ASHLAND, Ore.– Snowfall in the Rogue Valley Sunday night lightly coated several cities including Ashland, pushing the city to activate its extreme weather warming shelter to help those living on the streets.
While the emergency shelter is set to last till Tuesday, city councilors and homeless organizations will be meeting for a study session Monday night to discuss amending the extreme weather ordinance.
Currently, in order for the emergency shelter to open it’s required there be hazardous conditions to human health such as temperatures below 20 degrees or weather that brings snow and rain such as is happening this week.
Councilor Julie Akins is leading the proposal that would amend the temperature threshold of Resolution 2013-04, raising the current 20-degree mark to activate the warming shelter to 32 degrees, allowing the shelter to open for more days through the winter season. Akins says that even at 30 degrees it’s still freezing.
“I’m surprised people survive now,” said Akins. “It’s just too cold to really be beneficial.”
Akins says that Ashland’s current extreme weather shelter ordinance is the lowest of any city in the state. It’s vital for the safety of those living on the street that they get the help they need.
“If you consider hypothermia and moisture it’s really dangerous for people to be out in 20-degree weather and we need to fix that,” said Akins.
However, raising the temperature threshold would increase the number of days the extreme weather warming shelter would be activated.
Last winter, the city showed that the shelter was open for seven days with the 20-degree ordinance. At 32 degrees, it’s estimated that number would jump to an average of 50. Having that many days would be helpful for the people that need it but the organization that organizes the shelter says it’d be impossible to run at this time.
Options for Helping Residents of Ashland is contracted with the city to run the extreme weather shelter when activated. President Ken Gudger says that they have a list of some 300 volunteers that sign up to help but most of their resources go towards their main program, a seven-night per week shelter that tries to help it’s 34 pre-screened guests get back on their feet.
“If we try to take on this much additional volunteer commitment it would jeopardize our existing successful program,” he said.
OHRA says its resources would be stretched too thin if the number of days increased five-fold. But they do receive a small grant from the city already and volunteers with the extreme weather shelter have been compensated.
“We want to serve these people that are out in the weather but we have to make a logical decision that we have a good chance of success,” said Gudger.
Rather than performing a mediocre job with fewer volunteers, OHRA is hoping some other organization can be able to fill the void and provide a high quality of help to those using the shelter.
Akins says that discussions during the study session will look at all of these options and whether or not the city could be able to fund the project on its own or find another way forward.
“To think that we would have people out on our sidewalks in this weather, it just doesn’t work,” said Akins. “So we have to come up with a better answer than the one we’ve had.”