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Rogue Retreat interim director says nonprofit ‘grew too big’, promises reform

A row of small duplex shelters in a gravel plot
Rogue Retreat
/
Hope Village in Medford, a 34-home community opened in 2017

JPR’s Roman Battaglia sat down with Interim Executive Director Bill Ihle to find out what’s changed at the region’s largest homeless services provider since he took over in September.

Rogue Retreat shelters hundreds of residents every night. After dramatic organizational changes last year, the group is facing a budget shortfall.

Rogue Retreat’s founder was fired over poor administrative and financial management last August.

Surrounding the decision were claims that conversion therapy was taking place at the founder’s church. Ihle’s interim team quickly learned there was a lot they needed to learn about how things were run for the past few years.

Ihle: “There was a lot here. The board had not been presented accurate and complete financials for a very long time. The staff did not understand our finances. Our funders did not.”

Rogue Retreat faces a $2 million dollar budget shortfall this year, and a major focus has been on fixing that.

A portrait of a man smiling and crossing his arms. He's outside, wearing a purple button-up shirt and a black and silver watch.
Rogue Retreat
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Rouge Retreat Interim Executive Director Bill Ihle

Ihle: “Part of what I did was pulled back from a number of our outlying operations. We are no longer in Grants Pass. We are eliminating our operation in Talent.”

Pulling out of these operations have forced city leadership to look for other homeless service providers in the area. Grants Pass has struggled for years to provide shelter for homeless people.

Battaglia: “Do you anticipate that maybe in the future Rogue Retreat would, say, return to Grants Pass or expand again?”

Ihle: “I don’t know, that’s other people’s decisions. I would hope that we would have learned our lessons on overextending ourselves. I think we got too big, tried to do too much; not that the need wasn’t there; the need was there. We just needed to have infrastructure, financing, training and all the things behind it, and I don’t know that we always did.”

So Ihle has been taking Rogue Retreat back to the basics, and looking at areas where the organization may have been lacking before.

Over the summer, a survey from an advocacy group among homeless residents in Medford showed serious concerns about treatment of Rogue Retreat guests.

Those concerns included mistreatment from staff members and alleged racial, sexual orientation and gender discrimination.

Ihle says he’s taken a hard stance on stopping any past discrimination.

Ihle: “If you have biases against individuals, you have no place here. I think there has to be very clear lines of what is acceptable, what is not acceptable.”

Ihle says his personal experiences shape his decisions coming into Rogue Retreat.

Ihle: “I’m an openly gay man, and my husband is a person of color. I have been discriminated against. I’m a person of faith. And I believe that we were all created by our maker to be equal, didn’t make somebody else less and all of that. And I bring that here.”

When looking at how to prevent discrimination at the organizational level, Ihle says he’s found some root causes.

“If you have biases against individuals, you have no place here. I think there has to be very clear lines of what is acceptable, what is not acceptable.”

Many of the staff are formerly homeless. While that may help them have a shared experience with residents, Ihle says many of the staff have never been trained.

Ihle: “And so if you haven’t trained them, how do you expect them to live up to your requirements of delivering good customer service, of making sure there’s no discrimination?”

So there’ve been changes to bring more professionalism to the staff.

Ihle: “This morning the CFO was here, and Kristi and I were talking about how we develop – and we’re gonna develop – a customer service program for our staff who interact directly with our residents.”

Ihle says those changes will be positive, but he’s only in this position for another couple of months.

Battaglia: “There’s all these changes that you’ve made in the organization already and you’re here until the end of February. How are you ensuring that it remains in place, that the stuff that’s happened before doesn’t happen again?”

Ihle: “The last thing you wanna do is make all these changes, move the ball up the hill and then all of a sudden you move out of the way and the ball goes rolling down the hill. I have committed to the board that the new executive director will shadow me for 30 days. I wanna pre-program them for success. I have invested six months of my time and energy and countless, sleepless nights in this organization. And I do not wanna see us go back to where we were.”

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 west coast.