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Ashland residents question city officials over new homeless shelter

Framed by other people, a women wearing a black and purple shirt with long brown hair looks at a crowd of people
Roman Battaglia
JPR News
Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham listens to resident's concerns at a neighborhood meeting on Sept. 14, 2023.

Around a hundred Ashland residents brought concerns to a neighborhood meeting Thursday night about a new homeless shelter the city plans to open in November.

City staff, including Mayor Tonya Graham, spent several hours listening to residents describe potential problems including public safety, cleanliness and the risk of fires started by homeless individuals.

Residents living near the newly purchased building said they were frustrated with how little notice was given before the city bought it.

Mayor Graham lives in the same neighborhood as the shelter. She said the city’s rollout of the plan has not been smooth.

“What we are trying to do right now is make sure that the way it started is not the way it carries on,” Graham said.

She said the city will be addressing resident’s concerns as the shelter prepares to open on Nov. 1.

“Everyone in the entire community is suffering from this,” said Ashland City Attorney Doug McGeary. “So wherever you would put this it’s going to have these same questions.”

Local housing non-profit OHRA will be staffing the shelter around the clock and providing support for the 30 residents it will house. Navigators will be on-site at the shelter to help residents find permanent housing.

Some neighboring property owners with OHRA’s other homeless shelter, which is located just a few blocks east, said at the meeting that their experience with the organization has been better than expected.

“I thought we'd constantly be having to do stuff and really, we gotta say, they’ve been much better than I thought they’d be,” said Zach Brombacher on Thursday night.

But, Brombacher added he doesn’t want to see this part of town become the known ‘hub’ for homeless services in the city.

The city is renovating the new shelter with the help of around $2 million in state funding to address the homelessness crisis. Oregon has one of the highest numbers of homeless individuals nationwide according to a recent report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

With current state funding, Ashland will only be able to operate this shelter until Jan. 10. Then, it will be converted to a temporary severe weather shelter.

“If emergency order dollars come down, which they’re talking about from the state level, then we’ll be able to stay open,” said Cass Sinclair, executive director of OHRA, about the possibility of extending its lifespan as a full-time homeless shelter.

The city plans to have additional public meetings about the shelter through October, including an open-house where residents can tour the facility to learn more about operations.

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.