retreat has "an operating agreement with us for the campground, and we looked at the language for inclusion, non-discrimination, those kinds of things. We're working on developing some, I think, more overt language that sort of encapsulates our expectations of our service providers in that light," Madding said. "It's ultimately the council's decision on what they feel comfortable with and what they want to do."

If the council votes to authorize the purchase, the site will still have to be appraised and an environmental study completed before the purchase will be finalized.

Madding said the Urban Campground would be relocated to the new site no later than Dec. 31, when the lease for the property on Biddle Road ends.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.