Finding shelter or lack thereof for the homeless

ROGUE VALLEY, Ore.– Several organizations in the Rogue Valley are providing shelter for those living on the streets this winter but the need may be greater than what is available.

On Monday, NBC5 News learned from a local cab driver about a woman who had given birth on the Bear Creek Greenway and returned to her makeshift home soon after without the baby. The baby may now end up in foster care if the mother doesn’t come back.

So while shelters may be here to help those who are homeless, it’s clear not everyone is getting relief from the elements.

“I’ve been doing this for six years,” said Leigh Madsen, executive director of the Ashland Resource Center. “Every year one or two people dies on the street because they’re un-housed. Every year, one or two people die.”

It’s unknown what may have happened to this newly-made mother but some homeless choose not to go to shelters for various personal reasons. Organizations understand this and are trying to do what they can but most have a set of requirements that must be met first in order to be admitted into a shelter.

There lies a problem. Currently, there are no emergency shelters in Jackson County for those battling the direst of circumstances.

According to Mary Ferrell, executive director of the Maslow Project, it’s a giant void.

“There’s still kind of an unmet need in our community that we don’t have a solution for yet,” she said.

Shelters like Dunn House, which specialize in helping woman and children escaping domestic or sexual abuse, say they would have tried to find a quick way to admit the woman into their shelter if they had known sooner. But that is something Dunn House may only do in specific and emergency moments.

Most shelters in the valley have a set of conditions or requirements that need to be met in order to be allowed in. At St. Vincent de Paul, only families are taken and each person must pass a background test, drug test, and interview before being accepted.

Medford Gospel Mission has similar rules but does take individuals. Salvation Army’s Hope House, the same. Altogether, those three provide over 150 beds for those in need, so long as they pass.

But it’s still not enough.

“The number is over 1,000 people who are living without real housing in Jackson County,” said Madsen. “Now some of those are couch surfing, some of them are in cars, not all of them are in tents. But when you only have a 100 beds and a 1,000 people?”

It’s a difficult situation. As of Tuesday both St. Vincent de Paul and Hearts with a Mission Youth Shelter said they had availabilities but it still doesn’t meet the large demand of people that need help getting off the streets.

One woman knows this firsthand.

“I slept on the sidewalk last summer, you know, quite a bit,” said Victoria Knight.

Knight has been in the valley for over 20 years and working with Ashland Resource Center for the last decade. She’s lived out of her car for three of those years and has been admitted into several of the shelters while she’s been homeless.

She says the shelters provide temporary relief but like many others in her situation, she’s looking for something more permanent.

“I mean me, working nine years to get housing that is affordable, you know, is difficult,” she said.

Knight is currently staying at Ashland’s temporary shelter as they prepare to open up a new one in the coming year. She says they are trying to help her find that housing to get her back on her feet.

Madsen says shelters need to do more work helping those who come through their doors find permanent or transitional housing and he disagrees with the way some require the person to be clean and sober.

“They don’t even bother going in because they know they can’t breathe or be clean,” he said.

Instead, Madsen says all organizations need to help them get clean and a good step forward is by providing affordable housing for these people to get off the street, much like Rogue Retreat’s Tiny Village.

“We’re putting money into warehousing people rather than to getting what they need, building affordable housing,” he said. “The long-term housing whether it’s permanent supportive, transitional supportive, whatever it is, if it’s affordable housing is a solution to homelessness.”

Some shelters like the Kelly Shelter do help their residents move into transitional housing and St. Vincent de Paul says it provide resources and directs residents on where they need to go to get help. But each, even Ashland Resource Center, is only slightly chipping away at a colossal issue.

And like the mother who gave birth on the greenway or people in a situation like Knight, one can only last so many winters before it’s too late.

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