Medford prepares emergency plan to house the homeless

A woman peers into a trash can (Georgia Lawson/News 10)

On Thursday, the City of Medford discussed new plans for sheltering people with no place to go when harsh weather hits.

In the past, the city has relied heavily on non-profit and faith groups to lend a hand in sheltering the homeless. With extreme weather conditions in recent years, as well as a changing local economy, those partnerships become especially crucial, with many wondering what more we can do.

"There are a lot of non-profits in the community who are doing this work by the grace of their heart, but at the end of the day, things start to cost money," said Medford Deputy City Manager Eric Zimmerman, "and having a funding mechanism and working with the county and state for what that might look like is something that we have to examine more."

The city is exploring options to more quickly and easily allow a group to provide emergency housing, which is currently limited by city code.

The city is considering events from smoke to earthquakes, but primarily focusing their efforts on winter weather, noting a particularly brutal February. Homeless resident Dante Karlson says there is certainly a need.

"I suffered extreme frostbite this year, and I was a builder most of my adult life, and I've never had frostbite like this, and I've been outside all year round. I mean, freezing fog - I'm building, but I'd go into a shelter after that," Karlson said. "I'd go into my car, my truck, I'd drive to my home, and there's a break between me and the weather. When you're out here 24/7 it's a totally different element."

If the patient can't pay, treating that frostbite ends up costing taxpayers. In that sense, not supporting city funding initiatives for the homeless can backfire.

"Most people don't understand that if we leave people on the streets it actually costs us, as a city, as taxpayers, to take care of those folks," said Chad McComas, Executive Director of Rogue Retreat. "Wouldn't it be better to give them a place to get out of the weather and off the streets?"

For the past three years, Rogue Retreat's Kelly Shelter has stepped up to house people during the coldest months.

On March 31st, they'll close their doors for the season, but McComas said non-profits, faith communities, and the city will continue working together to expand services before the harsh weather comes again.

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